While mirrors are here to stay, high-tech supplements are on the horizon.

While mirrors are here to stay, high-tech supplements are on the horizon.

With more companies researching, developing and soon manufacturing 360-degree solutions for heavy-duty trucks, there are questions revolving around what the industry needs to be aware of when it comes to this type of technology.

Fleet and safety managers, as well as the drivers they oversee, need to understand the significance of possible information overload. 

“Monitors that focus information from surroundings into a readily identifiable single location may offer benefits, but diligence must be made to ensure that there is not an overload of too many sources of information to be scanned inside the cockpit,” says Dee Kivett, CEO and president at NextGen Supply Chain Integrators and an instructor at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research. During the 2014 American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council annual meeting, Kivett presented research concerning how people process information when it comes to mirrors vs. cameras.

“Whether the information presented to the driver is delivered via a mirror image or an electronic monitor-image, it is all additional input to be processed,” explains Kivett, adding that the time required to interface with in-cabin systems should ensure that drivers still have ample time to focus on looking forward down the road while attending to the primary driving task.

It’s all in the training

Like most things safety-related, there are protocols that can be put in place to ensure that drivers are using these new technologies to increase safety in and around the truck.

According to Kivett, drivers will need to learn to combine using mirrors with the increased visibility provided by exterior-mounted cameras. 

“Until then, training is key, especially for experienced drivers who may not be familiar with the new technology but are used to relying on intuition and traditional mirrors alone for the driving task,” adds Kivett.

Fleets should also work to make sure drivers get adequate rest, because lack of sleep can significantly affect cognitive working memory loss, making it harder for drivers to pay attention and more likely to experience information overload.

“With driver shortages challenging many carriers today, the importance of supporting these policies is critical,” says Kivett.

Previewing the future

Placing cameras at strategic positions is nothing new in terms of vehicle technology, but tying everything together in a safe and efficient manner will propel this technology into more and more cabs.

For Mike Nalepka, general manager of video intelligence for PeopleNet, which is developing camera visibility systems, it begins with a forward-facing camera. Add to that side-view cameras available real time on an in-cab display that shows 120-150-degree views in the blind spot on the left or right side.

“Some of the more recent statistics from 2010 stated there were 3,000 fatalities that involved a Class A vehicle, of which 25% of those were directly attributed to lane change,” Nalepka says. “Our hope first and foremost is to save lives, protect the public and avoid accidents.”

To avoid distractions, the side cameras will not display unless drivers have activated the turn signal to change lanes.

“We foresee the greatest value in the right camera being able to see the right blind spot,” says Nalepka. This area is where most accidents occur, he says, since the driver can easily look out the left window to get a peripheral view of what’s going on. “The mirror is actually going to be complemented by the camera. That’s why we’re calling it Driver Assist.”

PeopleNet has not scheduled the release date of the side-view cameras, but plans to release the forward-facing video intelligence product in the fourth quarter of 2015.

When more cameras are offered by PeopleNet in the future, fleets will be able to tie in everything with the initial system released this year.

“The number one reason why fleets have told us that they want video is to be able to protect their companies from false lawsuit claims and liability costs,” Nalepka says. “Statistics show that 75% of the time the driver of a Class A truck is not at fault in an accident, but 75% of the time they end up getting sued.”

PeopleNet is not the only company developing camera systems that give drivers a better view of their surroundings. SmartDrive Systems’ SmartDrive Assurance product line introduced this year allows fleets to add additional cameras to its existing forward/cab product for up to a 360-degree view around the vehicle. Hadley showed a concept version of a 360-degree camera system at the Mid-America Trucking Show and says it plans to launch it officially next spring.

Mirroring the future

While cameras will expand the way drivers see around their vehicles, there is no replacing the tried-and-true mirrors that have kept drivers visually informed of their surroundings even before they were mandated in Federal Motor Vehicle Standard 111.

“Mirrors are first and foremost a key consideration in safety,” says Jeff Barr, director of sales and marketing, truck/fleet, at Velvac. “Legally, FMVSS 111 requires that all trucks must have a minimum of 50 square inches of flat glass; to date this has been enhanced by larger flat mirror surfaces and the use of convex mirrors.”

But the mirror manufacturer also sees the writing on the wall, and has already taken steps to meet the demands of fleets for this emerging technology.

“Velvac is developing a proprietary technology solution, RoadiQ, that incorporates up to seven view inputs, records key events, allows for telecom uploading to a remote location and does all of this under 100 milliseconds,” Barr explains. “We view the incorporation of the recording / playback features as a unique training tool that also provides risk mitigation in terms of accident reconstruction and ultimately will create a safer environment for drivers.”