The truck drivers of the future may not drive much at all. A new self-driving truck from Daimler takes care of pretty much everything on the highway, so after pulling onto the road and pushing a button, a driver can swivel away from the steering wheel, turn on a tablet, and work on something else.
Not only is the system less stressful and more interesting for the driver–who otherwise might spend 10 or 11 hours on a monotonous journey that demands constant attention–it virtually eliminates the possibility of accidents.
“In the future, accidents caused by human error will therefore be substantially a thing of the past,” Daimler writes in a statement. “Machines make fewer mistakes than people, their attention never lapses, and they do not react emotionally or depending on mood and fitness level.”
A network of cameras and sensors around the truck identify lane markings, recognize pedestrians and other vehicles, and can even read traffic signs. As other self-driving cars and trucks join the road, they’ll be able to communicate automatically back and forth, so traffic flows at the optimum speed–helping ease traffic jams and save a substantial amount of fuel.
In Germany, where Daimler is based, the number of trucks on the road has grown by 80% over the last two decades, and in the EU overall, truck transport may double again by 2050. The new trucks are designed to help ease the pain of that traffic, and possibly attract more drivers to a job that isn’t currently seen as prestigious.
“Drivers will no longer be ‘truckers,’ but rather ‘transport managers’ in an attractive mobile workplace offering scope for new professional skills,” Daimler writes.
The new truck, called Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025, was recently tested on a stretch of the Autobahn, disguised in a black-and-white foil wrapper that hid its shape from others on the road. There are legal and political issues to sort out before it can be in use; if people are afraid of self-driving cars, it’s likely they might be even more resistant to the idea of 80,000 pound trucks barreling down the road with no one at the wheel.
Still, Daimler expects it will be in use in a decade, and on the technical side, it could be ready to go in as little as five years. “This short time period means this: Truck drivers currently aged around 50 will become familiar with autonomous driving during their professional lives,” Daimler writes. “For all younger drivers it will one day become a day-to-day part of professional life.”