Wednesday, September 11, 2019

New Automated Trucks Tested on US Highways as a Serious Insurance Question is Posed

Who is Responsible When You Get Hit by an Autonomous Vehicle?
Shipping News Feature

GERMANY – US – Daimler Trucks and Torc Robotics have begun actively developing and testing highly automated trucks with SAE Level 4 intent technology on public roads. This at a time when driverless vehicles are under scrutiny, particularly from the insurance industry. The question being, who pays if you are hit by an autonomous truck?

The deployment by the two companies of the new vehicles on public roads takes place after months of extensive testing and safety validation on a closed loop track. As part of the comprehensive safety process by Daimler Trucks and Torc Robotics, both test track and on-road validation play an integral role in establishing the essential building blocks for successfully advancing automated technology.

The initial routes are on highways in southwest Virginia where Torc Robotics is headquartered. All automated runs require both an engineer overseeing the system and a highly trained safety driver certified by Daimler Trucks and Torc Robotics. All safety drivers hold a commercial driver's licence and are specially trained in vehicle dynamics and automated systems.

Daimler Trucks acquired Torc Robotics earlier this year after authorities approved the majority stake acquisition by the truck manufacturer. Torc Robotics is now a part of the newly established Autonomous Technology Group of Daimler Trucks. The truck manufacturer says that it is consolidating all its activities in automated driving into the global organisation with locations in Blacksburg and Portland in the US as well as in Stuttgart, Germany. Michael Fleming, CEO of Torc Robotics, said:

"Being part of Daimler Trucks is the start of a new chapter for Torc. Our whole team is thrilled to be working alongside our Daimler colleagues as we pursue the commercialisation of Level 4 trucks to bring this technology to the market because we strongly believe it can save lives."

Torc claims to be an experienced automated driving company with highly sophisticated, roadworthy technology and years of expertise with heavy-duty commercial vehicles. ‘Asimov’, Torc's system for automated driving, has apparently been tested in urban and long-distance routes as well as in rain, snow, fog and varying light conditions.

Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) will focus on further evolving automated driving technology and vehicle integration for heavy-duty trucks. The DTNA team is working on a truck chassis perfectly suited for highly automated driving, particularly considering the redundancy of systems needed to provide reliability and safety. Roger Nielsen, President and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, commented:

"As we pair Daimler's expertise in building safe and reliable trucks with Torc's genius in engineering Level 4 vehicles, we have no doubt we will do great things in the future. We look forward to writing history together. The US highways are the perfect place to develop automated driving technology."

Within the Autonomous Technology Group, DTNA is also building an infrastructure required for the operational testing of initial application cases. This consists of a main control centre and logistics hubs. These hubs are located along high density freight corridors where many customers operate and within close proximity of interstates and highways.

So what of that initial question? Who is to blame if you get struck by a vehicle with nobody actually in control of it at the time? Last year the Australian National Transport Commission (NTC) published a couple of papers on future regulation. Meanwhile the answer may come in the form of the latest release from Tesla which has launched its own insurance scheme for drivers of its cars in California claiming, ‘our safe vehicles justify lower premiums’.

This move may signal a sea change in attitude, if the conventional insurers look to the vehicle manufacturers for settlement of claims, with huge potential Court costs, the truck and car makers may well feel better placed if they bear the risk themselves with the effect of transferring legal cases into coming from members of the public rather than the better funded insurance industry.