First, a confession. I am a terrible passenger. My right foot is always pumping against the floor mat whenever I find myself riding shotgun. A knot forms in my stomach when someone takes anything other than my favorite route. When the Today’s Trucking team carpooled to a trade show earlier this year, I was quick to reach for the keys before anyone else had the chance.
But one recent trip around the PACCAR Technical Center’s test track in Mount Vernon, Washington was designed to leave the driving to someone else. To be more precise, it was about handing control to something else.
Only hours earlier I had been behind the wheel of a Kenworth T680 with a PACCAR MX-13 engine, circling the banked track to get a feel for how the truck handles. In the tighter confines of the inner track, I took the turns a little tighter and faster than usual, just to see how the Bendix 6S/6M disc brakes and Electronic Stability Program (ESP) would react. The automated touch of the brakes offered just a gentle pull from behind. Everything remained under control.
Then came a demonstration that required me to strap into a jump seat mounted in a T680’s sleeper and let another driver take over. More to the point, he was ready and willing to tailgate and keep his feet flat on the floor while the Bendix Wingman Fusion system dealt with surrounding obstacles.
Wingman Fusion combines a windshield-mounted camera and bumper-mounted radar to identify hazards and actually apply the disc brakes quicker than a driver might otherwise reach for the pedal. Unveiled as an option for the T680 and T880 as recently as this spring, the latest generation of Collision Mitigation Systems is now spec’d in 30% of Kenworth’s aerodynamic tractors.
Indeed, calling Wingman Fusion a simple Collision Warning System would be a disservice. The Bendix system does not steer, as we have seen in prototype semi-autonomous trucks, but it seamlessly combines sensor readings and actual brake applications.
Consider what happened as our truck approached the bumper of a car parked in the middle of the lane. First came the warning in the form of an electronic tone and light on the dash-mounted driver interface. The distance continued to close. My right foot instinctively moved to the left. A second and third tone came. Another body part clenched. Then all the disc brakes applied in a stop that was sudden enough to send a smartphone flying from my hands.
In the next trip around the track, the driver chose to steer around the parked vehicle just as brakes began to apply. “That’s what we expect him to do,” said Fred Andersky, Bendix director of customer solutions – controls, as we moved to safety.
Even when the system is triggered, the driver ultimately remains into control.
Alerts relating to following distances are based on speeds. Above 60 kilometers per hour, they sound when the truck is 1.5 seconds and one second from a potential crash. “Think of it as city mode,” Andersky said. At higher speeds a third alert comes 3.5 seconds before a potential impact.
The system’s Lane Departure Warnings watch over the road in another way. As we crossed the dotted line on the test track without applying the turn signal, the electronic tones created a virtual rumble strip. But when the turn signal was applied, no sound was made. “The system knows that the driver is in control and wants to make that lane change,” Andersky said of the latter situation.
That feature is only active above 60 kilometers per hour, to ensure such warnings don’t sound as a truck is crawling through a parking lot. It can also be silenced for 15 minutes at a time, handy in situations like a new construction area where multiple lines exist. And the truck has to travel six inches across the line before triggering a warning as well.
Perhaps the most radical feature is the way the camera can actually read and respond to speed limit signs. At about 5 miles per hour (8 kilometers per hour) above the posted limit, there was an audible warning. When 10 miles per hour (16 kilometers per hour) above the signed limit, the truck offered a gentle reminder by pulling back on the throttle for just a second.
Still, there are limits to what the system will read. Fusion will track typical speed limits signs found across North America, but doesn’t recognize the unique signs in construction areas or school zones. And if the camera is unable to confirm that an object is actually a vehicle, it offers a warning alone.
No matter what it does identify, however, steps are also taken to prioritize any alerts before deciding which one requires action. “If he had a situation where he was making that lane change because the car in front of him slowed rapidly and we had a collision situation, we can prioritize the alerts, so [the driver] would get the most important one,” Andersky explained.
It’s something you would hope any skilled co-pilot would do.
Truck: Kenworth T680
Engine: PACCAR MX-13
485 hp/1,650 lb ft
Transmission: Eaton UltraShift Plus
Front axle brakes: Bendix Air Disc
Rear brakes: Bendix Air Disc RSD
Traction/stability: Bendix 6S/6M with Automatic Traction Control and ESP Stability System