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Saturday, January 09, 2016

5 Desirable Features of Future Smart Trucks

Driving a truck is a serious business but in India, truck manufacturers usually focus only on features that save money for the owners and truck drivers are never given the due attention they deserve.  Load carrying ability and fuel economy are the primary things traditional USPs of trucks. Safety, comfort etc are never a priority, as the poor driver is taken for granted. Only in recent times the we are beginning to see some changes where more focus is given to driver, cabin, safety etc. Still such trucks are very few and majority of the trucks on our roads are still old fashioned.

If the trucks plying on our roads are to be more safer, smarter and efficient what are the 5 most critical improvements required? What kind of unique features would you expect a smart truck to have? I have listed 5 such features from my wishlist.

1.    All round visibility through cameras and sensors: Typically in India a truck driver is always accompanied by a cleaner. The cleaner’s job is to assist the driver while making turns/reverse etc, because a truck driver’s range of vision is very limited. There have been instances where cleaner accidentally comes under the wheels and gets killed or trucks hitting other vehicles/objects because of poor communication between driver and cleaner or driver’s error in judgment. (in 2014, a tractor driver loaded with bricks rammed into our rented car because of same issue- details here) A smart truck should ensure that driver gets 360 degree visibility around his truck (if not all the time, at least when needed). This can be enabled by cameras and sensors. When vehicle is put in reverse gear or negotiating sharp turns, these cameras should automatically display that’s behind the truck or on its rear left and right side. Yellow and red markings on the screen for projected path will be added advantage. In India no one respects big vehicles. We see that while a big truck or bus is trying to make a turn, some idiot of a two wheeler rider tries to squeeze his way out, putting the onus on truck driver to ensure that no one is crushed to death while turning. Should the truck come close to anything, parking sensors should warn the driver. Additional lighting (such as orange hazard lights) should blink to warn people nearby that truck is negotiating a tough maneuver and they shouldn’t get too close to the truck.

2.    Lane departure warning and attention assist- Truck drivers spend long hours behind the wheels and often get exhausted quickly. As driver’s fatigue increases, his attention to happenings around him reduces, thereby increasing risk of accidents. Truck should be able to predict and prevent this. Modern Mercedes cars have this feature- car can sense driver fatigue- if the steering is not steady or when car is not sticking to the lane markings car prompts driver to take a coffee break. When the vehicle is getting too close to an obstacle and driver is not showing any sign of stopping, car can take control and apply brakes on its own. Any modern truck should definitely have these safety features. Besides warning driver, it should also send an alert to truck company’s head office so that they can also call the driver and instruct him to take some rest before proceeding.

3.    Ability to move sidewards: Our roads are very narrow. If a truck has to enter it and negotiate some turns, it is a nightmare for truck crew as well as other users on the road, because a long truck may need multiple attempts to make a sharp turn or U-turn, blocking rest of the traffic in the process. Similarly parking a truck is also a pain in city. This is largely because in a long truck, only front to wheels are steered (can change directions) and rest of the wheels have fixed directions. If all wheels can change directions (I have seen in Europe that some trucks have one of their rear wheels also change direction as needed) or trucks can have some other mechanism (like shown in below video for a car) then a truck’s maneuverability increases many fold, giving lots of flexibility to driver and ensure that trucks do not disrupt traffic as much as they do today.
 
4.    Homely cabin: Long distance truck drivers spend a lot of their life inside the truck. They should be provided with a spacious and well equipped cabin. Today cabins only provide a provision for one driver to sleep while second driver is driving. If the cabin design and feature can be revisited, then some more provisions can be provided inside- such as may be a chemical toilet, a coffee maker or induction or microwave to cook basic stuff, some entertainment provisions like a small television etc. This will motivate drivers as their needs are well taken care of and they don’t have to depend on a highway dhaba for everything.

5.    Flexi power engine (Power on Demand): Cars today come with City/Eco/Sports mode to control power output and fuel economy. Truck engines are very powerful-but higher the power, higher the fuel consumption and higher the cost of running. A truck that can pull 30 tons will give much less fuel economy compared to a truck that can pull 10 tons. Now, drawback of high power engine is that when the load is less or when there is no load at all (say when trailer is removed), this extra engine power goes waste. Fuel economy doesn’t drastically improve when there is no load. This can be avoided, if we can vary engine power output or shut it down partially. Assume if there are six cylinder, when there is full load all six should be commissioned, when there is just half the load, may be 2 cylinders can be turned off and when the truck is empty (only engine unit is there and trailer is removed), truck can be made to run on only one third of original power, thereby saving fuel.  Thus power delivery can be dynamic based on load and other factors, ensuring that truck owner gets best of both worlds.

I should have ideally patented these ideas/solutions and then sell them to highest paying trucking company. But instead I’m writing this blog post for the MTBD #FuelSmartActivity at BlogAdda in the interest of humanity and trucking community, I am throwing these open so that our truck driver friends get more comfort and benefits while on job. :)

5 comments :

SandeepaChetan said...

Nice information. Hope road safety in India will be serious issue some day. May all truck manufacturers adopt these technologies soon.

Saru Singhal said...

This way it will be real real smart. Much needed features though.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Sandeepa and Saru

Arun Prasadh said...

Side ways will be useful in cars too. Much needed in the crowded Bengaluru.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Yes Arun