A future of safety and convenience

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Remember the white-knuckle, automatic, emergency braking experience I told you about in November? Fortunately, it was only a technology demonstration by DaimlerChrysler at the Papenburg test facility in Germany. At the time, I promised to bring you more from Papenburg, and I always keep my word – so here are three more technologies that have the potential to make trucking safer and easier.

The first is designed to keep drivers out of trouble when negotiating unexpectedly sharp curves. You know the feeling – you enter a curve at a steady speed, only to realize it’s of the decreasing-radius variety, and suddenly your steady speed is too fast. That’s scary enough in a passenger car, but for a heavy truck, it’s a rollover or lane departure waiting to happen.

Some advance warning definitely would help, and that’s what the Predictive Curve Assistant does. Using onboard navigation data, the system’s computer constructs a model of the road ahead and determines a maximum safe speed, based on actual road speed, the shape of an upcoming curve and the truck’s deviation from vertical. If the vehicle approaches critical speed, the driver receives two warnings about 220 yards in advance of the danger zone. The first is a red light on the dash, and if speed is not reduced, an audible warning is sounded. Future versions, says DCX, could incorporate active functions such as braking initiation and steering control.

Another technology – part of which is available now in Europe on Mercedes-Benz tractors – is automatic trailer hitching and unhitching. The available part is a “luxury” coupling, with push-button remote control for locking and unlocking the fifth wheel, and raising and lowering the trailer landing gear. The parking brake must be engaged for either function; and when hitching, green or red dash lights indicate a go or no-go condition to prevent false or high hitches.

DCX engineers are working on adding automatic air and electrical connections, which will be made through concentric passages, seals and electrical contacts in the fifth wheel and trailer kingpin.

Finally, DCX’s Omnicam gives a near-360-degree view of the rear of a vehicle and its surroundings. The in-dash display provides a grid, showing proximity to obstacles and the correct path for collision avoidance while backing.

While these “Assistance” systems promise to save time, damage and possibly lives, DCX acknowledges that it’s difficult to quantify actual benefits. So the company is in the midst of a large-scale field test, using Assistance-system-equipped and control vehicles, to try to collect tangible data. If all goes, uh, without a hitch, DCX’s findings will be published later this year, and we’ll bring ’em to you.