Until trucks can fully drive themselves – in stardate whatever number you think that will be – the near term “self-driving” solution remains automated driver assist systems (ADAS).
Radar, lidar and camera sensors have been implemented on tractors nationwide, enabling technologies that help humans avoid collisions and make driving a tractor safer, easier and less fatiguing.
ZF made a splash in the driver assist segment several years ago with the debut of its electronic steering control system ReAX, and next year plans to branch out into a higher level of ADAS using ReAX as a springboard.
ReAX works in conjunction with the truck’s hydraulic steering, allowing drivers to fine tune steering input, improving safety and making the vehicle easier to drive.
The updated system will use a network of cameras and radar to collect information about the truck’s surroundings to enable lane keeping and safe lane changing maneuvers.
OnTraX Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) uses a forward-facing camera to find lane markings. Once the system determines the truck is within its lane and traveling 40-plus mph, the system activates. If the tractor begins to drift out of its lane without the turn signal activated, the system offers a gentle counter steer – a series of light nudges – to inch the truck back into the appropriate lane.
Activating the turn signal bypasses the warning.
Dan Williams, ZF’s director ADAS & autonomy, called it a “hint or suggestion,” and that’s about what it feels like.
I tested the feature on a 7.5 mile loop in Columbus, Ohio by bringing my truck up to speed, letting the system activate and beginning a slow drift left from the righthand lane. As I approached the lane left lane marker, the wheel twitched itself slightly and jostled the unit back into its lane. If the driver is making an evasive maneuver, or has a reason to drift from their lane, the system will allow it as long as the driver continues to actively initiate the lane change. You can still feel the warning nudges but it won’t overpower, or even offset, manual input.
Set for production next year, OnTraX LKA is only designed to reengage a potentially distracted driver and warn them that the truck is leaving its lane without signaling, as the system lacks the capability to center the truck within the lane.
The next phase of ZF’s ADAS initiative includes tacking radar sensors on the side of the tractor for an added layer of blind spot protection that stretches back to the trailer’s rear bumper.
Lane Change Assist, which is still a few years from production, offers a burst of haptic warnings in the steering wheel if a driver initiates a lane change when the system has detected another vehicle is already there. ZF Systems Engineer William Sanchez noted ZF opted not to include an audible warning like ones found on similar platforms because, he said, there’s already enough buzzers, hums and dings going off in the cab.
“That (noise) itself can be distracting because you have to think for a second about what it’s telling you,” he says.
The feedback in the steering wheel is instantaneous and noticeable. The sensors, each mounted to the chassis skirt, picked up our pilot car at every interval along the trailer. That sensor will be invisibly moved behind the skirt when production-ready.
Overall, the upgraded ReAX ADAS system does an excellent job of balancing effectiveness without being an annoyance.
Exciting times are ahead for ZF’s ADAS capabilities as the company last month announced that its pending acquisition of Wabco, among the leaders in this space, is full steam ahead.
“Together with Wabco, ZF can form an integrated systems provider for commercial vehicle technology, creating long-term value and security for our customers, employees and shareholders,” ZF CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider said of the tie up. “We will be shaping the future of technologies and services for efficiency, safety, automation and connectivity in the commercial vehicle sector together with the WABCO management.”
ZF expects to close the transaction early next year.