If the idea of a self-driving recreational vehicle strikes you as just another intriguing future tech trend that may never make it to the mainstream, put that thought out of your mind—the latest from Mercedes-Benz indicates that self-driving vehicles are here to stay.
Mercedes-Benz has introduced the Future Truck 2025 which was recently unveiled at the 65th International Motor Show for commercial vehicles in Hanover, Germany.
This is not an eye grabbing PR stunt by Mercedes. One of these vehicles actually operated in driverless mode in early July 2014 on the A14 motorway near Magdeburg, Germany, at normal autobahn speeds. The test drive was short covering a distance of only three miles.
A man was sitting in the driver’s seat but he wasn’t steering the wheel. Instead he jotted down some notes on a clipboard and even swiveled his seat away from the steering wheel to reach a more comfortable resting position. That was likely a way to prove to viewers that the truck was operating on its own and didn’t require human operation.
The vehicle can also communicate with other autos to prepare for upcoming construction or traffic jams.
As its name indicates, Mercedes hopes to have the technology operating regularly on the road by 2025, but first local laws will have to be enacted to allow for the introduction of autonomous vehicles onto human-populated highways.
When this becomes reality, it is only a question of time before an application is found for motorhomes.
Using a system the company calls the Highway Pilot, the human driver is able to switch control of the truck to the vehicle’s embedded system and ride hands-free as a passenger.
A human driver is still needed in the truck to pass other motorists and manage the vehicle.
In order to allow the truck to autonomously drive alongside other cars, the Highway Pilot uses a combination of vehicle-to-vehicle communication via Wi-Fi (with a range of 1,640 feet), lateral radar on both sides of the truck (with a range of 197 feet), and full range (820 feet) and short-range (230 feet) radar mounted on the front of the truck.
The truck also uses a front stereo camera, mounted just under its windshield.
It’s hard to envision an interior that’s more premium than what Mercedes has here.
With various touch panels throughout, wood floors, ambient lighting, and plenty of space to kick back, the decor is more akin to that of a luxury motorhome than a commercial truck—one more reason why it may end up becoming an integral part of the motorhome world within the decade.
On the outside, it’s not quite as aerodynamic as your current Class A diesel pushers, but it still stands out when compared to your everyday long distance hauler.
“The Future Truck 2025 is our response to the major challenges and opportunities associated with road freight transport in the future,” said Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, a member of Daimler’s board of management, in a company news release.
“With the Future Truck 2025, Daimler Trucks is once again highlighting its pioneering role in innovative technologies and is opening up a new era in truck transport.”
Mercedes already has semi-autonomous driving technology on its S-Class sedans and coupes.
If current developments around such autonomous systems persist, Daimler may not have to wait until 2025. One city in England has plans to roll out 100 self-driving cars for public use next year, and in California the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles has approved autonomous car tests set to begin in September, reports Mashable.
“If the legislative framework for autonomous driving can be created quickly, the launch of the Highway Pilot is conceivable by the middle of the next decade,” added Bernhard.
According to Mercedes a lot of work remains to be done on the prototype before the technology will be ready to hit the market. Improved assistance systems will be developed in the coming years, capable of communicating with each other to secure safe operation in real life traffic situations.
Mercedes may not have the road to itself. Sweden’s Scania, a unit of Volkswagen, is among peers working on “platooning” technology that allows several trucks to travel in tight convoy with a sole human driver in the lead vehicle.
Shoot for the moon, Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.