LAS VEGAS, May 5 (Reuters) - Nevada has given Daimler AG , the world’s biggest truck maker, the go-ahead to test its self-driving heavy freight truck for the first time on the open road in ordinary traffic, the two sides announced on Tuesday.
“Today is history,” Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican, said before posing with Daimler board member Wolfgang Bernhard with a red license plate for the self-driving truck at an event at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Daimler has previously shown off its prototype autonomous truck in Europe on a closed section of German autobahn. The truck maker says self-driving, or autonomous, trucks will help freight companies save money on fuel and increase safety on the roads.
Bernhard said in order to get the nod from Nevada the truck, which will be under its Freightliner brand, underwent 10,000 miles of testing. The vehicle will now undergo testing under real road conditions, he said.
“We think we are making an important first step in the right direction,” Bernhard said. “You need to have dreams.”
Daimler, which with its Mercedes brand has been at the forefront of German efforts to counter Google’s advances in driverless cars, says it sees at least as much potential for automation in freight transportation.
Daimler is also not alone in pushing automation technology for heavy-duty trucks. Sweden’s Scania, a unit of Volkswagen , is among peers working on “platooning” technology that allows several trucks to travel in tight convoy with a sole human driver in the lead vehicle.
In a presentation to journalists, Bernhard said some 90 percent of road accidents are due to human error, which autonomous trucks could greatly reduce especially as global freight volumes are expected to triple by 2050.
Daimler has previously said its truck model still requires human oversight while freeing the driver to perform back-office tasks such as handling bookings and billing, or planning future itineraries. Bernhard on Tuesday compared this to putting a plane on auto pilot.
Autonomous driving proponents, however, face the challenges of meeting safety concerns while convincing lawmakers that accident liability can still be established. They are also expected to fuel conflicts with freight driver unions.
Martin Daum, chief executive of Daimler Trucks North America, acknowledged the hurdles that autonomous trucks face legislative hurdles.
“Before mass production, the liability issue has to be addressed,” Daum said.
Reporting By Nick Carey; Editing by Cynthia Osterman