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Daimler starts testing self-driving trucks on public roads

Virginians can expect to see autonomous big rigs.

Daimler's plan for self-driving big rigs just came one step closer to fruition. The automaker has started testing trucks with Level 4 autonomy (that is, fully self-driving in specific situations) on public roads in southwest Virginia, near the home of recently acquired autonomous tech developer Torc Robotics. They won't be strictly driverless -- a specially trained safety driver will be ready to take over in a pinch, and an engineer will watch over the system. Still, it's an important step that should help Daimler compete with Volvo and others inching toward real-world uses for self-driving trucks.

The public tests fulfill a promise to start testing in 2019, and come right as Daimler is solidifying its strategy. It recently created an Autonomous Technology Group to handle the roadmap for self-driving trucks, starting with narrowly defined uses like this.

Don't expect to see these machines regularly hauling cargo, however. While testing is underway, Daimler expects a lot of work over the next decade. The challenge now is to refine the technology and make it truly road-ready. These machines have to be intelligent enough to handle rough weather and complex environments without fail, and it could take years before they're up to the job.