Aaron Marsh/ Fleet Owner
The Volvo Active Driver Assist system, which is based on Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems' Wingman Fusion technology, applies a tractor's brakes to prevent a collision with a stationary vehicle. Some drivers dislike such active safety systems because of alarms and warnings they provide or simply because they can take over control of the truck to prevent a collision.

Making advanced safety more driver-friendly

Nov. 29, 2016
Advanced truck safety systems are upping the technological ante by using data-ready "look ahead" systems like camera and radar to warn drivers and inform computer-controlled smart braking. Now, if they could only annoy drivers less.

Advanced truck safety systems are upping the technological ante by using data-ready "look ahead" systems like camera and radar to warn drivers and inform computer-controlled smart braking. Now, if they could only annoy drivers less.

That's exactly what truck OEM Navistar and likely others are looking to accomplish going forward, notes Stephen Gilligan, vice president of marketing at Navistar, who points out that some truck drivers get irked with such systems — particularly when they first encounter them.

"One of the things we hear is, 'Well, drivers hate this collision mitigation system because it's always going off,'" Gilligan tells Fleet Owner. "But it's always going off because it's warning them of their surroundings." Depending on the user interface, advanced safety systems in trucks typically deliver warnings in the form of progressively louder and/ or faster beeps, for example, as a dangerous object gets closer.

"You could imagine if you were driving a car and you had an alarm that was going off all the time, you would just desperately want to turn that thing off," Gilligan contends. So it's the same for heavy trucks: the challenge for these systems is, "how do you make that system do what it's supposed to do without driving the driver crazy?"

"How do you make that system do what it's supposed to do without driving the driver crazy?"


—Stephen Gilligan, VP of marketing, Navistar

Navistar is working with collision mitigation system companies, he says, to explore warning/ alert methods such as haptic feedback — vibration-based interactivity widely used in video game controllers and smartphones — to replace or augment other alerts. "You might be looking at something like a vibration in the seat that lets them know something's going on and to pay attention," says Gilligan.

Another option is that something like a flashing light alert in the dash could be combined with haptic feedback perhaps in the seat or steering wheel. The goal will be to deliver an effective "heads-up" to drivers without being bothersome.

Like antilock brakes

While advanced safety systems may gravitate toward subtler warnings, some truck drivers just need time to get accustomed to these latest safety technologies, Gilligan stresses. It's those moments where the systems can take over control of the vehicle, and drivers may find that unnerving — it's similar to wanting to grab the steering wheel during testing of more extensively or fully autonomous vehicles.

"Do you remember when antilock brakes first came around?" he asks, referring to the early '90s when those systems began to appear more. "It scared the heck out of people. You spent your whole life being told never to slam the brakes on — you feathered the brakes and so on.

"But antilock brake systems were smarter than the old systems, and suddenly you were supposed to just slam the brakes down and the system would do a better job of stopping you," Gilligan continues. "People are comfortable with that technology now, and the time frame [of drivers being uneasy with it] came and went."

In 2017 and beyond, look for more advanced safety systems proliferating in trucks that feature various levels of autonomous emergency operation. "I think we're going to see more systems like that that will potentially take control away from the driver," he contends, as well as more and more fleets opting for these advanced systems in their trucks.

Predictive, smarter machines

Other technology that's also gaining in use is likely to help pave the way for more driver assistive systems. Along those lines, global consulting and market analysis firm ABI Research points to predictive maintenance. As forward-looking maintenance becomes more common in trucks, it'll help drivers accept that vehicle systems are constantly monitoring data and sensors to detect and sidestep problems like parts failures before they ever occur.

That kind of predictive maintenance "is shifting the industry toward a machine-learning focus," says Susan Beardslee, a senior analyst with ABI. Ultimately, predictive maintenance and advanced safety systems, as Fleet Owner has reported, will be precursors to fully autonomous trucks. "Autonomous vehicles will not become a mainstream solution without the ability to predict failures and address them prior to transporting passengers. And for that, vehicle prognostics are a must," Beardslee expects.

By 2021, ABI Research predicts there will be more than 7 million "prognostics-enabled" commercial vehicle systems connected globally.

About the Author

Aaron Marsh

Before computerization had fully taken hold and automotive work took someone who speaks engine, Aaron grew up in Upstate New York taking cars apart and fixing and rewiring them, keeping more than a few great jalopies (classics) on the road that probably didn't deserve to be. He spent a decade inside the Beltway covering Congress and the intricacies of the health care system before a stint in local New England news, picking up awards for both pen and camera.

He wrote about you-name-it, from transportation and law and the courts to events of all kinds and telecommunications, and landed in trucking when he joined FleetOwner in July 2015. Long an editorial leader, he was a keeper of knowledge at FleetOwner ready to dive in on the technical and the topical inside and all-around trucking—and still turned a wrench or two. Or three. 

Aaron previously wrote for FleetOwner. 

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