Daimler driverless lorry tested in motorway traffic
A driverless lorry developed by Daimler has been tested on a public road for the first time, in Germany.
At the push of a button, the vehicle's "highway pilot" helped it avoid other road users via a radar and camera sensing system.
The company reiterated the requirement that a human driver be present and focused on the road at all times.
Earlier in the year, Daimler had expressed its desire to carry out such a test by the end of 2015.
"As soon as we are on the highway, we will start the autonomous driving mode," said Daimler executive Wolfgang Bernhard as he steered the Mercedes-Benz Actros truck towards a busy stretch of motorway in Baden-Wurttemberg last week.
Then, at the push of a blue button on the vehicle's dashboard, the autonomous driving system took over.
It successfully piloted the vehicle along the motorway, reaching speeds up to 80km/h (50mph).
Mr Bernhard and Winfried Kretschmann, Minister-President for Baden-Wurttemberg, shared a coffee in the cab, as Mr Bernhard continued to describe how the technology worked.
The system identifies markings on the road as well as other vehicles and obstacles with a camera and radar mounted at the front of the lorry.
At an earlier press event, Mr Bernhard had emphasised the system's reliability.
"The highway pilot brings more safety because it is never inattentive, it is never tired, it is always present 100%," he said.
"It never loses concentration or focus."
The lorry, he said, was, therefore, safer and more efficient than any human driver.
"No matter how well you accelerate, slow down or steer a truck you can never do it as good as the highway pilot can," he said.
Alan Stevens, of the Transport Research Laboratory, told the BBC: "I'm pleased that the trucks have proven safe enough to now undergo realistic road trials.
"Such trials are really the only way to understand the real economic and safety benefits.
"The behaviour of other drivers will be very interesting to see so I look forward to the result."
News of Daimler's test comes as a Japanese company, Robot Taxi Inc, reveals a plan to provide self-driving cars to people in Kanagawa, just south of Tokyo, in 2016.
About 50 people will be selected to take part in the trial.
The cars will be able to self-drive only along a 3km stretch of public road in the area.
Those selected for the trial will be accompanied by a human driver, who will control the vehicle at all other times, and a second person on-hand for safety reasons.
The company is also hoping to provide self-driving vehicles to visitors to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Ultimately, it aims to develop driverless cars that require no human driver at all.
"Unlike many automakers, we are aiming for what the US government calls Level 4 driverless technology - which doesn't call for any human intervention," a spokesman told the BBC.