This is the last time that I am going to compare data-driven autonomous truck technology to space-age warp-engaged Star Trek-esque vehicles. The fact of the matter is that autonomous truck technology like advanced safety systems have already boldly gone where no truck has gone before… and they keep moving forward.
The recently unveiled 2016 Innovation Truck unveiled by ZF and WABCO takes the next step in collision mitigation system evolution by introducing a prototype of Evasive Maneuver Assist—a level two autonomous system that assists the truck driver in performing an emergency braking lane change to avoid a collision. The system uses radar sensors to identify moving or stationary vehicles ahead and alerts the driver via visual, audio and haptic (i.e. applying the brake) signals of impending rear-end collisions. Should the driver determine that the system cannot avoid a rear-end collision by driver-initiated or autonomous braking alone, Evasive Maneuver Assist engages to help the driver to safely steer around an obstructing vehicle and to bring truck and trailer to a complete and safe stop. The driver initiates the turn, but the system quickly takes over to calculate the precise steering input necessary to safely complete the lane change and avoid the collision.
“Drivers do not receive training on how to properly perform this emergency maneuver. It is too dangerous,” said Dr. Thomas Dieckmann, leader of advanced development at WABCO. “We have optimized the line of component functionality. In an instance where the system does take the steering over, it guides the truck using the optimum trajectory and braking force to ensure the precise steering maneuver.”
While, again, this system is a prototype, ZF’s Chief Executive Officer Dr. Stefan Sommer explained that if the demand for this type of system exists within the heavy-duty truck marketplace, Evasive Maneuvering Assist could be made available within three to four years.
ZF also showed off additional autonomous truck technology like its Autonomous Driver Assist systems that offers a level three autonomous mode for highway driving in which the truck operates the acceleration, braking and steering to stay within a lane and set speed parameters. ZF took this concept a step further with an electrically driven start-stop functionality that enables the truck to creep along with stop-and-go traffic, reducing fatigue on the driver and increasing the truck’s efficiency by turning off the diesel engine and operating on electrical battery power at low speeds (less than approximately 30 KPH, or approximately 19 MPH).
As exciting as autonomous technology is, it also brings along many questions—everything from, “How does the system determine if a lane is clear for a lane change?” (it doesn’t, yet) to, “What is the next step in autonomously assisted systems?” The answer to the last one is that only time will tell and we won’t have to wait very long. Beyond the evolutionary autonomous steps that ZF put on display, one overarching message is clear: The development and deployment of increasingly autonomous technology is here to stay. The question is no longer a distant “What if?” but an increasingly realistic “What’s next?”