Safety Technologies

In the backdrop of the global economic slowdown and liquidity crunch impacting not only truck makers but also suppliers and fleets, any discussion on emerging and upcoming technologies seems to take a back seat. However, key industry stakeholders are focusing on a smorgasbord of emerging technologies that can deliver growth opportunities for various segments of the truck industry. This will have several downstream implications for fleets and the maintenance and service support structures.

Heavy trucks, owing to their large weights and dimensions, have always been susceptible to safety risks. This is the reason why any discussion Systems that can prevent accidents can help fleets save accident costs, which can be significantly higher than the price of purchasing, installing and maintaining such systems.

Intelligent electronic systems based on the effective networking of several sensors and actuators are developed to enhance the safety value of heavy trucks through various means that range from driver information and warning to active chassis control. The underlying philosophy of driver information and warning technologies is to augment the driver's perception and control abilities by presenting real-time information regarding key vehicle dynamics and the performance of various vehicle parameters to warning the driver of impending vehicle instabilities and risks.

The key driver information and warning systems that have already started penetrating the heavy-truck OE and aftermarket include systems that support applications such as tire pressure monitoring, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, night vision, and driver drowsiness warning, among others. As we move forward, a key trend to look out for will be the integration of disparate safety systems based upon higher levels of sensor fusion, control algorithm, and electronic control unit performance optimization. This trend also implies that the distributed electronics content in heavy trucks will increase significantly over the next few years. This creates challenges for maintenance professionals, considering the fact that these systems feature advanced electronics which require skilled technicians for service and maintenance. This, coupled with a shortage of skilled technicians, can decelerate the rate of adoption by fleets and owner-operators.

Driver information and warning systems will reflect the transition from autonomous to co-operative systems which feature higher levels of integration and resource sharing. The forward collision warning systems, at present are mostly radar-based. In the medium-long term it is expected that both short and long range radars will be incorporated in these systems. Their integration with lane departure warning systems and their increased importance in supporting adaptive cruise control functionality will prevail in the long term. The integration of electronic stability programs and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality will help to provide greater impetus to the evolution of integrated collision avoidance systems. Joining a range of blind spot detection technologies such as radars, cameras, or infrared sensors will be ultrasonic sensors. The lane departure warning systems which predominantly feature camera-based sensing will experience the proliferation of infrared sensing technologies in the long term. However, camera-based systems will continue to remain the most prominent type of lane departure warning systems.

In the area of tire pressure monitoring, direct tire pressure monitoring systems featuring continuous monitoring and reduced maintenance needs will emerge as standard fitments across most heavy truck models in the long term. The driver drowsiness warning systems will evolve from purely psycho-physiological systems to systems that feature both psycho-physiological, and vehicle response monitoring to detect driver drowsiness. The night vision systems which at present are either active or passive infrared based vision systems will evolve rapidly over the next few years. In the long term it is expected that active far infrared systems will emerge as the most prominent night vision solutions.

Concerted strategies aimed at reduction of cost of these systems, their standardization, and enhancement in awareness regarding their value proposition will help to fuel the market's growth. These strategies will also stoke adoption and acceptance by the maintenance and service providers in an environment where technician shortage is hurdling the rapid adoption of several advanced heavy-truck technologies.