LAFAYETTE, IN. Though fully autonomous trucks still have a long way to go, driver-assistive and autonomous technologies remain hot topics throughout the industry. How can fleets and owner operators leverage some of the existing and upcoming technologies to improve safety and their overall business operations? ZF Commercial Vehicle believes it has a solution.
Coming soon to the commercial truck market: ZF Commercial Vehicle last week announced its ReAX steering technology will be available for heavy trucks starting next year. ZF made the announcement at its Lafayette plant Aug. 18, where it hosted a ride and drive event for the media to test out the system on different applications.
ReAX is column-mounted electrically assisted hydraulic steering that uses sensors to determine driving conditions and then controls an electric motor to provide the appropriate torque feedback to the driver. According to ZF representatives, the technology helps increase safety and reduce driver fatigue by compensating for crosswind, road crown, reduced efforts at low speed, and enhanced on-center handling at cruising speed.
Mitja Schulz, senior vice president of commercial vehicle technology, North America, explained that some of the major trends ZF customers often bring up are automated driving technologies and functionalities and improving fuel consumption and efficiency.
“Every one of these customers is somehow thinking about automated driving or what it takes to implement functions like lane keeping and emergency braking,” Schulz said. “That’s a huge topic in the industry. For us, the main driver is to offer functionalities that improve safety on the roads.”
Schulz added that over the next couple of years, the company intends to spend $200 million in the development of new autonomous driving technologies, sensors, and software. ReAX was initially introduced to the RV market in 2006 and expanded to the bus market in 2007-08. Now the technology is moving into the linehaul and vocational truck space.
Mark Cartwright, global product planning manager at ZF, sees the system as a key element for fleet driver recruitment and retention efforts. He explained ReAX was developed to eliminate uncertainty and reduce driver fatigue through simplified steering.
“The ease of steering makes it much easier to move in tight quarters, docking areas, etc., where a lot of minor accidents occur,” Cartwright said. “That just gives confidence to the driver and makes good drivers better.”
During the event, after driving vehicles with and without the system engaged, it is apparent that ReAX requires less force and work for the driver since the system knows where the steering is at all times. When the system is engaged, steering returnability improves and the wheel quickly returns itself back to center with little-to-no work from the driver.
According to the company, benefits include:
- Enhanced drivability and maneuverability
- Road crowning and crosswind compensation for safer operation at highway speeds
- Better handling and directional control in any adverse road conditions (potholes, bumps, etc.)
- Steering automatically returns to center easing operation
- Reduces driver fatigue
- Enables a larger recruiting pool of drivers
City Transit Bus, located across from ZF’s Lafayette plant, uses the ReAX system in its bus fleet. Marty Sennett is the general manager there.
“With the shortage of drivers, a lot of times we need drivers to work more than eight hours a day,” Sennett told Fleet Owner. “So if they’re not hurting physically, it’s much easier to get them to work overtime.”
“We had one driver who had neck and back surgery this summer, and if we had the old system, he’d be on disability right now,” Sennett added. “It saves the government a little money and hopefully us a little money, extend his career another 10 years until he’s ready to retire. So far, we found it to be a win-win situation.”
ZF noted that the system will be available from a couple OEMs by next year, but additional details will be addressed at next month’s North American Commercial Vehicle Show in Atlanta.