BERLIN • German automaker Daimler said it trialled a self-driving truck under real traffic conditions for the first time last week on a motorway in southern Germany.
The truck has smart systems, including radars, cameras and active speed regulators, and works without a human driver - although one has to be in the driver's seat and take the steering wheel if necessary.
The standard Mercedes-Benz Actros, fitted with the intelligent "Highway Pilot" system, travelled 14km on the A8 motorway with a driver in the cabin, but with his hands off the wheel.
"Today's premiere is an important step towards the market maturity of autonomously driving trucks and towards the safe, sustainable road freight transport of the future," said Mr Wolfgang Bernhard, a board member responsible for Daimler Trucks and Buses.
Mr Bernhard sat in the driver's seat for the test.
Daimler unveiled the technology in May in the US state of Nevada on the iconic Hoover Dam, an hour's drive from Las Vegas.
The truck in the trial, the world's first series-production autonomous truck, drove between Stuttgart and the town of Denkendorf in the south-western state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where Daimler has its headquarters.
A totally self-driving truck, without the need for human monitoring, is still a long way off.
Daimler compared the Highway Pilot to a plane's autopilot. It is able to steer the truck by itself, while the driver "retains full responsibility, needs to monitor traffic at all times and must be able to intervene at any time".
The system includes frontmounted radar and a stereo camera - which has the ability to "see" in 3-D like human eyes - as well as Daimler's Adaptive Cruise Control system.
Should the weather or the road markings deteriorate badly, the system prompts the driver to take over the controls with audible and visual signals and, if the driver fails to respond, brings the truck to a stop automatically.
The Highway Pilot has already driven around 20,000km on test routes in Germany and the US, said Daimler. State premier Winfried Kretschmann of the Greens party, who also went on the ride, said: "Autonomously driving and networked vehicles improve the flow of traffic and can play a decisive role in helping to avoid traffic jams and relieving the strain on drivers."
He added: "They also boost traffic safety."
Daimler says autonomous trucks improve efficiency and cut carbon emissions. Thanks to optimised gear shifting, acceleration and braking, they generate at least 5 per cent less CO2 emissions, said the company.
Daimler, whose vehicles include the high-end Mercedes-Benz range and compact Smart cars, is also the world's biggest maker of trucks, with brands including MercedesBenz, Freightliner, Fuso and BharatBenz.