- Driver can surf the Internet or read while Future Truck 2025 does the work
- But the trucker is ultimately responsible, and has to pass slow vehicles by hand
- Mercedes envisions truckers of the futures acting as "transport managers"
Tractor-trailer drivers, if you text while driving in the middle of the freeway, then the future may belong to you.
If you can afford a Mercedes truck, that is.
The German vehicle maker sent an 18-wheeler barreling down the Autobahn recently, while the driver surfed the Internet for food recipes on tablet computer -- at least that's how media photos told the story.
Its test drive was brief, covering about three miles, German media reported.
The trucker's hands didn't touch the wheel and his eyes were fixed on pork cutlets. But that could be the way some drive in the future, perhaps in the next decade or so.
That's the message of the prototype "Future Truck 2025," which Mercedes says is the first self-driven freight vehicle. It may seem illogical right now, but the hands-off idea is aimed at eliminating human error.
Special cameras and multiple radar systems watch the road, the sides of the road, and cars and trucks behind the vehicle.
Future Truck is also envisioned to communicate with other vehicles and connect to growing sources of online information as Big Data balloons on the road.
Its computerized controls will also make it more fuel efficient, Mercedes boasts.
Once the truck merges into traffic, it won't accelerate to clichéd Autobahn breakneck speeds. The system will throttle it to a meek 50 mph, Mercedes says.
Many of the component parts to put a vehicle like this into production are already available in trucks on the market: Systems that help drivers keep their distance from other drivers, active braking assistance, guidance and mapping systems, and fine-tuned cruise control and tons of other hi-tech tchotchke.
If a puttering slowpoke pulls out in front of Future Truck 2025, it will slow down automatically to keep off of its bumper, but the 18-wheeler won't pass it by itself.
That's when the driver will have to turn off the ball game, put down the iPad or lay away the knife and fork, then take the wheel.
But he'd be ill advised to goof off too much, because two cameras and a sensor under his seat will monitor his activities.
Mercedes says that the trucker will still be expected to be responsible for controlling the vehicle. But by then they won't be called that anymore.
In 2025, they'll be promoted to "transport managers."