The future is now. And it looks like a Pixar movie. At least the Mercedes version does anyway. While their Future Truck 2025 looks like a CGI imagining of trucks from the far off future, the model is real and operational. It’s pretty much just waiting for infrastructure—and the rest of the world—to catch up.
This is how you drive a Future Truck:
On big stretches of highway anyway. The truck has such an advanced visual system it can sense the vehicles around it, the speeds they’re going at, the traffic conditions up ahead, and make the necessary adjustments to its cruise control so you don’t have to look up from your ipad.
The truck automatically alerts you when a chunk of autopilotable highway is coming up and gives you the choice of surrendering control of the vehicle to the computer. You’re then given ample warning when approaching a part of the programmed route which requires your people skills.
The combined technologies that give vision to the truck are so advanced they place its visual acuity beyond the capabilities of human eyes. There’s a GPS with a programmed, 3D mapped route. Then, for real-time obstacles and judgement of traffic, there’s a radar system and cameras which work together to create a multi-directional picture of the world for a control system capable of analysing and understanding all of the data simultaneously and instantaneously.
Mercedes future bus: looks cool but is it practical?
The design is definitely futuristic and the tech impressive. The luggage space, charging stations, wifi and auto-steering (even through tunnels and intersections) are all superlative. As is the vehicle’s ability to sense when a human runs across its path and not run them down. Making people comfortable and not killing them are qualities we all look for in a bus. But, as far as people-carrying goes, it doesn’t come across as overly practical. While the roominess looks nice, how could carrying so few people, in such an expensive vehicle, be cost effective?
Similar to its Future Truck brother, the vehicle’s vision comes from a series of cameras which scan the road and surrounding. This is coupled with both short and long range radars and a GPS system to keep endless watchful eyes on the route ahead and space around the bus. All the data from these different receivers are fused to create an instantaneous picture for the control system with an accuracy within centimetres.
While this technology is impressive, it’s already being eclipsed by the rapid advancement of photonics; the science concerned with the generation, detection and control of light particles.
LiDAR and the remote sensing industry boom
LiDAR system are like radar but with lasers. Their development is housed within the remote sensing industry which is currently the biggest field in photonics. As you read this, billions of dollars are being poured into its development by all the industries impatiently gunning for autonomous vehicles.
Until recently LiDAR systems were too bulky to be practical in vehicles. But it’s amazing what you can achieve with several billion dollars at your disposal. Scientists from Quanergy have been able to shrink their devices in size while ramping up their capabilities. Meaning LiDAR is more on point than ever before while being able to fit easily into the front grill of a car.
According to Quanergy co-founder and CEO, Louay Eldada:
“Commercial advancements have made sophisticated mapping, object detection, classification, and tracking possible with small sensors that will become ubiquitous.”
Autonomous vehicles are coming and, with wealthy investors throwing endless funds at the industries developing the technology, while crying from the proverbial back seat ‘are we there yet?’, we should expect them sooner rather than later.