Feb 062012

News from North America

February 1, 2012

In the style of our esteemed college Anders Lundström, I will open this newsletter with a brief discussion on weather.  North America is experiencing its mildest winter in decades at the same time that Central and Eastern Europe are experiencing their coldest.  Here in Ann Arbor the majority of daytime temperatures during January have been well above freezing as we end the month at + 12 deg C.  Heating oil reserves in the U.S are at their highest for this time of year and it is estimated that our national storage capacity will be reached by mid-summer.  It is a safe bet that that diesel exports from the U.S. will be up this year.  I am always amazed how Mother Nature works – taunting part of the world with warmth and hammering the other with cold.  Being from a northern country I love the cold and snow and when I look out my window in February and see only grass I feel like I am missing something.

Irrespective of the weather Detroit is a great place to be this time of year.   Every January it hosts the North American International Auto Show.  It was brilliant this year with all the major companies putting on great displays.  Ford continues to impress with their integration of human interface systems that are available even in their basic models.  The highlight of the show for me was Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull racing Formula One car on display at the Infinity booth.  The car was designed by the world’s leading race car designer Adrian Newey, and it represents the pinnacle of the race car industry having won the championship two years in a row.  I was transfixed by this vehicle and made a second trip to the auto show specifically to spend time with this glorious machine.

Transportation Research Board (TRB) had its 91st Annual Conference January 22 to January 26 attracting some 11,000 delegates.  There were many great papers presented on the subject of heavy trucks.  The trucking Industry Research session had a wide verity of papers including one on Europe’s Freight Transportation Policy, several on freight efficiency, road pricing, truck diversion routing and tolling.  There was a session on the Impacts of Truck Size and Weighty Policy Changes.  Our Australian colleagues Matthieu Berni, and Rob Di Cristoforo talked about “Connecting Australia with Modular B-Trains.  Laszlo Bruza and Russell Hoelzl spoke on the “Development of Innovative Road Transport Solutions for Container transport in South Queensland, Australia”.  I gave a talk on “Analysis of U.S. Truck Size and Weight Policy in Relation to Vehicle Mass.  One great surprise was that TRB’s Patricia Waller Award (best Safety System User Paper) went to UMTRI researchers Daniel Blower, Paul Green and some guy by the name of Woodrooffe.  This was a great surprise to us as it is the first time that a paper on heavy truck safety has won this honor.

UMTRI has been awarded a $14.9 million contract from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to conduct a safety pilot model deployment of Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) safety applications in Ann Arbor, MI.  The 30-month program will establish a real world, multimodal test site in Ann Arbor for enabling wireless communications among vehicles and roadside equipment for use in generating data to enable safety applications. Passenger cars, commercial trucks, and transit buses will be included that are equipped with a mix of integrated, retrofit, and aftermarket V2V and V2I-based safety systems, a technology that could prevent thousands of crashes.  The data generated and archived as part of the model deployment will be used for estimating safety benefits in support of future policy decisions by the USDOT, as well as for use by the broader transportation industry in developing additional safety, mobility, and environmental applications utilizing wireless technologies. The testing phase will last twelve (12) months, and include approximately 2,850 vehicles.

Our truck research at UMTRI remains focused on the effectiveness of future crash avoidance technologies.  We have recently completed a study for NHTSA on the effects of stability control systems for straight trucks and Motorcoaches and we are in the final stages of a study on the effectiveness of collision mitigation braking systems, which includes forward collision warning.

Yesterday I attended the Automotive Megatrends USA 2012 conference which focused on safety, connectivity and electrification.  I am pleased to report that both active and passive safety continue to bring great promise in reducing injuries and fatalities.  The work on airbags is particularly noteworthy as the new generation “front center” airbags are now being designed to position and immobilize drivers during the crash events.  I can see great opportunities for heavy truck applications of this technology.

And another interesting development was reported in Automotive News today – Auto Hacking!  Yes the vulnerabilities of Microsoft Windows have migrated to the automotive sector – can trucks be far behind?  Quotes of interest from the article follow.

“What increasingly worries scientists is that entertainment computers could be manipulated to tell the safety computers what to do.”

“There clearly is vulnerability,” said Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va. “All these electronics we’re bringing into cars seem to exacerbate that.”

“Car thieves could exploit security weaknesses to remotely open and start a car, or a spy could listen to conversations inside a car”, Stefan Savage, a University of California-San Diego computer science professor, said in a telephone interview. He co-authored a paper last year after discovering ways to hack into cars.”

The future for highway safety has never been brighter and it is clear that the solutions will be limited by society’s willingness to relinquish control of the vehicle to new technologies rather than the technologies themselves.  One of the more sobering predictions was given by Adrian Lund who pointed out that despite new regulations requiring ESC on all light vehicles from 2012 onward, the technology we will not reach 90% penetration until 2030.  We clearly need to be thinking long term.

John Woodrooffe

IFRTT Vice-President: North America

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