Freightliner's self-driving big rig hits the road

Self-driving cars now have some company on the road.

A new self-driving truck, the Freightliner Inspiration, was unveiled this week in the Nevada desert just outside of Las Vegas.

The Inspiration can drive itself on highways, similar to an autopilot function in an airplane.

"It's for us a first step to get a truck, autonomous, on the road and ultimately potentially shape future transportation,” said Martin Daum, President and C.E.O. of Daimler Trucks North America, Freightliner’s parent company.

The truck uses cutting-edge radar to identify what’s in front and behind it. When it determines it can take control, it notifies the driver and locks itself into a lane by staying in between white or yellow lines.

“I simply hit my resume button as if I’m setting my cruise control and the system enables itself,” said Daimler’s Jim Martin as he demonstrated the capability on a test drive.

Two HD monitors serve as rearview mirrors and give the driver a 360-degree view of the truck, even when turning.

But while the truck sounds like a vehicle from a robotic future, it isn’t entirely driverless. It requires a driver behind the wheel because it turns control back over to the human if it gets into a situation it can't handle.

The truck will alert the driver with a countdown if he needs to take control of the wheel again.

“I can grab the steering wheel and override the steering,” Martin said.

The automated technology is aimed at reducing accidents by minimizing driver fatigue.

“We’re really augmenting the driver, we’re not taking the driver totally of out the loop, he’s there in a monitoring system,” said Daimler Trucks Chief Engineer, Steve Nadig.

The Innovation also gives the driver the ability to accomplish other tasks like checking e-mail while on the road.

Freightliner says one-in-eight truck crashes involve driver-fatigue-- the company says the automated truck can lead to increased safety by giving the driver a mental break.

“For us, it’s how do we automate the vehicle in a way that makes sense for the driver, how do we reduce his workload, reduce his fatigue, make it a more efficient, more safe environment,” Nadig said.

The truck has a diesel engine. Daimler doesn’t have an estimate of how many miles per gallon it will get, but another newly unveiled concept, the streamlined, hybrid Supertruck, can achieve 12 miles to the gallon--nearly double current trucks on the road.

The Inspiration is currently only street-legal for testing in Nevada. Freightliner says it will be many years until federal law allows it on most roads, but the company plans to begin slowly introducing the tech in its production trucks.