Trucks at Work

Innovation just keeps on trucking

On the surface, at least, one didn’t see a lot of new iron revealed at the 2011 Mid America Trucking Show as in past years. Yet by digging a little deeper, some pretty interesting innovations are in the works for medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

For example, take a look below at Peterbilt Motor Co.’s “SmartNav” system. Available later this year, SmartNav – called NavPlus when installed on Kenworth Truck Co. models – will be a standard feature on all premium interior trim offerings and for diesel-electric hybrid vehicles for both brands.

Landon Sproull, Peterbilt’s chief engineer, told me that SmartNav is all about putting a real computer on board a truck – a computer with all sorts of untapped potential. It could analyze diagnostic information, collect all sorts of data, or even become an “infotainment” system of sorts for drivers.

Perhaps one day SmartNav could be integrated with safety technology such as Meritor’s OnGuard collision mitigation system. I’ve been on test drives involving OnGuard before, but now a new wrinkle has been added – video recording.

The Iteris lane departure warning system linked to the OnGuard system uses a video camera to track whether a truck stays in its lane. So it seemed a simple step to get the camera to perform “double duty,” automatically recording events where the collision mitigation system had to activate.

For drivers, it now means they’ll get visual proof that a car cut them off or stopped in front of them suddenly – valuable evidence, methinks.

But the “innovation” isn’t restricted to just technology when it comes to trucks. All sorts of changes are occurring to base components, as well, to help lighten commercial vehicles without sacrificing durability and reliability.

Take a look at two new products from Dana Holding Corp. below; products that will be marketed through Roadranger, the alliance forged between Dana and Eaton Corp.

And of course truck exteriors are changing today, as well, as aerodynamics becomes of paramount importance for saving fuel. Diesel engines are getting some tweaks, too, for exactly the same reason.

Volvo Trucks North America showed off what it’s doing on the truck and engine front to deliver great fuel savings to both fleets and owner-operators.

These changes are of course not unique to Volvo, for every OEM is out there trying to improve he integration between engines and trucks in order to drive down life cycle costs while improving fuel efficiency.

Yet it just goes to show that no one is standing still in the truck making world, on either the physical component or technology front.