Calgary's East West Express is the first trucking company in the world to implement a new vision-based safety system that combines Lane Departure Warning (LDW) with Forward Collision Warning (FCW) capabilities as well as headway monitoring.
Calgary’s East West Express is the first trucking company in the world to implement a new vision-based safety system that combines Lane Departure Warning (LDW) with Forward Collision Warning (FCW) capabilities as well as headway monitoring.
The system is the first of its kind to combine the three applications in one system using a single camera, says Meny Benady, vice president of marketing and business development for Mobileye – the Israeli-headquartered company that developed it.
Tom deWaal of East West Express has one of the company’s 55 trucks already equipped with the Mobileye system. His plan is to roll it out through the entire fleet (including trucks run by owner/operators) by October.
“One of our big concerns was ‘What is the ultimate solution for our vehicles and our drivers? How can we have the safest operation possible?'” deWaal says. After scouring the industry for a system that delivers all the necessary capabilities at a reasonable price, deWaal decided the best solution was the Mobileye system.
He based his decision on three factors: performance, price and potential (the fact it’s software-driven provides the ability to add new features without having to replace the hardware).
“I believe that by incorporating it into our company, within a year’s time we will have paid for the system through a reduction in accidents,” predicts deWaal. “If we are able to prevent one accident, it will pay for itself.”
Not surprising since the US National Transportation Safety Board pegs the average cost per large truck crash involving an injury at $217,000. That climbs to $3.54 million when a fatality is involved.
Fewer accidents means lower insurance rates as well, and while East West’s insurer isn’t offering a discount on premiums just yet, deWaal is confident insurance costs will decrease over time as the carrier’s accident rate goes down.
While Mobileye is the first company to combine LDW, FCW and headway monitoring using a single camera, existing products in the marketplace use radar to detect other vehicles. Benady claims that’s not as effective, especially when driving through corners. And then there are the other visual safety systems available in the automotive market, which tend to use multiple cameras and deliver only one of the applications offered by Mobileye.
“Anyone who knows anything about computer visuals says you must have two cameras to create a 3D depth map of the scene,” he explains. “But as humans, our stereo vision is useful for only about one metre – the reach of your arm. For anything beyond that we use other information, for example the rate of change (i.e. the changing size of an object in the distance).”
Mobileye decided to use a single camera because “one camera is cheaper than two and if you have two cameras you must calibrate between them and in the real world it is very difficult to keep them calibrated.”
The camera is about one cubic inch and is mounted to the front windshield. Also inside the truck, a small processing board is required as well as the display unit.
In East West’s demonstration truck, a detailed monitor provides far more information than any driver would actually want. deWaal says when the program is rolled out across the fleet, the detailed monitors will be replaced with bare-bones display units that show only the minimal information required.
“We would not like to have a display like this in the truck because there’s too much information for the driver to process,” says deWaal, gesturing towards the monitor inside the company’s 2004 Kenworth W900L. “The driver could get distracted and that would become a safety deterrent.”
We had the opportunity to ride along with deWaal and see how the system works first-hand.
The system uses a series of audible and visual alarms to alert a driver to a potential problem. For instance, if you stray outside your lane, the sound of rumble strips will be activated warning of a potential off-road excursion. The FCW system detects other vehicles or objects in the truck’s path and when those objects get too close to the front of the truck, a different series of audible and visual alarms will alert the driver about a possible collision.
Headway monitoring provides a constant reading of the distance between the truck and vehicle in front. At any time, we could determine exactly how far in front of us the next vehicle was. When the headway time is shorter than the recommended spacing between vehicles, the driver is alerted and he can then adjust his speed accordingly. The system does not control the vehicle’s speed – it simply alerts the driver to potential risks.
Benady says the system not only provides emergency alerts which can save lives, but it also warns drivers of bad habits they’ve developed, such as following other vehicles too closely.
“By attuning the driver to the fact he’s making driving mistakes such as telling him he’s keeping an incorrect headway, we not only avoid an immediate accident but we also educate him and get him to attune to more correct driving,” Benady explains.
But any time a trucking company introduces change, there’s bound to be some resistance from drivers and deWaal admits that’s been a minor issue at East West.
“I had a situation where one of my drivers asked ‘What are you doing?’ I explained it very briefly and he said ‘Well then, you can leave the keys in the truck,'” recalls deWaal.
However, after explaining in more detail the potential benefits that can be realized by the drivers and the company, that same driver volunteered to drive the test unit.
“There may initially be some reluctance to it but if you can intelligently explain the purpose of it to a driver, as long as they see the benefit of it I think they will be very interested in using it,” says deWaal. “His goals and my goals are the same – we want to have a safe, profitable operation.”
Driver distraction and driver inattention are among the biggest contributors to highway accidents and deWaal is confident Mobileye’s system will go a long way towards reducing accidents caused by those two factors.
“There’s so much to distract the driver so he may not be processing what is happening in front of the vehicle. His attention may be averted and in a case like that, the system will assist the truck driver and advise him of a situation where he’s following too closely or where there’s an impending collision,” deWaal says.
“We actually keep an extra eye open for them,” adds Benady.
Mobileye plans on continuing to develop its system to offer more features for truckers. Some of the future developments may include pedestrian and wildlife detection as well as speed limit displays, which can recall the latest speed limit sign that passed by and either have the speed limit constantly on display on the monitor or sound an alarm when a driver exceeds that speed.