If there’s one type of vehicle that really needs innovations like self-driving technology pronto, it’s the big rigs that shuttle goods over long distances 24/7. Technologies like collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, lane departure systems and radar could significantly improve safety and reduce driver error in a business constantly under scrutiny for accidents with a reputation, at least in the U.S., of long, grueling hours on the road for low pay -- conditions that are scaring away new drivers.
Months after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Peterbilt unveiled their WAVE concept truck that focuses on efficiency, Mercedes-Benz unveiled its vision of the future of trucking carrying an emphasis on safety.
We saw the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 in disguise back in June, but now the German automaker has peeled off the cover, revealing hundreds of blue LED lights and images of drivers tucked into their tablets allowing the truck to handle most of the navigation.
It still has a steering wheel, suggesting that even in 2025 Mercedes-Benz sees the need for human intervention in autonomous driving, but the truck’s features suggest drivers will cede a lot of handling to radar systems, cameras, and vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications – all behind an advanced high-resolution graphics display and touchscreen. The aim of all of this is to reduce driver error and increase fuel economy as the truck anticipates traffic and road construction conditions for more efficient braking and accelerating actions. The truck can automatically maintain a consistent and safe distance from the vehicle ahead.
The exterior’s space-age design lights up different LED colors depending on the vehicle’s actions. In autonomous driving mode, the LEDs switch from white to a pulsating blue. When a turn signal is activated, some of the LEDs switch to a flashing orange.
The interior looks more like an executive office space at a tech startup than the interior of a cabin that a driver will live in for days at a time, with touch-screen interfaces and a reclining and rotating office chair for a driver’s seat.
Mercedes-Benz claims this technology will be viable in a decade. Questions remain, though, about how long it could take for regulatory measures to be put in place. Also, some of the technology advertised here would require significant investment in infrastructure to allow the truck to detect traffic conditions and construction well ahead of time.
No word yet on what a truck like this would cost, either. But it’s safe to say something as decked-out with the latest connected and autonomous driving technology would be out of reach of most independent owner-operators.