Will high-tech trucks save Big Rig industry?

IBM study looks at how telematics, sensors will held drive trucking changes

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Big Rigs have a problem: Big trucks use more than 20% of transportation energy, they produce 40 % of the nitrous oxide emissions but they represent only 8 % of the vehicle market.  So as fuel prices rise and the push for more efficient, less polluting vehicles rises, the trucking industry is under pressure change drastically. 

And changing it must do with major help from the high-tech world, according to a study released today from IBM.  The Truck 2020: Transcending turbulence  study says that the truck of 2020 will function in ways vastly different than today's vehicle - and telematics and hybridization will be at the heart of these new functions. 

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Technology progress extends to capabilities that will be embedded in roads and traffic signals letting them interact with trucks, IBM stated. Indeed a variety of projects are in the works to develop communication systems that use embedded road sensors, GPS systems and even radar to enable a car or truck to avoid road problems. 

Onboard computer systems to monitor driving characteristics such as unsafe driving behavior are also under development. According to a Department of Transportation report, feedback from such a system can be supplied to drivers in real-time or in the case of a commercial driver, provide carrier management a view into its driver's behavior. Such a system would monitor speed; following behavior; attention/inattention and fatigue symptoms.

Other telematics system development also needs to improve, IBM stated. For example, embedded communication hardware can ease remote diagnostics and vehicle maintenance. The connectivity of the vehicle and the embedded systems monitoring of its operations will be primary focus areas for truck builders and third parties in 2020, IBM stated. 

Telematics will reduce service time by allowing faster remote diagnostics, prognostic capabilities and proactive servicing. There will be an evolution of sorts in terms of their usage and impact. Today's vehicle diagnostic techniques typically require the technician to physically connect to the vehicle. However, future telematics capabilities will enable remote diagnostics of a vehicle's condition and remote patching of software, which will reduce time spent in service bays, IBM stated. 

Other key future technology for trucks will be work on smart grid connectivity.  When plugged in, the battery systems of these specially equipped plug-in hybrids can communicate directly with the electrical grid via smart meters provided by utility companies through wireless networks. Ford recently announced such a system that uses an in-dash computer to choose when the vehicle should recharge, for how long and at what utility rate, Ford stated. For example, a vehicle owner could choose to accept a charge only during off-peak hours between midnight and 6 a.m. when electricity rates are less expensive, or when the grid is using only renewable energy such as wind or solar power, Ford stated. 

That said, there are still barriers to delivering the full potential of the connected truck. One of those barriers is technological capability itself, IBM stated.   

Much of the promise in making the connected truck a reality is in the hands of vehicle manufacturers. IBM stated. Advancement can only be achieved through extensive collaboration. Those in the automotive industry rate the factors in the adoption of the connected vehicle in much the same way as their truck counterparts, IBM stated.   

Since they face similar challenges, truck industry leaders and their automotive counterparts must collaborate more aggressively to invest in developing standards and conducting testing where appropriate and practical, IBM stated. 

IBM also noted a related issue: Ever-increasing use of technology in the vehicle is making serviceability an even greater challenge.  Dealers are concerned about their ability to service increasingly complex vehicles - and the growth of hybridization, electrification and embedded software will only add to this concern. 

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