Is it possible to create a vehicle that won’t let you crash, even if you try? Scania’s Research and Development department is hard at work, trying to achieve this vision.
Imagine a vehicle that can’t crash. A vehicle that has sensors to detect the surrounding traffic, that through a traffic-monitoring system can check out what’s going on further down the road, and can also work together with other vehicles to adjust the speed of the traffic flow.
Such a vehicle wouldn’t just offer lower energy consumption and a reduced environmental impact; it would also contribute to increased delivery precision and reliability.
It might seem like a distant reality, but parts of Scania’s research and development department have already taken the first steps towards just that reality. Two people who have come a long way down the road are Tom Nyström and Henrik Pettersson.
Nyström is working with advanced driver assistance systems, which means the automisation of vehicles to help the driver and also reduce the risk of mistakes. Simply put, it’s about creating an electronic crumple-zone around the vehicle that is significantly larger than the mechanical ones used today.
“For me, the end goal is a vehicle that doesn’t need a driver at all,” Nyström says. “Instead, with the help of different types of sensors, the vehicle would take into consideration the surrounding environment, regardless of what happens, without needing continual adjustment.”
He nominates areas where the working environment is particularly arduous, such as mines, industrial sites and quarries in desert areas, as key examples of where driverless trucks might be required. The road towards automisation will, of course, provide many spin-off technologies for driver assistance long before the first driverless vehicle rolls out of Scania’s factories.
While Nyström works primarily with systems that are located within the vehicle itself, Pettersson is working on the development of communication between vehicles in road trains, as well as inter-vehicle communication and communication between vehicles and the underlying infrastructure. The goal is services that help hauliers, haulage centres and trucking groups to plan their transport tasks. Pettersson’s work is essentially to create a kind of electronic towbar.
“I work on, among other things, increasing fuel efficiency and increased traffic flow by ensuring a steady and predictable speed for single vehicles or entire trains by utilising information exchange between vehicles,” he says.
The connection between the two men’s areas of expertise is clear. Pettersson says: “I work with systems that use a transport plan that is optimised around specific transport tasks. That plan is then sent to the vehicles that carry out the work.”
Work towards fully automised vehicles has been going on for quite some time. The first steps were taken, for example with the introduction of anti-lock brakes and cruise control. Next came comfort functions that supported the driver. These have been further developed and now contribute to improved safety and better fuel economy. Adaptive cruise control systems, for example, are now commonplace. They contribute to automatic cruise control systems, time keeping and also help to reduce fuel consumption.
As work towards the uncrashable vehicle advances, additional support functions are emerging. The eventual arrival of such a vehicle will also allow for the use of lighter construction materials – yet another way of reducing the environmental impacts.