Daimler has just initiated its plan to test its autonomous fleet of self-driving trucks on public roads. The location of the tests will primarily be the winding roads around Virginia.
The tests will not exactly be real cargo tests, as it will not carry any heavy stuff while cruising on its own around busy roads. Most of the data that will be collected would most likely be about optimal driving algorithms that are centered around hauling a much larger vehicle on lanes with predictably heavier traffic (as opposed to something lighter, such as a Tesla, or even a Waymo, on less populated roads).
While driving autonomously is the main objective, as with any other currently conducted self-driving car test, a human driver will still be on the wheel at standby. These are specially trained safety experts who can take over when something goes wrong, to kick the truck instantly into manual mode. Accompanying the driver is an engineer, which will be another observer for the system.
Despite having two human guides, all of the Daimler self-driving test trucks are rated at Level 4 Autonomy. This means the trucks are technically driver-free at certain points, and are designed to be fully autonomous at specific parts of the test trips.
Daimler has been playing the long game for autonomous vehicles for quite a while already. Just a few months ago last May of this year, the company established the Autonomous Technology Group, which will handle most of the technology and application development for its upcoming self-driving truck fleet.
As to when exactly will the tests be over to finally let the trucks deliver cargo on their own, it would still take a long while to get there. After all, cargo trucks, unlike regular cars driven on standard urban landscapes, needs to be driven at very long distances under even more weather variations. A robust AI will definitely be needed before the trucks become intelligent enough to replace actual drivers.