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Wednesday, May 06, 2015 11:54 AM

First Self-Driving Truck Hits the Road Already, Nevada License AU010

Every time I post on antonymous trucks, I get dozens of emails from people telling me that self-driving trucks will not happen for at least 10 more years, if ever. People cite insurance, driving skills, city traffic, changing road patterns, faulty radar, etc.

My typical reply is things will likely happen far faster than even I envision. And so here we are, at least a year before I thought possible (but 15 years before some naysayers thought).

First Real Road-Legal Autonomous Big Rig

TruckYeah reports Freightliner Just Revealed The First Real Road-Legal Autonomous Big Rig.

The Freightliner “Inspiration Truck” will be the first autonomous commercial truck to drive on American roads. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and Daimler Chairman Wolfgang Bernhard just bolted on its Autonomous Vehicle license plate to prove it’s the real deal, and it’s already been spotted in action.

In a Q&A session going on right now, Bernhard has explained that the Inspiration Truck will still have a driver, but that person’s purpose will be solely to monitor the truck’s systems and intervene in the event of a malfunction.

The truck requires no special hypothetical infrastructure, and it’s able to read road signs and traffic signals on its own.
Nevada License AU 010

World’s First Self-Driving Semi-Truck Hits the Road

Wired reports World’s First Self-Driving Semi-Truck Hits the Road.
“AU 010.”

License plates are rarely an object of attention, but this one’s special—the funky number is the giveaway. That’s why Daimler bigwig Wolfgang Bernhard and Nevada governor Brian Sandoval are sharing a stage, mugging for the phalanx of cameras, together holding the metal rectangle that will, in just a minute, be slapped onto the world’s first officially recognized self-driving truck.

The truck in question is the Freightliner Inspiration, a teched-up version of the Daimler 18-wheeler sold around the world. And according to Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz, it will make long-haul road transportation safer, cheaper, and better for the planet.

A Newish Kind of Semi

The Freightliner Inspiration offers a rather limited version of autonomy: It will take control only on the highway, maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles and staying in its lane. It won’t pass slower vehicles on its own. If the truck encounters a situation it can’t confidently handle, like heavy snow that covers lane lines, it will alert the human that it’s time for him to take over, via beeps and icons in the dashboard. If the driver doesn’t respond within about five seconds, the truck will slow down gradually, then stop.

The Freightliner is still very much a test vehicle. Daimler’s confident it’s safe for public roads, and the Nevada DMV agrees. But the automaker needs a few million more test miles on the books, in a wide variety of locales and conditions (snow, rain, extreme temperatures), before it’s ready to offer even this very limited autonomous capability to any customers. That’ll take a decade.

Humans Don’t Want These Jobs

Another point in favor of giving robots control is the serious and worsening shortage of humans willing to take the wheel. The lack of qualified drivers has created a “capacity crisis,” according to an October 2014 report by the American Transportation Research Institute. The American Trucking Associations predicts the industry could be short 240,000 drivers by 2022. (There are roughly three million full-time drivers in the US.)

That’s partly because long haul trucking is not an especially pleasant job, and because it takes time and money to earn a commercial driver’s license. The shortage will get worse, Perry says, thanks to a suite of regulations set to take effect in the next few years. A national database to collect company-performed drug and alcohol tests will make it harder for drivers who get in trouble at one job to land another. Speed limiters could keep trucks to a pokey 64 mph. Mandated electronic reporting of hours driven will make it harder to skirt rest rules and drive longer than allowed. These are all good changes from a safety perspective, but they’re not great for profits.

Killing the Human Driver

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.

The safety benefits of autonomous features are obvious. The machine doesn’t get tired, stressed, angry, or distracted. And because trucks spend the vast majority of their time on the highway, the tech doesn’t have to clear the toughest hurdle: handling complex urban environments with pedestrians, cyclists, and the like. If you can prove the vehicles are safer, you could make them bigger, and thus more efficient at transporting all the crap we buy on Amazon.

The end game is eliminating the need for human drivers, at least for highway driving. (An autonomous truck could exit the interstate near the end of its journey, park in a designated lot, and wait for a human to come drive it on surface streets to its destination.)
Not a Decade Away

It should be perfectly obvious to everyone now this will not take take a decade before such technology is mainstream. What's tested now will be routine two or three years from now.

When I first started writing about this, most thought we would not get to the testing stage until 2020.

The Last Mile

Please compare my thoughts from October 4, 2013: Never Has Arrived; The Last Mile to the section on "Killing the Human Driver" from Wired.
Truck drivers talk about how they can never be replaced because of city traffic, tight spaces, etc., etc. It's the "last mile" problem. One possible solution is automated trucking stations just outside major urban areas, where human drivers take over the "last mile".

Recall the "last mile" problem with high speed internet? It's been solved in numerous ways: DSL, Fiber, Cable, Satellite, Wi-Fi.

And so it will be with robot-operated trucking.

Automated trucking will not be here tomorrow, in the US, but it's coming far sooner than anyone thinks.
Not Just a Test

Wired says "The Freightliner is still very much a test vehicle. Daimler’s confident it’s safe for public roads, and the Nevada DMV agrees. But the automaker needs a few million more test miles on the books, in a wide variety of locales and conditions (snow, rain, extreme temperatures), before it’s ready to offer even this very limited autonomous capability to any customers. That’ll take a decade."

No it won't. Daimler says that to ease the fears people have of self-driving trucks. And once the safety record is proven, there will be no need for a backup human driver at all, at least for the highway.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Tuesday, May 05, 2015 10:05 PM

European 10-Year Bond Yields Spike Higher; Contagion Already? Something Worse?

Those who claim there will be no Greece contagion need consider yields in other European bonds.

In spite of the fact the ECB is buying 60 billion euros of debt a month for 19 months, yields on many longer-dated bonds are rising.

Spain 10-Year Yield

Italy 10-Year Yield

Germany 10-Year Yield

Contagion Already?

Saxo Bank chief economist Steen Jakobsen sees contagion risk in bond yield breakouts.

Via email ...

A quick note as there has been a number of “break-outs” and risk warnings activated.

First, and most important.

I have long argued that Italian 2 yr vs. 10 yr is excellent predictor of contagion on Greece, and sure enough  we have had massive spike!

2-10 if reflecting much higher short-end risk (higher yield) Italy because with France only countries who has done nothing to reign in fiscal deficit plus CLUB MED members.

Contagion or Something Else?

10-year bond yields are up. So are 2-10 spreads. And it isn't just Italy.

But is the reason contagion risk or erroneous belief that a eurozone recovery is underway? What about the chance the ECB has lost control?

  1. ECB has lost control
  2. Contagion
  3. Recovery

Which is it?

Presuming this trend lasts, this will not be good for equities no matter the reason. But really look out if the reason is #1 or #2.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

2:29 PM

Chicago Board of Education to Default on Bonds? Rick Santelli and Mish Discuss on CNBC

I had a lot of fun this morning on CNBC.

Rick Santelli invited me on his show to discuss Beware, the Tax Man Has Eyes on You: Potential Hike for Illinoisans is Staggering and a few other recent posts of mine on the plight of Chicago.

If you have not read that post, please do so. Nuveen figures property taxes need to rise by 50% to bail out Chicago pensions in deep trouble. In the video below I explain why 50% will not be enough!

Link if video does not play: Chicago BOE to default?

Three minutes flies by fast. It's very difficult to get everything you intend to say in such a small time window. Actually, Rick went over by 20 seconds, telling the producer in advance he intended to do that.

In the video, Rick asked "How underfunded are Illinois pensions?"

My answer of $130 billion included Chicago and the main Illinois pensions. But it also assumed 7% returns that I am quite certain will not happen. Unfortunately, there was no time to get this all into the interview.

Mark Glennon at WirePoints says the number using new Government Accounting Standard Board (GASB) rules is closer to $220 billion. That number includes all Illinois pensions but also includes unfunded healthcare liabilities of about $57 billion.

I was invited back once a month to discuss the economy. Looking forward to that. This was a lot of fun.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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