Safety at Volvo Trucks

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Intelligent and innovative safety technologies developed by Volvo Trucks promise zero accidents.

Story by: Anirudh Raheja

Safety is endemic to the Swedish society. It lays much emphasis on accident prevention. If this will help to explain why safety is synonymous with Volvo, which has a long history of establishing safety milestones, at its Experience Centre in Gothenburg, Sweden, recently provided an insight into the safety technologies it has developed. With high commitment to safety, the Swedish truck giant is working on a plethora of technologies that could lead to connected vehicles, and eventually to truly autonomous machines. Present in 68 countries, including India, Volvo Trucks is pro-actively expanding the envelope of automotive safety. With an eye on rising vehicular population, and the resulting challenges, the company is focusing on smart safety technologies like emergency braking and collision warning.

The root of both these technologies lies in accidents where the following vehicle rear-ends the vehicle ahead. The results of which are often disastrous. Underlining the phenomenon of better infrastructure leading to more vehicles and higher traffic speeds, Helene Mellquist, Senior Vice President, Volvo Trucks International, expressed that rear-end collisions account for one-fifth of the overall accidents that involve trucks. “Since November 2015, it is mandatory to equip every two and three-axle trucks with an automatic emergency braking system across the European Union,” she said. According to the EU legislation, the braking system should be effective in slowing down a truck by 10 kmph. The target for next year is 20 kmph. Of the opinion that the amount of jerk that will emanate from such an excercise will cause the driver pain. To avoid this, Volvo Trucks, according to Carl Johan Almqvist, Traffic and Products Safety Director, has developed a system that alerts the driver well in advance. If the driver does not pay heed to the warning, the emergency brakes are applied. Mentioned Almqvist, “If you are driving at 80 kmph when the emergency braking system is deployed, there is a need to cut down the speed by more than 20 kmph to avoid a nasty collision because the vehicle ahead has come to a standstill.”

Offering a first-hand feel of the technology on a Volvo FH16 750 carrying a load of over 40-tonnes, the engineers of the company explained how the system works. Noticing another vehicle in front, the truck shed speed from 80 kmph to a standstill in less than 40 m. The braking speed recorded was up to seven-meter per second square. The system, with standard ABS deployed on both the tractor and the trailer, is laced with a camera and radar technology to monitor the vehicular movement ahead of the truck. It is engineered to brave adverse weather conditions. Sensing the risk of a collision, the system gives out a sharp audio warning, closely followed by an escalating lighting combination. If the driver fails to respond, emergency braking is activated. At other times, when the system notices a lack of steering movement, it engages the parking brake in five seconds to avoid a roll over. To warn the following traffic, brakes lights begin to flash.

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Self-driving refuse truck

The self-driving refuse truck Volvo engineers have developed in association with Renova aims for safer, and efficient refuse handling. It provides an insight into how the refuse trucks of tomorrow will be like; how safe they will be. Meant to create a better working environment for drivers, the truck is driven manually the first time it visits a locality. The on-board system constantly monitors and maps the route with the help of sensors and GPS technology. The next time the truck visits the locality, it knows exactly which route to follow, and at which bins to stop. At the first stop with the automated system activated, the driver climbs out of the cab, goes to the rear of the truck, brings out the wheelie-bin and empties it exactly the way it is done with a conventional refuse truck. When the operation is completed, the truck automatically reverses to the next bin upon receiving the driver’s command. The driver walks the very same route that the truck takes. He thus has a full view of what’s happening in the direction of travel always.

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By reversing the truck, the driver can constantly remain close to the compactor unit instead of having to repeatedly walk between the rear and the cab every time the truck is on the move. And since the driver doesn’t have to climb in and out of the cab at every start and stop, there’s less risk of work related injuries such as strain on the knees and other joints. Carrying the same genetic pattern of autonomous Volvo trucks operating in Kristineberg mine in northern Sweden, the autonomous refuse truck, according to Almqvist, comes to an immediate halt if the sensors monitoring the surrounding area notice another object in close vicinity. The commercial application of such a refuse truck is still some time away. There’s more research to be done, and especially in the wake of the regulation that does not allow trucks to be reversed for reasons of safety. Issues like these, and others need to be addressed. A detailed story on the autonomous refuse truck is featured ahead in the issue.

Platooning

A convoy of three Volvo FH trucks, as part of an exercise to forward the cause of vehicle automation, under the supervision of the Dutch government, travelled from the Volvo headquarters at Gothenburg to Rotterdam in March 2017. As part of the European Union truck platooning challenge, the three Volvo trucks were driven through five countries while communicating wirelessly with each other through cameras and radars. The communication between the trucks was carried out through G5, a special frequency dealing with encrypted data traffic. The frequency enabled either truck to match the speed of the other trucks, which is essential to a platoon. With a one-second gap between the two trucks, the rate of acceleration and deceleration matched. A glimpse of how the system works was had with the camera fitted on the lead truck sending the footage to the two other trucks in the platoon. While the other drivers continued to steer the vehicle, acceleration and braking was automated. Traveling at 80 kmph, the trucks in the platoon maintained a 22 m gap between each other. The seemingly small gap reduced wind drag. Developing autonomous steering as an effort to reach the goal of a truly self-driving truck, Volvo is aware of the associated risks; the need for the drivers to be ready, and to accept it commercially.

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Visibility and driver awareness

Volvo Trucks is working closely with the Swedish Government to impart training to drivers through the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI), Lindholmen. VTI, in 2011, inaugurated its Sim IV simulator, which produces a large stroke liner motion in both lateral and longitudinal directions. A system consists of three LCD screens for rear view mirrors and nine projector modules for 180 degree forward field view. It is designed such that it studies the driver reactions and imparts training on maneouvring the truck in different situations. The number of accidents involving trucks has fallen as per the Volvo Trucks Safety Report for 2017. The report has mentioned that there are still a considerable number of drivers who do not wear a seat belt. Highlighting the need to focus on pedestrian safety, and that of the cyclists and motorcycles, the report has emphasized on active safety measures like increased seat belt usage, driver awareness as well as direct and indirect visibility from the cab, driver coaching services that provide direct feedback to the driver, and Advanced Emergency Braking (AEB) system.

The current AEB system as per the legislature, is designed to mitigate or avoid rear-end accidents. It will have to, in the future, include scenarios involving pedestrians and cyclists (VRUs). This would call for detection systems that identify VRUs in close proximity to a truck. Also, Cooperative Intelligent Traffic Systems (C-ITS) that enable communication between vehicles and infrastructure. Opined Peter Wells, Head, Volvo Trucks Accident Research, “Often there are these minor factors that foster a safe environment. They also lead to product improvement.” Volvo engineers have set up cameras that complement the rear view mirrors. The combination of cameras and mirrors is aimed at eliminating the limitations posed by a human eye. “There are blind spots around the truck for a driver. Different traffic situations call for them to be dealt accordingly. It is a joint responsibility of the society to see and be seen to elevate road safety,” averred Almqvist. He concluded, that it is important to educate the young and the adults.

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Commercial vehicle safety

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Technology is elevating safety in commercial vehicles.

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The purchase of trucks and buses with fully built bodies is increasing. However, there still exists a market for those who build bodies on rolling truck and bus chassis in India. The implementation of Bus Code has defined the safety inclusions in bus bodies built by an OEM captive unit or by an independent bus body builder. In the case of trucks, the truck code is in the making. A sense of urgency prevails regarding the implementation of the truck code, but a time period for its implementation is yet to be defined. There is a talk of incorporating the learning of the Bus Code to ensure that it is effective, and serves the purpose. In the absence of a truck code, road side truck body builders exist in many parts of the country. They make use of wood, a commodity that is fast depleting, apart from iron and aluminium among others. Plastics hasn’t found a calling in the construction of truck bodies as yet. Its use, at best, is limited to purely cosmetic functions. Sensitive to fuel efficiency, the bus industry has been employing a good deal of plastics in the building of bus bodies at the other end. Their bearing on safety is a matter of debate, and much like the use of wood is in the building of truck bodies.

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With companies like Daimler India Commercial Vehicles resorting to selling full-built trucks and buses only, the purchase of trucks with fully-built bodies is on the rise. Operators are coming to acknowledge the safety advantages of a fully-built truck body. The higher level of safety it offers in an unfortunate incident, like collision. However, cost advantages continues to lure them towards aftermarket truck body builders. A small percentage of the aftermarket truck body builders cater to the special application market. They build trucks that serve as chemical, oil and milk tankers; as flat bed car carriers; as airport application trucks; as municipal application trucks, and more. Safety in the case of each of these special application trucks differs, and is quite comprehensive. If safety is lacking, it is in the case of trucks with aftermarket cab and load body – especially the wooden bodies. In an unfortunate event of a collision or crash, the wooden cab or load body hardly serves to protect the occupants. It is a similar case with buses having aftermarket bodies built. With cost taking precedence, aftermarket bus bodies until the Bus Code came into play did not give much importance to safety, or the use of flame retardant material. Fire suppression systems in the engine compartment, and the provision for scientifically designed emergency exits are some of the provisions that the Bus Code has rightly ensured.

With the rule to equip trucks and buses above certain capacities, and of certain types with ABS is showing results. To curtail accidents caused by over speeding, state governments are claimed to ensure the fitment of speed governors. If the arrival of sleeper coach code and the airport tarmac coach has also contributed to elevate the safety of CVs, albeit buses, a big step ahead in elevating safety in the trucks and buses that ply in India is going to be a series of gadgets that will make the life of a driver easier and more productive. Wabco, which was at the fore front of arming Indian trucks and buses with ABS, is driving safety by piloting lane departure warning system. Expressed Jacques Esculier, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Wabco Inc., “We are introducing technologies and capabilities around advanced driver assistance systems like Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB). In India, we are piloting lane departure warning systems. The air disc brakes we have designed may not be electronically driven, they are however essential for safety.” Seating systems specialist Harita Seating unveiled an Intelliseat it has developed in association with the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. The seat, aimed at tractor and commercial vehicle drivers, is fitted with sensors that detect fatigue. When moderate fatigue is detected, a chime goes off. When the driver is close to dozing off, the seat vibrates, making a compelling reason for the driver to pull over. Volvo’s inter-city bus range for instance features a digital nose, fitted in the ceiling. It is claimed to detect any drop in oxygen level, and alerts the driver. A driver drowsiness assist feature is optional, and can detect a change in driver attention. An optional Alco-lock breath analyser prevents the bus from starting if the driver fails the breath test! On-board high-definition CCTV cameras and passenger alert systems are fast catching up.

With the arrival of electronics-based ABS, AEB, lane departure and drowsiness warning technologies to elevate safety, connected vehicles are getting closer to reality closer to reality. With telematics finding increasing number of takers in India, for tracking and tracing; for routing and re-routing; for geo fencing; for driver behaviour, and for preventive maintenance, connected trucks and buses are indeed closer to reality than many would think. Telematics is also turning into an efficient tool in commercial vehicle driver training. If it elevates safety of children travelling in a school bus, telematics is assisting truck and bus drivers in the period of difficulty to connect with their support system in case of an untoward incident, or when stranded due to some other reason. The Intelligent Transport Management System (iTraMS) from Bosch is an end-to-end Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) ecosystem, and includes an on-board unit (OBU), a strong IT backbone which comprises of web and mobile apps. hosted on enterprise cloud providing tools and processing data using advanced analytics for necessary decision making. The iTraMS web portal, mobile app. and on board unit (OBU) connect to the vehicle architecture and send back real-time alerts and reports about the vehicle health and driving behavior. Enabling seamless integration with ERP, iTraMS integrates monitoring sensors for humidity, etc., which can have an effect on the safe functioning of a truck.

Blind spots around a truck or a bus are often a reason for accident. Commercial vehicles (CVs) are longer and wider than passenger cars, making the blind spots much larger. To enhance safety and eliminate blind spots, Clarion has developed an overhead view monitor camera system that utilises image processing once the camera has been installed. Blind spot monitoring systems may take time to find their way to Indian commercial vehicles as it may prove tough to convince a fleet operator, or a truck owner to opt for one, and see value in it, the move up to BSIV has ensured that more electronics are finding their way into Indian commercial vehicles. They are opening up a world of new possibilities that elevate safety. Much to the surprise, safety technologies in commercial vehicles in India have progressed faster than in commercial vehicles in China. Said Esculier, “India has delivered on safety in trucks and buses faster.” He added, “ We have cameras that watch the driver, any time there is a safety event. This system has driven the number of events down significantly, making everyone safer.”