If you want a heated discussion, then one of the subjects which will provoke the most heat would be comparing two products from the USA, the 18 Speed Roadranger versus Ultrashift Plus. The two sides to this story represent two strong ways of thinking about the trucking industry.
On one sidethe constant mesh 18 speed Roadranger gearbox with a big stick is symbolic for many traditionalists in trucking, both here and in the US, apparently. This is the gearbox on which most careers in the Australian trucking industry have been built.
The 18 speed is also a rite of passage for many truck drivers, especially those in the older demographic, and that means most of us. There is no easy way to learn how to use one of these gearboxes, it is simply a matter of getting in, staying calm and learning from your mistakes.
Truck drivers are proud that they are able to master the beast and get the best out of it. Once a driver has spent some time with this gearbox, they learn to love it and also to trust it. They know when to change and when not to change, and how to get out of trouble when it occurs.
On the other hand, automated manual transmissions in North American trucks did not start out as reliable and trustworthy. Eaton’s first attempt at an automated manual transmission (AMT), the Autoshift, was clunky and ineffective. Most drivers who used it a lot did not grow to trust it.
However with the introduction of the Ultrashift and then the much more sophisticated Ultrashift Plus, Eaton starting to get the kind of feedback they were looking for. With every new iteration of the software package within the computerised control system, the AMT performance improved and drivers found they could rely on the AMT to get the job done without too much driver intervention.
It’s unlikley that the truck drivers of the future will learn to love the Ultrashift Plus in the same way as they love the 18 speed Roadranger now, but they have grown to rely upon it and understand that it can be used in a way in which minimal driver intervention is required in normal day-to-day truck driving.
The results of this videos investigation into the differences between the two transmissions will probably not settle any arguments either now or in the future. However, the result of the test does demonstrate just how far we have come. We’re talking about a computer being able to out drive a truck driver using skills developed over a long period with a transmission.
It was always going to happen that computerisation will eventually be able to match the skills of the driver. The lateest systems which are being introduced also know when a upgrade or downgrade is approaching and can act accordingly.
Soon it will no longer be 18 Speed Roadranger versus Ultrashift Plus, but there will always be a place for the highly skilled truck driver who knows how to handle a Roadranger, but with the increasing use of AMT in trucks the skill levels are bound to decrease and Roadranger skills are going to shift from the prerequisite which they were in the past to a highly specialised niche skill for a few drivers in very specific freight tasks.