Tech in Focus: Mapping/mileage systems

Truck-specific routing software, such as ProMiles XF, can improve safety by avoiding sharp curves and tight intersections.

Of all the technologies that can improve the safety of vehicles and drivers, mapping and mileage software receives relatively little fanfare. Fleets often use this software solely to feed routes to drivers and mileages to dispatch systems. But few people appreciate the treasure trove of content and attributes developers are adding to these systems to improve the efficiency and safety of truck routing.

For starters, truck-specific routing software generally ensures that users avoid roads with truck restrictions, says Chris Lee, marketing director for ProMiles Software. With the recent release of ProMiles’ XF Kingpin edition, the company expanded the number of routing options based on equipment attributes. Users can specify 12 different equipment types, from two-axle straight trucks to triple-trailer combinations. They also can specify equipment weights, heights and lengths – all of which have a bearing on what routes can be used. If the angle of a turn is too sharp for the size of a vehicle, ProMiles selects an alternate route within a reasonable distance, Lee says.

To improve the safety of routes, the PC Miler routing, mapping and mileage system from ALK Technologies uses accident rates and population densities for each road segment. Having these attributes enables users to avoid accident-prone areas in populated areas – a key consideration for carriers that haul hazardous materials, says Alain Kornhouser, ALK’s co-founder and board chair.

Both ALK and ProMiles also offer truck-specific GPS navigation systems that feature turn-by-turn directions. Besides the safety aspect of helping drivers keep their eyes on the road, these navigation systems can provide drivers with advance warning of potential problems, such as a sharp turn.

“In inclement weather conditions, it is nice to see more of the road ahead than you can see through the windshield,” says Kornhouser, who also is professor of operations research and financial engineering at Princeton University.

ALK is working to bring real-time traffic information to navigation so drivers can plan ahead to avoid congestion. Kornhouser also is working to bring a new application to truck navigation that will identify slippery road conditions in advance; this, he says, is possible by tapping into the vehicle’s braking system through the J-Bus to find the “coefficient of friction.” The information from one vehicle could be passed to other vehicles behind.

“Navigation systems can do that in real time,” Kornhouser says. “You could know if a bridge is freezing or not.”

Several truck manufacturers currently offer truck-specific navigation systems as an optional feature, but navigation may only be a glimpse of what is to come. In the near future, truck makers likely will imbed digital map data with certain vehicle controls to create advance driver assistance systems (ADAS). As a precedent in the automobile sector, the latest BMWs can steer their headlights automatically as they approach a turn.

“We’re talking to just about every truck manufacturer,” says Bob Denaro, vice president of ADAS for Navteq, one of the world’s two largest providers of digital map data and content. “We have research programs ongoing. Everyone is investigating this. Instead of mitigating damage and protecting the driver in the case of an accident, you try to avoid it altogether.”

Tele Atlas, another major provider, also is working with truck OEMs. One type of ADAS for trucks would be to use data about slopes to create “predictive cruise control,” says Dana Fenner, Tele Atlas’ fleet director. Imagine a vehicle on cruise control that knows automatically when and how much to accelerate before approaching a hill, and when to decelerate before going downhill.

“It is a safety issue,” Fenner says. “It takes cruise control to the next step. The attribution of the map is able to be integrated with truck components to automatically do those types of things.”

Besides safety considerations, integrating map attributes into the vehicle’s electronics for predictive cruise control can generate fuel savings, Fenner says. Simulation studies show a two to six percent fuel improvement by knowing the slope, Denaro says.

OEMs also are starting to look into road curvature attributes. A vehicle could prevent a rollover situation by slowing down automatically based on the location and angle of a curve on a particular road. ADAS would factor the truck’s weight and configuration into its split-second calculations, Denaro says.

The trucking industry will start to see announcements about ADAS from truck OEMs in the first quarter of 2008, says Fenner, who expects that slope attributes will be the first road feature to be incorporated into driver assistance systems.

“OEMs have been working on this for three to four years,” Fenner says. The level of detail and accuracy of attributes built into the street network has increased over this timeframe, while the accuracy of Tele Atlas’ data collection methods and technology to measure the elevation of roads has been fine-tuned, he says.

“Our accuracy supersedes the required accuracy from OEMs,” Fenner says. “We have less than 1 percent deviation from reality.”