Freightliner upgrades driver-assist tech on 2019 Cascadia

May 2019

Suzanne Stempinski

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Daimler’s investments in technology and trucking create excitement and innovation spanning the globe. That trend has continued in 2019 with the introduction of Detroit Assurance 5.0, available on the new Freightliner Cascadia. The suite of programs is designed to maximize the driver experience while improving safety.

Among the innovations, adaptive cruise control can now run all the way down to 0 mph. That means, if you’ve set your cruise control and get hung up in traffic, the system will slow you down. All the way down to 0 mph if necessary. You can idle along in miserable traffic until it’s safe to pick up speed again.

Active brake assist 5.0 includes full braking to avoid a moving pedestrian. Side guard assist detects objects in the passenger-side blind spot for the full length of the tractor and trailer. How does that happen? A combination of radar and camera system work together to communicate with the ABS system in real time. The system tracks up to 40 objects at once and identifies the top six by level of threat. And it refreshes 200 times per second.

And if that’s not enough to make your eyes light up, there are new optional active lane assist features, including lane keep assist and lane departure protection. They activate when adaptive cruise control is enabled. Lane keep assist uses microsteering movements to keep the truck centered in its lane. If the crown of the road makes it advantageous to be a little to the right or a little to the left of the center of the lane, you can adjust the “hold” spot in the lane.

Lane departure protection is enabled once your speed exceeds 37 mph. The camera system detects the reflective paint and raised reflectors in lane markers. If the truck crosses those markers without the driver using a turn signal, a loud warning will be issued first, along with a visual warning on the instrument panel. It is quickly followed by the system actively steering the truck back into its lane.

Behind the wheel

I had the opportunity to see and test these new features first hand. First time was in Las Vegas at Consumer Electronics Show, an annual trade show organized by the Consumer Technology Association where Detroit Assurance 5.0 was introduced. As a passenger, I was stopped short of an obstruction in the road while traveling at around 35 mph (as fast as we could go on a short track). Imagine a wheelbarrow or somebody’s sofa or concrete block suddenly materializing in front of you as you’re traveling down the highway. And the truck stopped itself. It makes the case for seatbelts and securing your personal belongings all the more compelling. No crash. Sudden stop. Accident averted.

It was sufficiently impressive that it received the Best Transportation Technology award at the Best of CES ceremony. The truck debuted at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and it is the first SAE Level 2 automated truck to enter series production in North America. It will be ready for production on 2020 Freightliner Cascadia trucks beginning mid-2019.

There’s nothing like a test drive to put a new system through its paces, so I was eager to get behind the wheel of the new Cascadia and head out on an adventure. Palm Beach, Fla., in February is generally warm and sunny and a welcome escape from the frigid winter temperatures in the Midwest.

I hopped behind the wheel of the spacious new Cascadia, buckled up and got ready to go. The seatbelt grazed my neck, and I wished for a sliding attachment point instead of the single bolt base. Even so, it’s a minor inconvenience in a truck loaded with features.

There were five preproduction trucks led by a pace car, followed by a chase car, intended for a rotating series of driver and passenger opportunities. We headed out through the streets of Palm Beach, destined for the highway. Even on surface streets, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to test some of the features of Detroit Assurance 5.0.The adaptive cruise control makes it possible to follow the ebb and flow of traffic without getting too close to the vehicle in front. Of course, that means that four-wheelers will feel compelled to jump in the safe space, slowing you down a little further. Zen breathing, it was a beautiful day to be on the road.

Not according to plan

The best test drives happen when things don’t go quite according to plan, and this one was no exception. We missed our turn to the highway and had to make a wide U-turn (five trucks – one per traffic light cycle) and get back on track. The nimble handling of the truck made it easy even with the 53-foot trailer tucked up tight. Just like real life under a load looking for that elusive turn to somewhere you need to be.

On the highway the adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist systems worked well. Side guard assist kept me notified of vehicles in my blind spot. However, when I tried to engage the lane departure protection system and veer onto the shoulder so that the truck would bounce me back into my lane, a glitch in the system shut off all the cruise control and automated features, bringing me back to a fully driver-operated vehicle. Once we stopped to switch drivers, I shut the truck off. When it restarted, it reset the system to operate with the enhanced features again.

In all fairness, this was a pre-production truck. While the enhancements will be of significant benefit to drivers in the future, the bugs are still being worked out of the system.

It served as a vivid reminder that the driver is always responsible for safe operation of the vehicle and that while we celebrate technological advances, there’s no substitute for a qualified driver. LL

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Suzanne Stempinksi delivers distinctive driver insight to readers. She studied journalism at Northwestern University, married a trucker, and for the next several years added a few million miles of safe driving to her resume. She has contributed to Land Line Magazine since 2000, covering show truck news and her specialty – test drives.