Filmed and produced by Patrick McGee. Edited by Clem Hitchcock.
I'm in a self-driving truck produced by Daimler. And I'm at an airport about 90 minutes outside the city of Frankfurt. The Frankfurt airport and Daimler are working together to construct a sort of snowplowing truck that is completely automated. And yes, there's a steering wheel and everything. It is a normal truck. But it's been outfitted with this hardware and software so that it does everything on its own. We're just here along for the ride.
Daimler is saying the truck is not autonomous in that it actually doesn't have any sensors. But what it does have instead is that it goes on a predefined track, and it knows exactly where to go to collect snow, or get rid of snow. The trucks behind us-- there are three others-- are completely independent. They're basically just following the orders that we are giving it.
The Frankfurt airport has to have 14 specialised drivers anytime it might snow so they can clear the runways for airplanes to land. Daimler hopes to deploy a convoy of self-driving trucks to do this instead. In theory, they would be more efficient, they don't have shifts, they don't get tired, they don't make mistakes. But Daimler is just one year into a three-year project, and it has not been without some teething problems.
Vehicle three adjusting.
Vehicle two you're going to see in the middle.
That should move now.
OK, vehicle three is beginning now.
There was a problem.
So we had a bit of a hiccup here, where the second vehicle in the platoon was supposed to come over. Instead, the third vehicle started. And the driver is trying to figure out what the error is. They're only one year into this programme, and it's not supposed to be deployed until 2019. So there's still a long way to go before it's commercially viable.
But the impressive thing is that, while one vehicle started moving when they didn't want it to, all it took was the push of a button for the whole convoy to stop. But this sort of goes to show that there are issues when it comes to self-driving cars. And in a sense, this is why Daimler is trying to use protected areas like this, so when a problem does occur, there's not pedestrians, there's not cyclists, there's not anything that you would find in city traffic that's actually affecting it.
Basically, the whole idea for Daimler is that this could set up an entirely different business model for them. So instead of selling trucks to a customer like the Frankfurt airport, instead they would have probably something like a monthly service revenue contract, where they're really offering a mobility solution that doesn't require any drivers, and it can be deployed 24 hours a day.