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Virtual co-drivers will make trucks of the future safer

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August 4, 2009

The truck of the future could have an on-board digital co-driver that can even take over i...

The truck of the future could have an on-board digital co-driver that can even take over if the driver loses control

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Trucks of the future could be equipped with an on-board digital co-driver to assist the human behind the wheel, or even take over if the driver loses control. The HAVEit project (short for Highly Automated Vehicles for Intelligent Transport) has 28 million euros (USD$40 million) at its disposal and is aiming to develop a virtual co-driver that responds to both traffic conditions and drivers' needs.

A survey by the European Truck Accident Causation Study shows that 47 percent of all truck accidents take place in monotonous situations such as traffic queues, with vehicles traveling in the same direction.

To reduce these accidents, tomorrow’s vehicles will have external sensors that evaluate traffic situations, scan lane markings, road signs, and current road conditions.

These would be combined with an internal system that monitors the driver and interprets his or her needs. The truck will also be enhanced so that it can be controlled electronically and help the vehicle travel more economically.

“We are not trying to make the driver superfluous, we want him or her to always have some form of control. We do this through continuous dialogue between driver and system, where the vehicle becomes more or less automated depending on the current circumstances,” explains Reiner Hoeger, project coordinator for HAVEit.

Two trucks are currently undergoing a digital transformation at Volvo Technology in Göteborg, Sweden. One truck has a safety focus, the other is concentrating on environmental aspects.

Safety truck

The safety truck team is developing systems and automation designed to assist the driver in repetitive heavy traffic situations characterized by monotonous low-speed progress.

“The queue support system for trucks that is in production today works down to 30kmh (roughly 18mph). This is still a relatively high speed. We are working on queue support down to 0kmh. What is more, the truck should automatically stop if the vehicle in front stops, and start moving again without the driver pressing the accelerator,” says Erika Jakobsson, project manager at Volvo Technology.

The other part of the automated queue support system that Jakobsson and her colleagues are working on is dedicated to keeping the truck in the correct lane.

“Today’s lane support system issues an audible warning which requires that the driver responds. Now we are examining an entirely automated process so that the truck always drives in the middle of its lane without the driver having to do anything.”

To achieve this, nine sensors have been installed on the safety truck: a lane and object camera above the windscreen, a camera in the cab to monitor the driver’s status, two short range radars (one on either side of the truck), and three lasers.

“We quite simply attach eyes to the truck,” says Erika Jakobsson at Volvo, one of the companies in the EU’s drive to develop intelligent vehicles.

In addition the truck is fitted with V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) communication and the E-Horizon system.

E-Horizon systems are linked to map databases and, with the help of GPS and highly detailed maps, the truck receives a continuous flow of information about gradients, curves and crossings further down the road, adjusting the driveline and tailoring progress so that it is as efficient and economical as possible.

V2V communication collects information from other vehicles in the vicinity, for instance, if the driver is in a traffic queue and a vehicle further ahead slams on its brakes, the driver immediately receives a warning. In congested traffic, this means that the driver gets the necessary information several seconds before he sees the brake lights come on in the vehicle in front.

Environment truck

This sensor-based technology also figures prominently in the other truck being developed as part of the project. This environmentally-optimized truck must be able to handle the use of a hybrid engine by optimizing the use of the combustion engine, electric motor and correct gear ratio.

“Advance information from the sensors is a smart way of controlling the hybrid driveline since we have two sources from which to obtain the power. We can also coach the driver in good driving habits that reduce fuel consumption, a sort of built-in driver training,” says Jakobsson.

“One of the challenges is how the vehicle should communicate with the driver, what sort of displays, voice functions and so on it should have. We all have different temperaments, so the system must recognize when the driver is feeling irritated or calm,” says Hoeger.

The project, which started in 2008, has 20 member companies involved, from vehicle manufacturers to universities. The aim is that in 2011, the project should demonstrate the new technology in seven vehicles, three of them heavy commercial vehicles from Volvo.

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