The evolution of active safety systems

by James Menzies

Active safety systems have evolved rapidly in recent years, and their uptake has increased at a similarly rapid pace. Many truck manufacturers have made collision mitigation systems standard, and the government has stepped in to mandate the use of electronic stability control.

Next-generation systems are already in the works that will include active lane keeping, and even fatigue recognition. But there’s still room for improvement, especially as it relates to how these systems communicate with the driver.

“One of the things they all have in common is, they have to deliver information to the driver,” Fred Andersky, director, customer solutions controls with Bendix, said of today’s active driver assistance systems. “They have to let the driver know something is about to happen, or something is happening. The way they do that is through the HMI…The issue we run into is that, even though the SAE provides some guidelines around what these interfaces might look like, in reality there is no NHTSA-driven regulation that defines or demands that interface look or work a certain way. So, we end up seeing a lot of different approaches. Some that are good, some that are bad.”

Inconsistent messaging between various systems on the market can cause confusion for the driver. Andersky believes there should be some standardization in the industry, so that a driver using a Bendix Wingman Fusion system, for example, would receive the same warning message as when he’s driving a truck equipped with a Wabco or Detroit Assurance system.

Deborah Thompson, technology lead, human factors, with Volvo, says augmented reality could help get important alerts to drivers without them taking their eyes off the road, by displaying the warning directly on the windshield in a driver’s line of sight.

“The technology is starting to get incorporated into the vehicle,” she said of augmented reality. “It allows you to project information on the windshield so it’s within a driver’s field of view, so the driver doesn’t have to take their eyes off the road when a critical event occurs.”

But while these are some of the shortcomings of the advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) on the road today, there have certainly been many success stories as well. Schneider, for one, has seen a 95% reduction in accident severity and a 70% reduction in frequency since it began adopting ADAS, according to David Smith, driver assistance systems engineer with Daimler Trucks North America.

He reports 83% of fleets with more than 100 trucks are now spec’ing collision mitigation systems, but only 36% of small fleets are doing so.

“It comes down to the large fleets’ ability to do their own research,” Smith said of the disparity between small and large fleets spec’ing advanced driver assistance systems. “And smaller fleets don’t have as many vehicles, so the probability of them being in one of those unfortunate accidents is simply lower.”

The active safety systems currently available in the market will eventually provide the foundation for autonomous driving in the future, according to Andersky.

“System fusion will get us to the future,” he said. “Adaptive cruise control requires the braking system to work with the engine management system – the cruise control – to enable that feature. As we move forward, there is going to be more integration of these different systems.”

There is also likely to be more functionality coming to the active safety system arena. During a recent product update, Peterbilt laid out its active safety system roadmap. It includes: stop-and-go traffic assistance, to come later this year; lane-keeping assist to be brought to market next year; object detection in 2020; and driver state monitoring in 2021. The latter will feature inward-looking cameras that can detect driver fatigue and distraction.

It’s important to remember, however, that these active safety systems only work as well as the underlying mechanical systems on the truck. Radar and cameras need to be properly calibrated and pointed in the right direction. And base braking systems need to be properly maintained to ensure the stopping distance required by the system is achievable.

“While an active safety system can help with reaction times to improve roadway safety, effectiveness relies greatly on the base components that are actually doing the work to slow or stop a vehicle – the tires and brakes,” said Keith McComsey, director, marketing and customer solutions for wheel-ends at Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake. “Keeping those components maintained to their intended performance capability has a direct impact on slowing and stopping.”

Mark Melletat, executive director of fleet sales and service with Wabco Americas, agreed active safety systems must be incorporated into a fleet’s preventive maintenance program.

“Collision avoidance systems require the same routine maintenance schedules as other truck components such as ABS,” he said. “The inspection is very simple: test drive the truck and make sure the system is not setting any active fault codes.”

Bendix’s Andersky said the most common issues involve radars slipping out of alignment.

“Radar alignment is a relatively easy fix, however, as the system can typically easily inform the driver what needs to be adjusted,” he added.

For a fleet that’s spec’ing collision mitigation systems for the first time, it’s crucial that drivers and technicians are trained on the system’s capabilities – and equally important, what they’re not capable of achieving.

Buffy Wilkerson, national account manager with Wabco, emphasized the importance of training when speaking on the subject during the Spring meeting of the Technology & Maintenance Council.

“Every party in the company needs to be on-board,” she said, encouraging an open dialogue with drivers and an emphasis on the fact the system is designed to help the driver – not replace them.

Wilkerson encouraged fleets to take advantage of training tools provided by suppliers, or to, as one fleet customer did, create their own training videos. She said she’s seen successful deployments when training was provided, as well as flops when drivers and technicians were left to figure these systems out on their own.

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