“We need an enhancement,” said ZF Group‘s director of engineering, Dirk Wohltmann. “We also need to have good communication between the truck and the trailer. With that one, I think there is no question, no debate–there needs to be an upgrade.”
Wohltmann’s comments come in regards to the topic of trailer connectivity, a main subject of discussion at the recent American Trucking Associations’ Technology and Maintenance Council Fall Meeting & Transportation Technology Exhibition. Wohltmann was one of many industry experts debating how best to move forward in connection with the new trucking technology entering the industry, and noted that a physical connection that would take into account these kinds of technologies is the best way to update current connectivity capabilities.
Additionally, while other experts argued that wireless tech-based and diverse solutions are the key, Wohltmann explained that data security and reliability are connectivity aspects that must be prioritized, as adding further tractor-trailer connectors means a truck driver would have more connections to remember during trailer hookup.
“I described what we all don’t want to do and where we don’t want to go,” he added. “We nailed down that we have to have a change. We nailed down that we don’t want to have another connector. We nailed down that it has to be safe. For that…I think we agree. So where do we want to go?”
Backward compatibility is also vital in all tractor and trailer connection solutions, he noted. And although some experts on the other side of the debate agreed that backward compatibility is key, they believe wireless connectivity is especially important and that tractor-trailer connectivity cannot be universally improved with just one unified method.
“The transportation industry is not just a one-of-a-kind equipment company,” said 21st Century Driver president, Duke Drinkard. “One kind is not what we do.”
Almost everything we use in the modern era is wirelessly connected, Drinkard added, noting that wireless technology isn’t going anywhere, especially with 5G now in the mix.
“What technology is being used now that we may be able to use in the future?” he asked. “You’ve got WiFi, you’ve got Bluetooth, and you’ve got near-field communications, [and] mobile communications.”
Overall, Wohltmann explained that connectivity needs to implement easily-adaptable maintenance changes, be user-friendly, and be fast and secure, while also looking to the ever-changing technology throughout the transportation industry.
Also during ATA’s TMC Meeting, industry members discussed the future of automatic braking–a prominent topic as automated braking and electronic controlled brake systems make waves throughout the transportation world.
“I wish I was 18 years old, because there is more change coming in the next five years than we’ve seen in the last 50 to 100 years,” said Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems vice president of engineering and R&D, Richard Beyer. “It is for the better. It’s not going to be less complex, it’s going to get more complex, and the change is going to come at us more fast and more furious [sic].”
Vehicle infrastructure, in particular, is likely to see the most changes in this regard, especially with Level 4 “high” automation for automated capabilities. Using these kinds of systems means trucks will be able to more easily function in all kinds of weather conditions, Beyer noted.
“When you hear news about automated driving Level 4 players, you’ll see corridor images of the Southwest U.S.,” he said. “That is good as a science experiment, but the reality is that we live in Cleveland, and we don’t have Southwest weather here most of the time.”
Automated brake system improvements will rely on the conversion from disc brakes, and will allow for reduced fading, boosted stopping power, better straight-line stability, easier inspection and replacement accessibility, and overall lower costs, explained John Bennett, Chief Technology Officer of Meritor. Still, he noted that the larger improvements brought about by modern brake tech will not necessarily be apparent right away.
“It’s taking so long for our industry to simply adopt disc brakes when it comes to technology adoption,” Bennett explained. “Even though there are performance advantages, this is such a cost-sensitive industry that unless there is a strong payback, technology adoption takes a long time.”