Seeing the light

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It turns out that Marvin the Martian isn’t the only one who wanted to zap you with a laser. Both Mack Trucks and Detroit Diesel have unveiled systems that will send engine data between a cab-mounted light and another light mounted in a fleet yard, shop or fuel island.

Other manufacturers are expected to make similar announcements in a matter of months.

For Detroit Diesel, the infrared information system will be known as the Iris, and will be available with Series 50 and 60 engines. Mack will refer to it as the Vesiplex-IR, but both versions were developed in conjunction with Vehicle Enhancement Systems of Rock Hill, S.C. Each is expected to be available for sale within a year.

Trucks equipped with the system and its marker-sized light need only to park beside a similar light mounted at a fleet facility. (An in-dash light will confirm that a connection is made.) Engine data will then be sent in less than two minutes with flashes of a laser. Technicians won’t need to physically plug a diagnostic tool into a J1587/1708 connector. Signals will be sent up to a distance of 40 to 60 feet, within a 40-degree cone.

The product has already been tested through winter conditions, confirms Mack’s Wayne Wissinger.

“We even sent it through a sheet of low-density styrofoam,” adds Detroit Diesel’s David Hart, referring to how a little road grime won’t stop the signals.

In technical terms, the on-board reader converts traditional SAE J1587 data and fires the information off at a rate of 9,600 BAUD (bits per second). The base unit then converts the information back into the SAE J1587 format, and the end result is much like a wired connection. Where they are designed to read engine data, such devices will also be able to allow the reprogramming of an engine by remote.

Mack expects the systems could eventually include remote fuel dispensing authorization at truck stops, and automated fuel tax and E-DOT log reports.

Detroit Diesel hopes to incorporate associated electronics into the light housing, Hart adds. Initial versions of both systems include a separate box used to collect engine data before feeding it to a light.

For now, traditional outlets will also remain. Says Hart, “There will always be people plugging a laptop into there.” n

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