You may still have concerns about the prospect of self-driving cars and trucks motoring alongside you down the highway and along city streets. But public roadways aren't the only places where motorized vehicles – manned or autonomous – operate in the world.
In its latest exercise, Mercedes-Benz is demonstrating a motorcade of self-driving trucks equipped to clear snow off of airport runways. And even the Luddites among us would have to admit that it makes a lot of sense.
Carried out in partnership with Daimler's Lab1886 innovation incubator and Fraport AG (operator of the Frankfurt International Airport), the project has linked four Mercedes-Benz Arocs 2045 AS all-wheel-drive tractors through a Remote Truck Interface.
Each tractor is pulling a giant snow plow/blower with a 26-foot-wide blade on a powered semitrailer (with its own six-cylinder engine) in a rig measuring over 75 feet long and weighing 25 metric tons.
The operator drives (or rides in) the designated lead tractor, and operates the others remotely as drones – controlling the steering, throttle, brakes, transmission, differentials, peripherals, and auxiliary functions, right down to the ignition and parking brake... all remotely.
While the exercise was carried out at the decommissioned Pferdsfeld air force base with four linked trucks, the system allows for up to 14 to work in unison.
Automating this particular task would allow airports to clear their runways quickly and precisely, reducing (if not completely eliminating) issues of visibility and coordination in inclement weather by linking the vehicles remotely using dual GPS receivers and the latest vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology.
It's an impressive sight to behold, as you can see for yourself in the pair of videos below.