PORTLAND, Ore. – Daimler Trucks North America’s (DTNA) new senior vice-president of engineering and technology was working on artificial intelligence (AI) before most people knew it was a thing.
Dr. Rainer Muller-Finkeldei was introduced to the truck press today, after being promoted to his new position as well as to DTNA’s operating committee. In his new role, Muller-Finkeldei will be charged with all DTNA’s product engineering activities, including design, testing, styling, analysis, compliance and planning functions. He made the move from Mercedes-Benz Trucks, where he served as director of mechatronics since 2010.
The 51-year-old self-professed “math and physics guy” studied computer science in Germany and the U.S., and was working on AI as far back as 1995, when “nobody knew what AI was.”
Muller-Finkeldei has worked in several departments within Daimler, overseeing mechatronics – a multidisciplinary branch of engineering combing mechanical, electrical and other forms – for Daimler globally.
“Over the last 10 years, the electronics and mechatronics portion of our trucks has become a pretty dominant factor,” Muller-Finkeldei said, adding they contribute to the trucks’ active safety and autonomous driving capabilities.
In his new role, Muller-Finkeldei said he looks forward to contributing to the structure of the entire vehicle, and also DTNA’s business strategy itself. He is also excited about the advancements being made in battery-electric powertrain technologies, which the U.S. market is helping to lead.
Referencing DTNA’s 30-truck innovation fleet, he said “These are not only demonstration vehicles, they are doing active business every day.”
But work remains to be done on that front.
“What we now have in those vehicles are still limited volume, pretty high-priced components,” he acknowledged. “We are working on what we call Generation 2 technologies.”
Those will be less expensive to produce, and along with more efficient battery technologies will make battery-electric trucks more economically viable in a broader range of applications.
Autonomously-driven trucks are another source of interest for Muller-Finkeldei, “something I was fascinated about right from the beginning.”
DTNA’s efforts are currently focused on Level 4 autonomy, which will allow trucks to operate driverless in certain conditions, likely “classic hub-to-hub delivery.” This, he expects to be reality within the decade thanks to progress the company is making with technology partner Torc Robotics.
But despite his excitement about new and future technologies, Muller-Finkeldei admitted the conventional diesel powertrain is still driving DTNA’s business and there’s more work to be done there, as well.
Muller-Finkeldei and his family are planning to relocate to Portland, Ore., from their current home in Stuttgart, Germany. He replaces Dr. Wilfried Achenbach, who will retire after a 10-year stint in the role.
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