Cocooning: In conversation with WABCO’s Jon Morrison

John G Smith

LOUISVILLE, KY — We’re approaching an era when trucks act more like trusted co-drivers than equipment alone.

Optional Collision Warning Systems and Lane Departure Systems use things like radar and cameras to watch the road and sound the alarm if a driver fails to notice a hazard or drifts into danger. Collision Mitigation Systems – or adaptive cruise controls — go a step further and actually begin to slow a vehicle before a driver reacts. And the technologies all come together in prototypes for “semi-autonomous” and “platooning” vehicles that promise at times to drive themselves.

“The vision is about providing that 360-degree cocoon around the truck, to enable the truck and the driver to operate as safety as they can,” says WABCO Americas president Jon Morrison.

Thank a European truck driver if you can find one. The continent’s trucks have, in many cases, offered the testing ground for the underlying systems that are increasingly being adopted in North America.

 “There’s a lot more global connectivity,” Morrison explains, referring to components and software shared by systems on both sides of the Atlantic. It even exists despite the dramatic difference in trucks that travel each continent’s highways.

The self-learning software that was needed to adjust for weights, tire size and vehicle configurations in Europe’s Electronic Stability Controls (ESC) will certainly play a role as similar systems are introduced in North America, Morrison says, referring to the equipment that applies brakes to keep a truck from tipping when heading too quickly into a turn. The U.S. is preparing to mandate the systems beginning in 2017. Canada is expected to follow suit.

Already-proven technologies are particularly important to fleets that want to act ahead of any mandates. And there are an increasing number of early adopters. About 30-35% of new trucks already come equipped with stability controls, which have been available since 2003/04, Morrison says. Another 10-15% of vehicles come with Collision Mitigation Systems, while 5% have Lane Departure Warnings. And market shares are accelerating. “It’s really a function of the return on investment and the effectiveness of the system,” he says.

As odd as it sounds, enhanced technologies are simplifying available systems, too. A camera recently incorporated into Meritor WABCO’s OnLane collision warning system was also first developed to meet Europe’s demand for radar and cameras to work together in Autonomous Emergency Braking Systems (AEBS).  Why are integrated parts so important? It helps to control the ever-expanding number of Electronic Control Units found on a truck, Morrison says.

And it all brings the industry a step closer to semi-autonomous vehicles and the platooning that promises to enhance safety and fuel economy alike.

“It will all come down to braking at the end of the day — in terms of keeping distance, slowing the vehicle, things like that,” he says. “The brake system is really this sort of heartbeat of what is happening on the vehicle in motion.”

How soon semi-autonomous trucks will be commercially viable is tough to determine. WABCO Americas expects them to hit the road after 2024. But in the meantime, the underlying systems can be adopted help to avoid collisions and enhance braking events of every type.

Says Morrison: “The technologies that we can apply along the way are really going to add a lot of value and save a lot of lives as we get there.”

John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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