Three tractor-trailers in a tight convoy — a team-driving style called “truck platooning” — were tested along a stretch of double lane highway this week by Daimler, which has now made public its autonomous Highway Pilot Connect technology. The convoy self-driving test was a world first.

The autonomous driving technology, according to Daimler, will deliver a 7 percent reduction in fuel consumption because the “platoon” is arranged with an aerodynamically optimized 15 meters of space between trucks. The reduction in drag offered by the close formation has been likened to bicycling slipstreams.

During the test, the drivers of the Mercedes-Benz trucks activated the “Highway Pilot” technology when the dashboard displayed a message saying the option is available. They then let go of the steering wheel and sat back to watch the trucks drive themselves.

The trucks were also tested for their ability to react to debris in the middle of the highway. All three trucks braked to a stop when their cameras detected debris on the road ahead.

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They’re also tested when passing cars suddenly swerved in front of them. The trucks breaked to correct their speeds. When a manual lane change was required, a beeping alert sounded to tell the drivers of this need.

While fuel savings are one benefit of the new technology, the machines also perform better than people in some cases, according to Daimler. For example, braking signals are transmitted between platoon trucks in less than 0.1 second, faster than the 1.4 second reaction time for people behind the wheel.

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