Freightliner takes Hoover Dam at face value in autonomous vehicle premier

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Never applied on comparable scale or in a setting requiring such inordinate light output, the relatively new technique of using specialized software to warp and mask content, video projection mapping, allows for images to fit onto an irregularly shaped screen such as the Hoover Dam. (Screen captures from Daimler Trucks North America video.)

With exposed surface area equal to nearly 10 football fields, one of the world’s top concrete icons supported Daimler Trucks North America’s early-May premier for the first autonomous Class 8 truck licensed to use public roads. Hoover Dam, linking Arizona and Nevada at the Black Canyon and embodying 3 million yd. of cast-in-place concrete, served as the backdrop for a prime time video presentation on the Freightliner Inspiration Truck. The 30-minute production was capped by the vehicle’s arrival at the center of the structure, whose top bears U.S. 93 traffic.

The premier earned Freightliner the Guinness World Record of highest light output projection ever: 1.17 million lumens. Producers deployed 60 26,000-watt projectors for a unique video screening projected onto a surface just over 420,000 sq. ft., upwards of 90 average-sized IMAX screens. The projectors were synchronized to create an image with a resolution of 4592 x 2048 pixels on board-formed concrete a half-mile away; combined, they generated lumens nearly matching the output of more than 1,400 60-watt light bulbs.

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The Freightliner Inspiration debut marked a rare return of heavy vehicle traffic to the portion of U.S. 93 crossing the Hoover Dam, as trucks were diverted from the structure after September 11, 2001. The Hoover Dam Bypass and its signature 1,900-ft. structure—the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge—now handle all truck and much passenger vehicle traffic at the Arizona–Nevada border.

The Inspiration Truck is equipped with Highway Pilot sensors and hardware based on a production Freightliner Cascadia Evolution model, fully certified to meet all U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The Highway Pilot links camera and radar devices with lane stability, collision avoidance, speed control, braking, steering, and related monitoring systems.

The truck operates on highways at what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines as Level 3 of autonomous vehicle capabilities, enabling the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions. The autonomous vehicle system is responsible for maintaining legal speed, staying in the selected lane, keeping a safe braking distance from other vehicles, and slowing or stopping the vehicle based on traffic and road conditions. It monitors changes in conditions that require transition back to driver control when necessary in highway settings. Drivers control highway exiting, local road travel, and vehicle placement for deliveries.

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Pictured approaching Hoover Dam from Las Vegas and—in a screen capture from the Daimler Trucks North America video—arriving for show time, the Inspiration Truck is the first licensed autonomous commercial truck to operate on an open U.S. highway. Developed by DTNA engineers, it stands to unlock vehicle advancements that reduce accidents, improve fuel consumption, cut highway congestion, and safeguard the environment. The truck underwent extensive testing prior to securing a Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles license.