The Mercedes-Benz Actros with Highway Pilot causes quite a stir.This time not by political or media representatives, but by the “Genius” junior reporters Emma Reinke (11 years old) and Nick Hoffmann (10 years old). The two school kids had the exclusive chance to experience a ride in the autonomously-driving truck on the motorway. On the A8 motorway between Denkendorf and Stuttgart airport they had plenty of time to put their most important questions to Enrico Wohlfarth, who is responsible for the truck as an engineer in Daimler Advance Development.

Emma and Nick are both big fans of technology and the new reporters for “Genius”, Daimler’s MINT education initiative. The acronym “MINT” stands for the subject areas of Mathematics, Information science, Natural sciences and Technology. Flying under the motto “More curiosity – Brighter future” the goal of “Genius” is to arouse children’s and young people’s interest in these subjects in a number of ways. By mediating knowledge on vehicle technology in a clear and illustrative manner – knowledge ranging from the drive system and safety in road traffic to aerodynamics and design – “Genius” is involved in the targeted fostering of young talent in this area. In doing so, “Genius” is counteracting the dropping-off of interest among young people in technical topics for the long term. Especially girls are addressed as they are still under-represented in the technical disciplines.

Once the Actros has been started up and steered onto the motorway, Enrico Wohlfarth activates the Highway Pilot with the touch of a button. From now on the computer is in control. Thanks to GPS data as well as the in-built cameras and radar sensors the system always knows where the vehicle is. It adapts the speed and steers automatically so that the truck can optimally drive along in the flow of traffic. With a critical eye, the junior reporters once again check that there really are no feet on the pedals and that the steering wheel really is moving by itself.

It was only at the beginning of October this year that the Mercedes-Benz Actros with Highway Pilot went on its maiden voyage on exactly the same stretch of road. Since then it is the first partially autonomously-driving series-production truck on German motorways for test purposes. To date, Baden-Württemberg’s prime minister Winfried Kretschmann, his minister for transport Winfried Hermann and also numerous media representatives have already been on board for a trip. The “Genius” junior reporters are now the first ever children worldwide who have been driven on the motorway by the autonomous Actros.

Of course, there is still a bit of traffic on the A8 motorway. Emma and Nick are amazed that the Highway Pilot can also master the stop-and-go traffic entirely on its own. The truck drives autonomously up until the motorway exit. Only now does the system require the drive to take over the steering wheel once again.

Emma wants to know: “Is the first time driving in the autonomous truck strange?” It was quite exciting, Enrico Wohlfahrt says. He admits that of course he was a bit nervous the first time he took his hands off the steering wheel. “But in the meantime I have been driven so many kilometers by the truck that by now I am very relaxed.”

The journey is over far too quickly for Emma and Nick’s liking, and the trio arrive once again at the starting point of their journey at the Denkendorf lay-by. ”What a pity it’s over, it was fun”, says Nick. After this exciting afternoon, he concludes: “I felt very safe, even though Enrico didn’t have his hands on the steering wheel at all.”

“Genius” definitely succeeded in inspiring enthusiasm for technology in this case. Emma thinks that Enrico’s job as an engineer is great. “Because he develops modern vehicles for the future.” And who knows, in a few years time maybe these two junior scientists themselves will be working on the cars of the future.

Source: Daimler AG