In the future, robot trucks will plow your snow. Mercedes-Benz is testing remote-controlled, automated snowplows on a historic World War II airfield in Germany as a potential boon to productivity — or the latest way that driverless vehicles will cannibalize jobs now done by human beings.
The Automated Airfield Ground Maintenance project involves four Mercedes-Benz heavy Arocs 2045 AS tractor units, each equipped with a segmented hydraulic plow and a sweeper towed as a semitrailer and powered by a separate six-cylinder Mercedes engine at the rear of the trailer. The fleet operates as a remote-controlled convoy on the former Pferdsfeld airfield. The rigs are equipped with the new Remote Truck Interface technology for remotely controlling the tractor's functions and exchanging data, and are linked via telematics systems, including GPS and vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology. The automated trucks can start and stop their engines, handle all gear changes, engage parking brakes and control the mounted sweeper blower, among other functions.
Daimler says the convoy leader (an actual human) can designate any of the vehicles as its lead truck and use a control panel to define the number and sequence of the other vehicles. In addition, the demonstration can be scaled up to as many as 14 trucks to handle the precise and labor-intensive task of clearing snow on airfields.
"The benefits," the company says, "are obvious: Airfield clearances are hard to predict and thus difficult to plan, especially in winter. This makes snow removal units operated with pinpoint precision by a single vehicle operator to remove snow from runways especially crucial when extreme weather strikes without warning during the winter months, and they require no additional vehicle and staff scheduling."
The project is a collaboration between Daimler's Lab1886 innovation incubator, Daimler Trucks and Fraport AG, which operates the Frankfurt Airport, one of Europe's busiest. The company says it opens up new possibilities for customers, including unmanned driving in mines, container terminals and other sites closed off to the public. Check out a video of the plows in action, below. (You're in luck if you speak German. Otherwise, the images of the plows in action speak for themselves.)
If trucks like these can demonstrate success plowing snow from busy airfields, can unmanned snowplows clearing your driveway be far behind?