At the recent North American Commercial Vehicle (NACV) show numerous executives from major truck OEMs and suppliers made it clear that they are ready for ‘automation and autonomy’ when customers want it and when the legislative conditions are more favourable.
Increasingly, advanced driver assistance technologies are becoming standard and the industry is gaining extensive experience with platooning and more advanced levels of autonomy.
For fleet operators and drivers there is increasing awareness of the benefits of more advanced assistance features – fewer accidents, a safer work environment and fuel savings. This is driving strong demand.
Although the industry is not clamouring for more legislation, it was apparent that more support from the government for platooning – either financial or regulatory – could help to speed up the adoption of this technology and reduce fuel usage.
Adaptive cruise control and assisted braking are set to become standard in the commercial truck market (driven by high take rate and regulations in Europe). This makes sense as they are immediately impactful in the reduction of rear-end collisions, a major source of truck industry accidents.
As more vehicles come with forward facing cameras and RADAR sensors, functionalities like lane keep assist can be deployed. However, one challenge in the heavy truck industry has been the installation and form factor of electro hydraulic power steering (EHPS). This technology is more common in passenger vehicles – primarily to reduce emissions – but the necessary power and integration for the truck market has been slower to evolve. EHPS is critical for autonomous operations as it allows driver-independent, electronically controlled torque application.
Recent developments related to this include:
- Sep 2017: Wabco announced OnLaneASSIST, a new active steering technology. It has been developed after the acquisition of R.H. Sheppard Co. and a cooperation agreement with Nexteer.
- June 2016: Knorr-Bremse, parent of Bendix, acquired Tedrive. Tedrive’s product, intelligent Hydraulic Steering Assist (iHSA), is designed to allow autonomous control of commercial vehicles. Coupled with Bendix’s camera and RADAR systems there is an obvious solution that addresses lateral vehicle control.
As sensors become standard and EHPS fitment rate increases, we can expect to see an increase of lane keep assist and other automated driving functions.
“We Need Professional Drivers”
Whilst the developments toward safer trucks and autonomy are exciting, the industry was keen to stress that it absolutely sees a need for highly-qualified drivers for the foreseeable future. New advances in advanced-driver-assistance-systems (ADAS) were clearly pitched as ‘driver aids’ not ‘driver replacements’. In fact, speaking to NACV attendees it was clear that there are many scenarios – city driving, off-road and hazardous loads – where it is impossible at this time to see professional drivers being replaced.
Safety technology will be used to support drivers’ activities in many areas. A primary use will be to protect drivers and other road users. However, the safety systems, when connected through the telematics system, will give fleet operators insight into how their drivers are performing. This data can be used to coach drivers to drive more efficiently/safely. Again, rather than replacing drivers, the technology is helping them to be better.
Platooning: a bridge too far?
A major step on the road to full autonomy will be platooning. The feedback at NACV was consistent and optimistic – the trials and technology are developing well and will be ready when the market requires it. However, there was some concern that not enough is being done to support the trials from a funding and legislative perspective.
Another interesting point raised was the ‘promotion’ of platooning to the public. As platooning truck trials expand, how do you inform road users that trucks are platooning? Do the trucks need to visibly display that they are platooning? Do stretches of road involved in platooning need better signage?
These are questions that need answers. However, just as the commercial truck market has responded to the need for better safety systems and driver assistance tools, so it will respond to the challenges presented by platooning.