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Germany's Daimler is the first carmaker to operate driverless trucks on public roads in the US. So far, cars and trucks had only been tested on cordoned-off sections, both in the US and Germany.
Daimler has been granted a fully operational license by the state of Nevada for two vehicles from its US brand Freightliner Inspiration Trucks. It is the first time driverless trucks are being tested and used on public roads in regular traffic, starting on US Highway 15 in Nevada.
"I'm proud, very proud, and I speak for everybody in the great state of Nevada - that we stand with you today at this location to make history," Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval said as he handed Daimler executives number plates for the trucks. He said he had "100 percent confidence" in the German carmaker.
"We've reached a milestone," Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler Trucks, said at the ceremony. He said "preparations were under way" to launch more tests in Germany as well.
Last year, Daimler was also the first carmaker to let an autonomous truck drive in a controlled environment. Its Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 model was tested on a cordoned-off section of Germany's A14 motorway near the eastern city of Magdeburg.
The Daimler trucks in the US had been subject to vigorous testing prior to the license being granted, with each clocking up around 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) on a test circuit in Germany.
Whereas the state of Nevada does not differentiate between test drives and use in regular traffic, the law is more restrictive in Germany, which led Daimler to choose the US for its first operational license. The roads there are also wider, and there is less traffic in Nevada than on most German roads.
Nevada as well as California are at the forefront of efforts to get autonomous vehicles on the road. Both states have already granted operational licenses to automakers as well as Google.
Autonomous driving is seen as a growth sector by carmakers, as it is believed to improve fuel efficiency and safety as well as make the job of the truck driver more attractive.
According to a study by consultants Roland Berger, self-drive trucks will, in future, reduce collisions by more than 70 percent, as automated vehicles are more likely to reduce speed and, generally, react to a challenging environment in the safest manner.
Self-drive cars will also be equipped to choose the best possible route, circumventing heavy traffic and thus saving companies time and money.
The driver will still have to be present for "at least the next 10 years," according to Roland Berger. But rather than having to concentrate on the stressful and tiring task of driving, he can focus on planning his routes and deliveries.
ng/hg (Reuters, dpa)