My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: Freightliner Inspiration Highway Pilot Trucks in Nevada – How in Sin City is testing Self-Driving Trucks and Why Jamaica's perfect for off-Road Testing

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Freightliner Inspiration Highway Pilot Trucks in Nevada – How in Sin City is testing Self-Driving Trucks and Why Jamaica's perfect for off-Road Testing

“Ninety percent of commercial truck accidents are due to driver error and one in eight of those are due to driver fatigue”

Freightliner head of Trucks and Buses Wolfgang Bernhard during the unveiling of the Freightliner Inspiration semi-autonomous system called Highway pilot

Autobots, Transform! Sorry, but I just had to get that in as this story is nothing short of amazing!

Semi-Autonomous Trucks, called Freightliner Inspiration, are now a reality, at least in Nevada thanks to Freightliner, a sister company to Mercedez-Benz as reported in the article “Self­driving Freightliner Inspiration rolls out on public roads in Nevada”, published May 6, 2015 by Antuan Goodwin, CNET News



The Highway pilot for the Freightliner Inspiration line of trucks launched on Wednesday May 6th 2015 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is technically the first commercial truck to receive an Autonomous vehicle License plate in the state of Nevada.

It is a level three semi-autonomous vehicle, meaning that it requires a human to in the driver's seat at all times as noted in the article “Look, ma: No hands! Taking a ride in the self­driving truck of the future”, published Friday, May 15, 2015 BY JEFFREY JABLANSKY, NY Daily

So why is this coming to Nevada and not California? One place: Las Vegas!

Freightliner Inspiration trucks in Nevada – Sorting out Semi-Autonomous Driving Bugs in Sin City

Nevada, also famous for Las Vegas aka Sin City, which is surrounded by miles of desert, also happens to be the first state in the US of A to approve and regulate the use of autonomous vehicles. With long boring highways in-between cities and towns, Nevada is the perfect place to test this next-generation Technology.




Since then Nevada, Florida, California, Michigan and the District of Columbia have approved autonomous vehicles for their roads, with Google being one of the first to test their Autonomous vehicles as their semi-autonomous as-yet-to-be-named electric buggy as reported in my blog article entitled “@Google’s Self-Driving All-Electric Vehicles in June 2015 – Autonomous Vehicles reduce Road Accidents, Parking and make Ride Sharing the Norm”.

The advantages of this system called Highway pilot, almost full AI (Artificial Intelligence) system, are obvious. Not only such a system drive better at day and at night due to its IR (Infrared Cameras), LIDAR, Sonar and other sensors but it can also keep driving when the driver hit's long boring stretches of highway.

Many drivers often fall asleep at the wheel on these long haul journeys, resulting in crashes. A semi-autonomous system could potentially take control of the vehicle the minute it detects the driver has fallen asleep, allowing the driver to rest. It could also be use to allow the driver to do other work, allowing him to be a Fleet Manager, as potentially you could have one person controlling an entire convoy of semi-autonomous trucks in a single train.




They still haven't sorted out who's liable in a crash. It's clearly the insurance company that'll pay, but whether the human occupant or the company that makes the semi-autonomous vehicle is liable is still up for debate.

Not to mention there is still a lack of clear guidelines as it relates to hardware and software required for a vehicle to be considered semi- or fully-autonomous as reported in the article “Self­Driving Cars Are Legal, But Real Rules Would Be Nice”, published 05.15.2015 by ALEX DAVIES, Wired

Freightliner's idea sounds familiar? It should, as Freightliner, a sister company to Mercedez-Benz, has cribbed their idea!

Freightliner's Highway Pilot - Auto-Pilot for Trucks that needs perfect roads and is hackable

Freightliner Inspiration intends to have their Freightliner Inspiration trucks driven by the Highway pilot as a replacement for trucking fleets all over the world.

This is the same exact thing that Fully-Autonomous Vehicles, the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 was designed by Mercedes-Benz to do as noted in my blog article entitled “Mercedes-Benz Future Self-Driving Truck by 2017 – Robots promote Truck Drivers to Fleet Managers as Self-Driving Trucks more efficient”.




The advantage of the semi-autonomous Highway pilot are mainly centered on  increasing safe driving on American roads while improving fuel economy as noted in the article “4 things you should know about Freightliner's self­driving truck”, published May 9, 2015 by Antuan Goodwin, CNET News.

Testing of this nature also hastens the developement of the technology, allowing kinks in the system to be spotted early and sorted out, both in terms of the technology as well as the legal implications of self-driving vehicles. The Freightliner Inspiration trucks are being driven semi-autonomously by a system called Highway pilot, that's really not much different from a commercial airplane autopilot.

The driver merely needs to set-it-and-forget-it, allowing the system to take over without driver intervention, albeit it can be a bit nerve-wracking to see a computer program driving a 65,000 lb truck on a highway while being buffeted by high winds as noted in the article “Look, ma: No hands! Taking a ride in the self­driving truck of the future”, published Friday, May 15, 2015 BY JEFFREY JABLANSKY, NY Daily



The Highway pilot is able to drive the Freightliner Inspiration trucks thanks to an array of sensors, including IR (Infrared) Stereoscopic cameras, to read the signage on the roads, which must be clear and crisp white stripes to mark the road. These 3D images become input to the Freightliner Inspiration's onboard computer, which processes these stereoscopic images, allowing the AI to take control of steering, Gas, Brakes and the changing of gears.

It is also connected to the Internet possibly via 4G LTE or Satellite Broadband, allowing the truck to constantly update its GPS maps and AI Software. This might also make the vehicle hackable in the future as the research published in June 2015 suggests as examined my blog article entitled “Mission Secure Inc and Perrone Robotics Inc say Vehicles can be hacked - Apple Carplay and @Android Auto Assassin’s Weapon of Choice in Contract Remote Vehicular Homicide”.


Please note that these are the electronic actuated version; electric steering rack, Drive-by-wire Throttle for the Gas pedal and automated manual transmission. Once the onboard computer processes the input data, the Highway Pilot can then watch the road for roadside signage, stay in the lane using lane markers and avoid crashing into vehicles.

It can also make the decision to decelerate if slow vehicles are in the way and even stop if the road is blocked.

Semi-autonomous Vehicles still not fully AI - Vehicles need to learn to drive off road for the Masses

However, this isn't a case of the machines taking over. The driver has to be capable on starting the truck, handle complex maneuvers at any speed as well as a keep an eye on the Highway pilot.

At any point in the journey, the driver, who is required to be in the Driver’s seat at all times, can take control of the wheel. Good to note that this system isn't perfect; it can't dodge potholes and needs clear signage and crisp white stripes.



Taking over from the Highway pilot is especially important during conditions of low visibility, such as during a snowstorm or rain or on roads that has a lot of potholes and poorly defined markers.

Otherwise, it's liable to drive right off the road if the “No Through Road” sign is covered by a cement bag or snow (it happens!!) or the road marking haven’t been update for awhile.

Remember, these vehicles aren't fully AI; they can follow instructions but they can't think and are really not much different from pre-programmed robotic systems such as the US$15,000 Moley Robotics Cooking Robot  as explained in my blog article entitled “US$15,000 Moley Robotics Cooking Robot – Cooking Robot seeking Taste for Human Food to take over in 2017”.

Still, this represents big business for Freightliner, a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz as according to the American Trucking Associations, some 9.2 billion tons of freight was transported within the US of A in 2013 as reported in the article “Daimler’s Freightliner Tests Self­Driving Truck in Nevada”, published May 14, 2015 by Sam Grobart, Bloomberg.


By 2025, that figure may increase by 23.5%, an estimate based on the analysis of American Trucking Associations and researcher IHS Global Insight. This might be because of the slow shift by online retail giants like Amazon away from centralized Fulfillment Centers back to the store model.

It’s also targeted at major trucking companies that haul assets across the US of A retooling and upgrading their ageing trucking fleets. No major job losses are envisioned, just Truck drivers upgraded to Fleet Managers driving convoys of trucks as opined in the article “Coming Soon To A Highway Near You: A Semitruck With A Brain”, published May 10 2015, NPR News.  


Then again, this isn't for Jamaica or any small island. Still, testing semi-autonomous vehicles on off road conditions in Developing World countries like India, Africa and in Jamaica where the roads are rough and the traffic systems are not perfect would be nice, especially if these car companies are planning to develope semi-autonomous off road Vehicles.

This is important, as not all countries have perfectly flat roads, clear marking and proper signage. It also represents a huge market, as for semi-autonomous All-Electric Vehicles to catch on, it has to be capable of handling not-so-perfect driving conditions.

Until then, the dream of AI All-Electric Vehicles that are self-driving like in the movie Transformers or can hold a conversation like KITT in Night Rider will remain in the theatre.

Autobots, Roll out!


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