With safety a priority of Volvo Trucks since its inception 90 years ago, the company Monday rolled out its latest accident reduction offering, Active Driver Assist, at Michelin Tire’s proving grounds near Laurens, South Carolina.
Executives from Volvo Trucks North America and the supplier, Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, demonstrated the product’s capabilities and further defined its operating parameters following previous demos this past summer by Bendix.
Also known as Bendix’s Wingman Fusion, the system uses radar and a forward-facing camera to detect and identify obstacles ahead, then starts adjusting the truck's speed by dethrottling while it warns the driver. If he or she fails to take corrective action, it sounds and flashes an alert, and will soon apply the brakes.
Volvo Active Driver Assist also includes an enhanced lane departure warning system that tells drivers if they’re straying from a travel lane.
Volvo engineers have integrated the warnings and other signals into the information display on the dashboard just ahead of the driver so he or she needn’t look to the side to see what it’s saying on an accessory screen. Beeping further alerts the driver that a situation is developing ahead. Intervals of 1.5 to 3.5 seconds can be set before auto-braking comes on, with the longer time for highway speeds and a shorter time for urban situations.
“Camera and radar – two brains working together” to enhance safety, said Ash Makki, Volvo’s product development manager. The camera’s view is 42 degrees ahead and the radar’s beam is 22 degrees wide. The radar sees through smoke, dust, fog, rain and snow, while the camera sees what the driver does.
Video from the camera is constantly recorded. A 20-second portion, 10 seconds before an event and 10 seconds after, is automatically saved when a defined event triggers the mechanism. An event can be anything from a fast lane change and swerving to a collision. A driver can also push a button to record a longer sequence if he deems it useful. Videos are saved on servers at Bendix and accessible by fleet managers.
A Volvo customer, McKenzie Tank Lines of Tallahassee, Florida, used a video to prove its driver was not at fault in an incident, said its vice president of maintenance, Jim Kennedy. He showed one in which an oncoming pickup truck had crossed a double-yellow line and was in the McKenzie rig’s lane. The rig’s driver swerved onto the shoulder to avoid a head-on crash, but the pickup clipped the trailer’s rear tandem, then ran off the road.
“The pickup’s driver swore we were in his lane,” Kennedy related, “and our insurance people said everybody was getting lawyered up… The video showed otherwise and the lawyers all began peeling away.”
McKenzie is an early adopter of safety technology and is ordering tractors with the new system, Kennedy said. Since it started using previous forward collision mitigation systems in 2003, McKenzie has reduced frontal collisions, “where we hit the rear of another vehicle,” from 10 per year to none so far this year. And all the tractors that had those accidents lacked the radar-based warning systems, he noted, because the new systems were being introduced on newer trucks.
The radar antenna is mounted in a tractor’s front bumper and the radar detects metallic objects. It feeds signals to the system’s electronic controls, which analyze them with help from camera images; they verify that the object is a car or other motor vehicle, explained Fred Andersky, Bendix’s director of customer solutions and government affairs. It does that by seeing tail lights and a license plate, among other features.
If a car is crossways in the road ahead, the camera will probably not recognize it, because it is more complex and variable, he continued. Brakes will not automatically apply because it might not be a vehicle at all, but a railway or highway overpass, he explained, “and you wouldn’t want the brakes to come on at highway speeds just because there’s an overpass up there.”
Limits to what the system does helps retain professional drivers’ role in operating the truck, he and others explained. That’s also why braking at speeds below 15 mph is curtailed unoless it’s obvious that a collision is imminent. The system is being refined to recognize other objects, including speed limit signs so it can warn of a driver speeding.
Volvo Active Driver Assist is available now on Volvo VNL and VNM road tractors, and is being integrated into other highway models, said Wade Long, director of product marketing.