Screengrab: Axicle Engineering
Axicle Trailer Tractor Boeing 777 Jet

Watch: Axicle powers up jet engines to test anti-rollover fifth wheel concept

Jan. 11, 2022
In a video shared exclusively with FleetOwner this week, the fifth-wheel startup company used a Boeing 777 to create harsh wind conditions strong enough to test its invention designed to end large truck rollovers.

It was a windy day in the Mojave Desert late last year when Axicle Engineering tested its fifth-wheel prototype designed to end tractor-trailer rollovers. But it wasn’t windy enough for founder and CEO Steve Krug to prove that his design could save lives and stop semi-truck rollovers. To do that, he and his team fired up Boeing 777 jet engines powerful enough to knock an 80,000-lb. tractor-trailer over.

“We've taken a preexisting component that's installed on semi-trucks and integrated an anti-rollover technology that prevents the tractor itself from rolling over. We can automatically save up to 9,000 lives and injuries combined,” Krug says on an edited video of the test, which was performed at the Mojave Air and Space Port in the California desert—and shared exclusively with FleetOwner this week.

See also: Rocket scientists say they found the solution to semi-truck rollovers

The less than two minute video shows the powerful jet engines kick up desert dirt and sand as the tractor-trailer begins to shake in the wind. But as the wind intensifies, the Axicle fifth-wheel tractor anti-roll system (TARS) does what Krug and his team designed it to do: It separates the trailer from the tractor, allowing the trailer to fall to its side while the sleeper cab stays upright. 

Watch the video below:

“The trailer can either remain attached after the rollover on one side of the fifth wheel or jettison completely like displayed in the jet test video,” Krug explained. “Based on Axicle's research, jettisoning completely is overall safer for the public and semi drivers.”

The trailer rollover test in the desert

The concept is designed for high-wind conditions and rollovers caused by turning and other problems tractor-trailers can face on the road. To get the system to activate during the Mojave test, the throttle on both Boeing 777 engines was slowly increased to 60%, creating 55 to 60 mph winds that pushed the trailer enough to activate the Axicle TARS to detach the trailer from the tractor. 

“Based on simulations and testings, so far, we are literally 99.999% effective at stopping rollovers because we solve the problem at a fundamental level,” said Krug, who is a former engineer for Tesla. “All the torque is reacted through the kingpin, and all rollovers are initiated by the trailer—we just take the trailer out of the equation completely.”

When Krug first shared his idea with FleetOwner last summer, he hadn’t even built a complete prototype yet—but he had created the release mechanism that triggers the trailer to detach from the tractor. Supply chain problems delayed Axicle from getting all its components last summer. Still, by late fall, it had all the components, which were welded together to create the prototype Axicle TARS.

The Axicle engineering team, which includes SpaceX and Tesla veterans, developed the Axicle fifth wheel to include sensors that constantly monitor the roll angle and rate of the tractor. The system can detect a trailer’s threshold limits with 99.99% accuracy, Krug said. Within 20 milliseconds of detecting a tractor rollover, the Axicle system sets off a controlled pyrotechnic actuator that opens the fifth wheel latch, decoupling the trailer from the truck, allowing it to tip over while the truck stays upright.

According to the latest statistics, more than 9,000 people were injured and another 300 killed by large truck rollovers in 2019, which Krug noted was more than $3.5 billion in damages. Krug notes that the truck and the driver represent about 75% of the assets in any tractor-trailer driving down the road for most fleets. Stopping the tractor from rolling over—injuring the driver and damaging the equipment—could help protect fleets and increase safety. 

What's next for Axicle's invention?

Axicle has been in talks with some large fleets about the product. Krug has 7,500 orders and is working to raise $5 million in an initial funding round to conduct more durability tests to help Axicle finalize its fifth wheel and make it a bit lighter than the cast-iron prototype, which weighs about 350 lbs. Krug said he’d like the finished product to weigh 50 lbs. less. 

“Those durability tests are going to determine basic details on specific small components and what sizes they need to be,” Krug said. “It’ll show what needs to change a little bit. It’ll also show what suppliers have to be selected that can meet the durability requirements and help us optimize costs. The goal is for this to last for one million miles.”

The Axicle website has a cost-saving calculator that can show fleets how much money Axicle estimates TARS would save a fleet based on its size. Krug already has 7,500 preorders for the product. In addition, Axicle is looking for 10 tractors to do beta testing of the TARS in either California or Texas. He’s already envisioning what future generations of the Axicle fifth wheel will include. 

He wants to integrate an upgraded computer unit into the next version of the fifth wheel that could collect “meaningful driver and environmental telematics—it will be able to do everything that all current telematics companies do,” Krug said. 

“Axicle is uniquely positioned to succeed above all competitors in this space because we have a product that solves many problems at once: rollovers, it is a fifth wheel, collects acceleration and driver data, and uploads this data over the air (OTA),” Krug explained. “This data that's uploaded OTA will use machine learning algorithms to create a geographic safety map based on all measured data on the Axicle fifth wheel. This will keep cargo and drivers safe in addition to reducing insurance premiums even further.”

About the Author

Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017, covering everything from modern fleet management to operational efficiency, artificial intelligence, autonomous trucking, regulations, and emerging transportation technology. He is based in Maryland. 

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