The last time truck steering systems saw a big change was back in the 1980s as hydraulic power steering replaced manual steering systems. Now, after several decades, truck steering is seeing another big change. The change is called active steering. It has moved beyond the prototype stage and is expected to become available in commercial trucks within the next couple of years.
What is Active Steering?
Active steering gets input from the wheel itself. There is a small electric motor piggy-backing onto the power steering providing assistance to the driver turning the wheel. There are built-in sensors allowing modulation based on the speed of the truck. At low speeds (when maneuvering or backing up) it facilitates the driver in steering, allowing for navigation of a turn with just one finger. At highway speeds, the input from the motor is less, allowing for a stiffer feel on the wheel. It gives drivers the best of both worlds, whether driving slowly or at high speeds.
Manufacturers have now taken this technology and applied it to lane-keeping assistance and lane-centering capabilities. Daimler was the first to roll this out. A combination of radar and cameras “read the lines” as the truck travels down the road, steering the truck within the lane.
The benefits of Active Steering
Active steering is expected to help minimize driver accidents caused by driver inattention or when they temporarily drift off asleep. It is also expected to reduce sideswipe collisions.
Another advantage is that it may help reduce the fatigue associated with keeping the truck in the lane during high winds.
Active steering brings new safety features to truck driving. We see these improvements as a good thing for the industry. At DriverSource, safety will always be our top priority.
Active Steering will still require an attentive driver
Active steering will still require constant vigilance and attention on the part of drivers. Lane markings on roads are not always adequate. In such cases, the driver will have to take control to avoid drifting. Another example would be in construction zones where road crews are at work.
There is a valid concern that drivers will be lulled into complacency by the lane-assisting technology and fail to actively monitor for times when they need to be in total control of the wheel. The caveat is this – even with active steering, drivers have to stay alert to road conditions and monitor their driving at all times.
Where is this technology taking us?
Most of the manufacturers, such as Daimler, are actively pursuing active steering. With the motivation being to improve safety and limit liability, the trucking industry will undoubtedly be embracing this technology. It is also a precursor to autonomous driving (still requiring a driver) which is currently being tested in parts of the country. Fully autonomous (no drivers needed) trucks on the highways are still at least 5 years into the future before they, too, are expected to be implemented.
Bill D for DriverSource