By Terry Scruton,Land Line Now senior correspondent
Futuristic technology is usually portrayed one of two ways in science fiction films and books.
First you’ve got the “gee whiz, isn’t this cool” gadgets that make life easier – flying cars, helpful robots doing the dishes and so on.
And then there’s the more sinister side, when technology takes over and those robots go from doing the dishes to hunting down humans for extinction or enslavement.
For most truck drivers, hearing about some new technology being inserted into the cab of their truck probably conjures up hopes of the first scenario, along with fears of the second.
Such was the reaction of many OOIDA Board members when the folks from Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems stopped by headquarters during the fall board meeting to demonstrate their new Wingman Advanced Collision Mitigation system.
The system combines adaptive cruise control braking along with collision mitigation braking to alert drivers of a potentially dangerous situation with another vehicle on the road ahead.
Fred Andersky, director of government affairs for Bendix, said the key differences between the two systems is that collision mitigation is always available.
If you’re in cruise control and want to maintain a following distance, the system will automatically help you do that. If the following distance closes, adaptive cruise control will de-throttle, engage the engine retarder and, if necessary, apply the brakes to maintain that distance.
However, the collision mitigation braking is always available whether you’re in cruise control or not. When the system determines that a collision is imminent, it alerts the driver and applies up to two-thirds of the vehicle braking power to either help the driver avoid the collision or “take some energy out of the collision if it’s destined to happen,” Andersky said.
The system works using radar, sending out a signal 500 feet, scanning the road ahead for any metallic objects that might pose a danger.
The system is built on top of the ESP – electronic stability program – full stability system.
“We utilize the braking strategy of the stability system so we brake on the steer, drive and trailer brakes,” Andersky said. “We also use some of the sensors in the system as part of it … because it’s just not rear-end collisions that happen. Trucks roll over. Trucks lose control. So you’re getting the most active safety that you can get in terms of a system.”
The stability technology used in the system was introduced back in 2005, and the adaptive cruise control with braking came in 2009. Earlier this year, the company introduced the collision mitigation technology that brought the whole system together.
Andersky says the system also includes many other features, such as an object alert feature – which gives the driver an alert if the system picks up a metallic object in the road.
When the radar picks up a metallic object in your lane of travel up to about three seconds ahead, it gives the driver an alert.
“We had a case where a driver in a Volvo – it was a foggy night, about 2:30 in the morning – got the alert. He was traveling on a freeway so he moved over into the next lane and came up on an accident that had just happened where an SUV was overturned in his previous lane of travel and three people were still inside it,” Andersky said. “He even indicated if he hadn’t gotten the alert, he probably would have hit them.”
Reactions from the members of the OOIDA Board were as varied as the members themselves.
While Board Member Frank Owen said he was impressed with the system, he was concerned about the systems being mandated by the government and driving up the costs of trucks.
“If I’ve got the money to have it put on there and I want it, yes. To me, it’s a great invention. It gives you that extra second maybe to avoid having an accident,” Owen said. “But I don’t think it should be mandated for us to have to put it on the truck.”
Board Member Lou Esposito, who test drove the system after the presentation, liked the lane-departure warning aspect, but that was just about it.
“If you’ve been driving any time and long distances and you’ve been in a truck for hours, sometimes you may start to get a little dozy. You may start to swerve off the side of the road, and if you do this, it will alert you to it,” he said. “This is the only thing that I liked about it.”
His primary concern was whether the systems with braking would be appropriate for severe weather conditions.
“As far as having it on cruise control with the brakes coming on and off automatically, I did not like that at all,” he said. “It does not work on snow-covered roads, and it does not work on rain-slicked roads or ice-covered roads. I don’t think it would be a good idea to have it on anything like that.”
Board Member Leo Wilkins said he was impressed with the system’s overall potential for use on the road.
“I was surprised at how effective it was,” Wilkins said. “It would alert a driver if he were on a cell phone or something per se or looking at his computer or whatever and somebody pulled out in front of him. It immediately puts the brake on for you depending on how close you are to the vehicle in front of you.
“In the demonstration we did have a car come down off the ramp and scoot out in front of us, and the truck immediately braked itself. It was very surprising, very interesting. I kind of liked it myself.”
Reactions from the Board did have one thing in common. Almost all of them were worried about any system that took control of the truck away from the driver, and were concerned that some motor carriers would use it as a way to compensate for poor driver training.
Board Member Henry Albert actually has the system in his truck. While he credits it with helping avoid an accident, he cautions that it cannot replace legitimate driver training.
He was in Hattiesburg, MS, and was topping a hill shortly after a severe storm had started to let up.
“When we pressed up the hill, there was about a 15-car pileup all over the road, one that you couldn’t see out ahead. As I got on the brakes and steered my way through part of it … you could feel all the braking action. It actually assisted me in getting through it.
“I might have made it through otherwise, but it would have been luck. But, at the same time, it’s still not a substitute for driving training.”
While Ken Becker’s reaction was positive overall as well, he says he could see the system being a problem if you have an inexperienced driver behind the wheel.
“It’d put too much on the truck and not enough on the driver as far as the driver making the decision what to do. It would take away from his thought process when he should be thinking. A good driver could use this. An unseasoned driver? It may not be that good of a tool.
“But the way it handles, it would work well in a good operation. I’d buy the thing.”
Andersky said that the goal of the technology is not to replace the driver, but to assist him in dangerous situations.
“We’re not looking at replacing drivers with the technology. It’s really here to help them out. I always like to look at it like health insurance. Why do you have health insurance? Just in case. And that’s what this technology is for. It’s not designed to replace safe drivers, safe driving practices or good driver training.”
You can find more information about the system online at bendix.com. LL