Rob Phillips, left, and Jim Epler, of Phillips Connect, discuss the future of smart trailers. - Photo: Screen shot of Media Day presentation

Rob Phillips, left, and Jim Epler, of Phillips Connect, discuss the future of smart trailers.

Photo: Screen shot of Media Day presentation

“Autonomous trucks don’t work without a smart trailer. If you’ve got an autonomous truck going down the highway with a fireball behind it, a load of paper towels and diapers on fire behind the tractor and there’s no driver, that’s a problem.”

That’s Rob Phillips, CEO of Phillips Connect, which is laying the groundwork now to make those smart trailers possible – and provide additional benefits for trucks with drivers.

He made the comment in a virtual media update May 18. In that session, company officials offered trucking reporters an update, covering their current product offering as well as what they’re working on for both near and far future trucks.

“One of our goals is to help the industry achieve autonomous transportation,” said Jessica Smith, vice president of customer and data insights, noting that the company has a number of sensors in research and development.

When it can, she explained, the company tries to combine sensors. For instance, later this year the company plans to launch a door sensor that locks and unlocks trailer doors – but this sensor also will handle the door closed-or-open data currently handled by a separate sensor.

One of the issues faced by both future autonomous trucks and current tractor-trailers is the issue of latency, explained Rob Phillips – how long it can take for data to make its way from the rear of the trailer into the cab. “Latency has been a challenge,” he said. “We’re working on developing special harnessing that allows you to almost eliminate that.”

In the nearer term, Phillips is working on the latency issue in conjunction with a new backup camera it’s developing – something “the industry has needed for a long time,” said Rob Phillips.

The company also is working on developing a cargo camera. Although there are cameras available, after testing many of them, the company decided it needed something that would work better with its integrated systems.

Company officials explained that the new camera will use a twisted pair that’s woven into the main trailer harness.

“It makes it easy to get alerts through the trailer gateway to the in-cab monitor so the driver’s going to get a very quick alert, bypassing cloud and cellular,” said Rob Phillips.

“In autonomous trucks, all the health data needs to be transmitted through the trailer and harnessing right into that tractor, so it knows what’s going on with the trailer,” said Jim Epler, PCT executive vice president.

Phillips Connect officials also emphasized the integration of sensors and telematics into a single telematics hub makes it easy for fleets to stay on top of their trailers now and will help the move toward smarter trailers in the future.

Earlier this year, it announced its Connect Smart7 integrated telematics hub, which manages all trailer health sensors using one device and one platform. It offers a real-time comprehensive view of the status of a trailer, such as loaded/unloaded status, tire pressure, door open/closed, wheel hub temperatures, ABS faults, lights out, and so forth, with all of the data available on a consolidated web or mobile device user interface via PCT's Connect1 platform.

During the May 18 media update, officials noted that they’re working on a version of the Smart7 that incorporates it swivel nose box, which swivels side to side to follow the tractor and features automatic disconnect feature to protect components.

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