In our January issue, HDT Equipment Editor Jim Park explored how advances in steering are soon going to make driving easier, and will be an important part of the move toward more automation in trucks. Here's a more extended interview on the topic with Jon Morrison, president of the Americas at Wabco.
HDT: Were a driver to decide to take control of the truck while in auto-steering mode, would he have to wrestle control from the truck, or would the system recognize some external force on the wheel and relinquish control easily?
Morrison: We have designed the system so that, when a driver takes control during an active steering event, the system recognizes driver input and the driver input immediately overrides the active steering system. This is a driver assist feature. The driver is in control at all times and can override the assist when desired.
HDT: Other systems I have driven offer drivers nearly effortless steering a low speed, while they get stiffer steering at highway speeds. Is this sort of technology nearly ready for market today?
Morrison: The Wabco systems offers this feature. We call it “speed-dependent steering effort." In addition to this we also offer a feature called "return to center, which provides drivers with reduced efforts and reduced fatigue when returning the wheels back to the center position. In addition to low speed advantages, there are many advantages that this system provides to make the driving experience better in high-speed situations. The Wabco Steering Gear with the MTO helps drivers by mitigating some of the effects of heavy cross-winds, road crowning and wheel imbalance.
HDT: What sort of redundancies might be required by regulators before trucks would be allowed to operate with autonomous steering?
Morrison: What makes Wabco’s MTO unique in the market is that it is not burdening the fleets and drivers with the costs associated with fully redundant systems. Wabco will have these systems available as they become required for fully autonomous trucks, but for now the Wabco Steering Gear with the Magnetic Torque Overlay system provides the right functionality for a better cost than our competitors.
HDT: How close are we to deploying self-steering mechanisms as part of an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS)?
Morrison: We already have units on the road and in fleets' hands as part of our testing procedures. Full-scale commercial launch will happen within 2019. When these systems launch, they will be able to provide active steering assist to lane departure and blind-spot systems.
HDT: On a more mundane front, can you tell me about any advances in basic power steering systems for heavy trucks?
Morrison: For hydraulic power steering, the technology continues to develop, with the main challenge being if you apply active steering to base hydraulic system, it will highlight any tolerance deficiencies in the system (gear/column). Where a driver may have accepted a certain amount of play in a system, an automated system will need much better precision to control. Wabco continues to evolve its HPS systems to maintain a focus on key customer attributes – performance, reliability, cost and weight – while evolving the technology to be compatible with electrical assist features.