If you're tooling down the highway out West, pass a behemoth 40-ton, 18-wheeler semi and don't see a driver with his hands on the wheel, try not to panic.
It may well be the nation's first self-driving truck, recently approved for highway operation by Nevada and issued its very own license plate, numbered "AU 010," Wired reports
Nevada's Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, proudly handing the new plate to Daimler AG's Wolfgang Bernhard, said: "Nevada is proud to be making transportation history today by hosting the first U.S. public highway drive for a licensed autonomous commercial truck," The Hill reported
"The application of this innovative technology to one of America's most important industries will have a lasting impact on our state and help shape the new Nevada economy. The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles has been closely monitoring the advancements being made in autonomous vehicle development and reviewed … safety, testing and training plans before granting permission for this demonstration of the Freightliner Inspiration truck."
The truck isn't exactly the true self-driving, unmanned robot truck of the future. As long as highway white lines are clear, the truck's stereoscopic camera can read them up to 800 feet ahead and scan for obstacles, keeping it in its lane and at a safe distance from other vehicles.
It won't pass other vehicles on its own and if an emergency occurs, the truck will alert its human driver, who can take over. If he doesn't respond within five seconds, the truck will slow and come to a stop, Wired reports.
However, eventually, perhaps within a decade of testing with millions of highway miles under various conditions, the trucks will be ready to roll.
By 2050, truck shipping demand is expected to triple, Bernhard told NBC News
At the same time, the number of truck drivers is decreasing, with a shortage of 240,000 drivers expected by 2022, Wired reports, caused by increased demand for training and stiffer regulations.
"The way to handle that growth isn't to convince more people to become long-haul truckers. It's to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the role of the human. Let the trucks drive themselves, and you can improve safety, meet increased demand and save time and fuel," Wired states.
Eventually, David Carlisle, chairman of Carlisle & Co., an auto industry consultant, says the old country song "Convoy" could become a robot reality, with a string of, say, seven trucks following just one with a human driver, barreling down the interstate, saving on fuel and driver costs.
Safety could increase as well, Bernhard told NBC, noting that 90 percent of truck crashes involve human error, largely due to fatigue.
"An autonomous system never gets tired, never gets distracted," Bernhard said. "It is always on 100 percent."
"There's a clear need for this generation of trucks, and we're the pioneers who are willing to tackle it," Bernhard told Wired.
© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.