LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) says it’s ready to write the next chapter in the continuing evolution of truck safety, and that it will be all about “interactive safety.”
First there was passive safety – items such as seatbelts, collapsible steering columns and airbags – aimed at mitigating injury in the event of a crash. Next came active safety systems, such as forward-looking radar, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems, which were intended to prevent the crash from happening. With the dawn of interactive safety, Daimler says the truck will not only be able to prevent crashes, but will also be able to protect other vehicles around it through the use of vehicle-to-vehicle communications and other emerging technologies.
“We see (interactive safety) as the next level of vehicle integration,” Diane Hames, general manager, marketing and strategy with Daimler Trucks North America, said at a press event today. “Interactive safety is looking at the truck as part of a network.”
She likened the concept to the central nervous system of a human body. By putting various technologies together and enabling communication between vehicles, Hames said “Now, it’s not just the truck that may be reacting to a hazardous condition on the road, but the vehicle in front of them may be able to react as well. This is the world we’re going to next.”
Daimler’s much discussed autonomous Inspiration Truck, which can drive itself under certain conditions while under the watch of a professional driver, brings together many of the most advanced safety systems available today and produces a new result – the ability of the truck to drive itself.
“What we’re trying to create going forward is, how can we apply these technologies in different ways and with different technologies to come up with different solutions that ultimately provide a safer driver environment and more efficient, better integrated vehicle with the driver?” Hames said.
She said the goal is not to replace drivers through automation, but to enhance their capabilities. Radar systems and cameras can react faster to imminent dangers than can humans, she pointed out. Hames said fighter jet pilots have become so integrated with their machines that they no longer simply climb into their fighters, rather they “put them on.”
“I’m not going to stand here and say it’s going to get to the point where truck drivers put on a truck, but the integration of truck and driver and extending the driver’s abilities is going to make it a much safer environment for the driver and for other people on the highway moving forward,” Hames said. Another way to look at emerging safety systems, Hames said, are as “bionics for truck drivers.”
“The human eye can see only so far in one direction and some peripheral vision,” she explained. “You add to that multiple cameras and multiple radars focused on specific things and the driver now has capabilities beyond human capabilities…the truck can react much faster than the human driver so it increases the driver’s capabilities.”
Still, Hames stressed the driver will always be necessary, even if and when autonomous trucks become the norm.
“We are not advocating (autonomous trucks) will ever get rid of the driver,” she said. “What we’re really talking about is creating an environment where the driver is able to focus on the things that really are important and not that tedium of sitting there looking down the highway holding that truck between the lines for 10 hours a day.”
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies