DOE testing to help shape the future of 'connected' trucks

  • 22-Sep-2011 11:21 EDT
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Several new U.S. connected-vehicle programs involving trucks and buses are to begin next year. (U.S. Department of Transportation)

A handful of U.S. government-sponsored tests for connected vehicles will begin next year, providing insight into technical issues and factors such as privacy that will play a major role in determining which projects get a green light for development and deployment.

Light vehicles have received most of the attention as field tests for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure included in programs such as the Smart Roadside Initiative draw near, but pilot programs for trucks and buses were in the spotlight at the recent SAE Commercial Vehicle Engineering Congress in Rosemont, IL.

Managers from the U.S. Department of Transportation, NHTSA (U.S National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), and other agencies detailed benefits such as reduced fuel consumption and improved traffic efficiency. Safety will also be an important factor when these agencies ask for funding to drive the technologies into production.

“Vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity has the potential to address 80% of the accidents involving unimpaired drivers,” said NHTSA’s Alrik Svenson.

The U.S. DOT’s plans for commercial-vehicle intelligent transportation systems include many programs, most based on dedicated short range communications (DSRC) that use a 5.9-GHz frequency dedicated for transportation. Some commercial-vehicle programs, including the Freight Advanced Traveler Information System, will begin pilot tests in the fall of 2012. The Smart Roadside safety pilot, which also includes cars, is the largest.

“The safety pilot will have around 2000 cars, 100 trucks, and some buses that will all have vehicle-awareness modules,” said Kate Hartman, Truck Program Manager for the U.S. DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

The Connected Commercial Vehicle test will also begin next fall. It’s being shepherded by a team that includes Battelle, Denso, Daimler Trucks North America, Mercedes Benz Research and Development North America, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, and Meritor WABCO. It will deploy four tractors and seven trailers that will be driven in a closed airport by professional drivers. There will be three 53-ft box trailers, a pair of 28-ft box trailers, a 48-ft box trailer, and a 40-ft intermodal carrier and chassis.

Some will use embedded DSRC hardware, which has been standardized as SAE 2735, while others will have retrofit modules designed for use in existing fleets. Svenson noted that deploying trailer tests will help increase the capabilities of DSRC, which does not yet include messaging for articulated vehicles. He added that the field tests will also see how the technology works in traffic jams.

“We’re looking at saturation levels. When you’ve got 50 or 100 vehicles in a small area, what happens to DSRC performance?” Svenson said.

Hartman noted that nontechnical issues will play an important role in Congress’s eventual decision as to whether the programs will move ahead for more tests or for regulations and funding that will move them from research to deployment.

“There are privacy issues that will kill these programs if we don’t address them,” she said.

That’s particularly true for freight haulers who don’t want other firms to use the signals to track their vehicles’ locations.

“Company A does not want company B to know anything about where its trucks are,” said Tom Kearney, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s Freight Operations Program Manager.

Questioned about costs, Kearney noted that owners of small truck lines typically don’t want to spend money on this technology. But owners of larger fleets generally feel that the modules may bring safety benefits that justify their costs.

“The major companies are way ahead in using technology to improve safety,” Kearney said. "When their drivers have an accident, they can be tied up in court. Their costs can be enormous compared to a slap on the wrist they’ll get for not complying with government regulations.”

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