Daimler's latest advance in connectivity and autonomous technologies, Highway Pilot Connect, prepares for autonomous platooning earlier this year in Germany. Photo: Daimler Trucks.

Daimler's latest advance in connectivity and autonomous technologies, Highway Pilot Connect, prepares for autonomous platooning earlier this year in Germany. Photo: Daimler Trucks.

There’s a lot of buzz around “connectivity” in commercial vehicles, including how connectivity plays into autonomous driving technologies. The mainstream media loves to talk about “driverless trucks,” but as I discussed in my editorial in HDT last month, the road to true “self driving” trucks is likely to be a long one, with lots of obstacles slowing the pace of progress.

I want to wind the tape back a few months to the Fleet Forum at this year’s Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., where one panel discussion addressed connectivity.

Fred Andersky, director of government and industry affairs at Bendix, started out trying to narrow down the concept of connectivity. Speaking about recent tests of autonomous vehicle technology and platooning by Daimler Trucks in Europe, he said, “you’re getting to the ultimate [in connectivity] there, when the driver can sit back and look at his iPad or drink coffee. The way we’re going to get there is through connectivity and advancing driver assistance systems.”

He noted that connectivity got its start back in the mid-‘90s with antilock braking systems. ABS gave the truck a brain and eyes, through electronic control units and sensors. Later, additional sensors made stability control possible. Similarly, he said, radar on the front of the truck allowed us to detect what was going on in front of the vehicle. The first systems simply warned the driver, but eventually they were tied to another electronic brain that allowed the truck’s cruise control to react to what it detected in front — and then we added braking to that.. Next came collision mitigation braking that works whether the cruise control is on or not, where the system, if it decides a collision is imminent, alerts the driver and applies the brakes. Now we’ve added a camera to work with the radar to enhance those capabilities.

This kind of progression, Andersky said, is the same type of step by step approach we should expect to see with driver assistance systems and eventually autonomous vehicle technologies.

He cited the four “I’s” of safety: information, intelligence, intervention, and insight.

Information is sensors and other outside inputs, such as radar and cameras. Intelligence is analyzing that information to determine the appropriate response. Today we intervene with throttle and brakes; in the future we’ll add steering. Insight helps us see what might have happened in a particular situation.

“In the future what connectivity is going to mean is more information into the system,” he said, such as GPS, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure information, to do more to help avoid potential crash situations.

“In the future we could receive information from the vehicles in front that they’re slowing down,  and might get information from the infrastructure that this is a 90-degree curve, and GPS information so the system knows where we are, so we can alert the driver and precharge the brakes. Suppose the driver doesn't pay attention to the alerts; we can then start to apply the brakes. And if the driver doesn’t pay attention to an alert, when the truck does something they don’t expect it gets their attention real quick. But if it still doesn’t, get his attention, we can slow the vehicle down and steer it to the side of the road safely, and alert the authorities that we have a driver incapacitated. That’s the future vision of connectivity with a driver assist system.”

One of the challenges, however, is whether the network on the truck can handle all this data.

“I think what’s going to start to happen is you’re going to have more networks on the vehicle,” Andersky said. “Today the J1939 CAN [bus] is getting overloaded. My prediction is in the relatively near future there will be a safety-critical CAN. The last thing you want to happen is because the driver rolls up his window you don’t get a safety alert. We have some of that already today; stability control for instance uses a direct link from some of the sensors to the ECU. But it’s going to become wider scale — a second network.”

Andersky also projects connectivity between the tractor and the trailer improving in the future. The vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure data has to include information on how big the vehicle is — is it bobtailing? Is it a 48-foot or 53-foot trailer, or doubles? “PLC is not the way to do it.”

Another challenge is the question of who gets access to all that data. He pointed out that government agencies such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would love to get their hands on it “ and there are opportunities as long as that does not track back to a specific truck or fleet. How do you protect privacy?”

While there’s a lot of promise in connected vehicle technologies, there’s still a lot of work that has to be done, not just on the technology side, but on the rules, regulations and laws covering the technology.

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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