High-tech hits the road

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Built to capture the imagination of truckers and the public, some high-tech concept trucks have sported exotic technologies, like hybrid engines, four-wheel steering and a host of other great ideas that aren’t likely to see production anytime soon (see page 30).

The most recent crop, however, seem intended more to showcase technologies already available -but not widely embraced – and those waiting closely in the wings. Here are a few examples. Manufacturers are beginning to realize that fleets will consider technology if the payback is clear.

Brakes and blind spots
Eaton’s technology entry, the Innovation Truck, is a Kenworth T2000, equipped with advanced safety and communication features, including: The Eaton Electronic Brake System (EBS); enhanced Blind Spot Video Aid integrated with Eaton VORAD collision warning system (CWS); Internet connection; and PLC4 Trucks tractor-trailer communications.

Eaton’s EBS uses an electronic signal from the foot valve to the brake relay valve. This signal is traditionally sent via air, a compressible medium whose waves can travel at a maximum of sound speed, or about 760 mph at sea level. Because an electronic signal can travel at the speed of light – about 186,000 miles per second – EBS can reduce brake-response time and stopping distance, and ensure proper brake balance and more even lining/pad wear.

ABS and traction control are still integral parts of the new control system. EBS and its smart electronics provide the platform for a variety of truck control features, including stability systems to prevent roll-over accidents, autonomous cruise control and brake system diagnostics and prognostics.

The Enhanced Blind Spot Video Aid is a concept product that integrates Eaton VORAD CWS warnings into one display, and has smart control algorithms to give the driver a view of his blind spots when he needs it. The display is triggered by software based on turn signal use, reverse gear engagement and vehicle speed. The driver also has manual control at any time. The display is turned off most of the time to avoid distraction.

This blind-spot video aid is envisioned as an enhancement option to the commercially available Eaton VORAD EVT-300 system.

In addition, the truck is equipped with an Internet connection using cellular phone links to demonstrate applications such as e-mail, truck service and routing information. This technology also facilitates future ITS technology, where the driver can be notified of upcoming speed limits, stop signs, low bridges, red lights and traffic congestion.

In an effort to demonstrate enhanced tractor/trailer communication technology, Eaton has installed PLC4 Truck (power line carrier) technology covering basic and advanced messaging from tractor to trailer. Advanced product offerings, such as brake wear sensors, tire pressure management and trailer ABS/EBS – some of which are already available – will be able communicate via this system, without the need for a second tractor/trailer connector.

As a research tool, the Innovation Truck is intended to capture customer opinions on emerging product concepts which, Eaton says, will help make trucks safer, more productive and more profitable.

Kenworth’s Side-Camera Vision System displays a wide-angle view of the right-hand side of the vehicle by using a miniature video camera mounted to the roof, and displaying the image on a video monitor mounted below the header.

Fuel cells for comfort
Freightliner’s latest “technology truck” is the manufacturer’s Century Class S/T (Safety/Technology) conventional, featuring a fuel cell auxiliary power unit (APU) used to power comfort and convenience accessories with the engine off.

Freightliner developed the system with XCellsis, a joint-venture company whose ownership includes Freightliner’s parent DaimlerChrysler AG, Stuttgart, Germany, Ballard Power Systems, Vancouver, B.C. and Ford Motor Corp. It includes two Ballard proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel-cell stacks, operating in series, which are fed from a 52-gallon, onboard hydrogen tank.

Within the fuel cell, hydrogen is split into positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. The protons can pass through the membrane, but the electrons cannot, thus building up a voltage in the fuel cell. The only by-product of this process is water.

Freightliner’s APU produces over 1400 watts at 120 volts AC or 12 volts DC and is connected to the vehicle’s electrical system through an 1800-watt inverter, which provides power to vehicle accessories (including an 8000-Btu air conditioner) and batteries at the required voltage.

Freightliner says it is working to make such APUs commercially viable within 3 to 5 years depending on availability of a suitable fuel and related infrastructure, the production cost of the units and integration of the units with other onboard truck systems.

The S/T Technology Truck also includes Lane Guidance, a lane-departure warning system, which monitors the truck’s position relative to lane markings, then sounds an audible warning when the truck is about to stray outside its lane.

A camera continually gathers visual data, and digitizes and feeds it into a CPU, which determines if a vehicle is drifting too close to the lane markings. When this occurs – and if the driver has not activated the turn signal – the CPU sends a signal to emit a rumble strip sound, from a left or right speaker, as appropriate.

The S/T also includes the Eaton VORAD EVT-300 collision warning system and Freightliner’s Truck Productivity Computer – a vehicle computer with AM/FM stereo and weatherband receivers, global positioning system, compact disc player and wireless interfaces for other onboard systems.

Almost production
Kenworth is exploring the not-so-distant future with its High-Tech Truck III, introduced at this year’s Mid-American Trucking Show. According to Kenworth, the vehicle focuses on technologies that may be available as Kenworth production options within a year, depending on reaction from drivers, owner-operators and fleets. The manufacturer is seeking input on which features are the most beneficial and cost-effective in the areas of driver comfort, productivity, efficiency and safety.

The high-tech truck features the Fleetcom 2000 Communication System, which uses GPS tracking and wireless cellular communications to allow fleets to remotely track the vehicle and its operating conditions. The system provides fleets with information such as miles traveled per day, fuel economy, maintenance requirements, vehicle performance, idle time and hours of operation – reducing the amount of paperwork drivers have to produce.

Another new feature is the Xantrex 2,000-watt power inverter, which provides clean, 110-volt AC power to run a microwave, satellite receiver or other electronics.

Other key items include two vision-related systems. The Bendix XVision forward-looking night vision system extends the driver’s vision beyond the area illuminated by the headlamps, while the Kenworth side-camera vision system displays a wide-angle view of the right-hand side of the vehicle by using a miniature video camera mounted to the roof, and displaying the image on a video monitor mounted below the header.

The vehicle also includes the Alpine DVD navigation system, which is now available as an option on Kenworth trucks.

Bendix’ XVision forward-looking night vision system, which extends the driver’s vision beyond the area illuminated by the headlamps, has found a home on the KW High-Tech-Truck III. Since the unit relies on thermal imaging, the figure on the screen would appear as you see it, even in total darkness.

Driving in style
Volvo’s “Silver Cab” technology truck is a VN 770 intended to “project a vision of futuristic driver lifestyles, with a focused range of technical innovation,” according to the company.
For starters, the truck has a powerful, in-dash computer, running Windows 98, with a touch-sensitive screen and full-feature voice control. It uses a wireless LAN to communicate with other computers on board.

The Silver Cab’s sleeper features a laptop docking station with a built-in, swing-out monitor that doubles as a TV. Teleconferencing, Internet and e-mail are supported by both wireless LAN and land-linked infrastructure – weatherproof phone/modem and TV cable jacks are mounted outside the vehicle.

Volvo’s lane-departure warning system is similar to Freightliner’s, except that when the vehicle drifts out of lane, vibrating motors in the driver’s seat alert him by simulating rumble strips. According to Volvo, this alerting method has proven very successful in terms of driver acceptance.

A built-in voltage inverter, which is now a factory option for Volvo, is provided to take advantage of shore power, should the infrastructure be developed.

Under the radar
Lack of a technology truck doesn’t necessarily mean lack of technology. Some manufacturers, such as Peterbilt, prefer to take a lower-profile approach. Instead of gauging reaction from the public at trucking shows, “we evaluate new technologies internally,” explains Scott Pearson, Peterbilt’s general marketing manager. “Then, if it looks like it could answer a customer’s need, we’ll put it on a production truck for customers to evaluate.”

“We’ll also take these trucks to our dealer meetings for feedback,” adds Craig Brewster, chief engineer. “Some of the technology is not necessarily new, but we look at new ways we can package and integrate it for the end user.”

For example, the company is currently experimenting with a medium-duty, Model 330 Advanced Distribution Vehicle, built to maximize P&D efficiency and productivity.

“It’s a mini-warehouse on wheels,” says Pearson. “It has integral bar-code scanning – it tracks what goes in and what comes out, when and where. It has GPS, so dispatch always knows where it is. And it automatically provides proof of delivery via the Internet. Plus, its onboard navigation system is tied to the GPS for route optimization.”

“Ergonomically, it has low steps and offers easy access to packages,” says Brewster. “And there’s a ‘business center,’ with space for paperwork and a laptop.”

While there are no definite plans to produce the 330 ADV, the process of customer evaluation is how options find their way onto Peterbilt vehicles. For example, according to Brewster, the Flex-Air suspension was in customers’ hands for testing two years before it became available on a production truck.

Truck manufacturers have far greater experience integrating high-tech systems than they did a decade ago. Perhaps more important, standard communication protocols and streamlined wiring systems make adding on systems a cinch. The approach Peterbilt and others take toward testing technology informally in the marketplace may someday replace official technology trucks altogether. But don’t count on it.

Volvo ECT: Not just around the corner

Six years ago in Sweden, I watched it slink out of its bay on cat paws – its plastic-composite skin stretched sensuously over its aluminum space frame. With little more than a whir, it leapt onto the asphalt and was gone.

It was Volvo’s Environmental Concept Truck (ECT), and it’s still making demonstration rounds in Europe.

The ECT is a high-cubic-capacity, low-noise, low-emission P&D truck, with a hybrid, electric/gas-turbine powertrain. In either electric or hybrid mode, a 110-kW electric motor drives the rear wheels. For short stretches, the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack can power the vehicle. For longer hauls, the gas turbine drives an integral, high-speed generator, which charges the batteries and propels the vehicle.

The ECT is packed with other goodies, including: a regenerative braking system; a fully-active suspension to keep the vehicle horizontal in corners; an electronically-controlled, dual-mode, four-wheel steering system that aids low and high-speed maneuverability; TV cameras, ultrasonic sensors and monitors in place of rear-view mirrors; and ultraviolet (UV) lighting which, when aimed at road signs and markings coated with UV-sensitive paint, reach much farther than conventional lights, while remaining invisible to oncoming drivers.

Unfortunately, a quick reality check reveals that the vehicle would definitely not be economically feasible to produce any time soon – the battery pack alone cost half a million dollars – but you’ve got to admire the concept.