Council Defines Fleet Requirements for Advanced Truck Technology

This story appears in the Feb. 8 print edition of Equipment & Maintenance Update, a supplement to Transport Topics.

Trucking is more than a century in age, and the technological advances seen in the past 50 years have been most astonishing. From 6-volt electrical systems to electronic stability control, from bias plies to low-rolling-resistance tires and from square box designs to advanced aerodynamics, truck technology has made extraordinary leaps in efficiency and productivity.

Duke Drinkard

Through the years, the Technology & Maintenance Council of American Trucking Associations has been at the vanguard of thought leadership in defining fleet user requirements for future truck technology.

By year-end, TMC’s Future Truck Committee will have developed more than 50 position papers and reports, challenging industry to produce truck designs that are more efficient and cost-effective. Each year, the Future Truck Committee challenges its task forces to address technologies of the distant future as opposed to manufacturers’ developments that will be marketed within the next five years. Therefore, the Future Truck Committee’s gaze is usually set on  technical insights for the development of commercial vehicles 10 to 15 years into the future. (For more, see

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The primary objective of the council’s Future Truck Initiative is to define user expectations for equipment that improves safety, maximizes payload and minimizes cost.

In October, TMC issued a special report on “Strategic Innovations for Next-Generation Trucking,” which presented projections by the council’s study groups and committees on the future of trucking technology and business practices. Each group writes recommended practices to assist truck operators in the design, specification, maintenance and performance of tractors, trailers and other equipment.

These insights are the consensus of TMC’s more than 2,500 members on what direction technology should take in the coming decades. An overview was presented to fleet executives and leadership at ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition in Philadelphia. Some of the innovations the council envisions as playing a transformative role in the next generation of trucking include:

• Higher Voltage Platform — Manufacturers are seeking to meet the federal greenhouse-gas emissions requirements for the 2020s. Today’s 12-volt vehicle electrical systems are struggling to accommodate the electrical loads that current vehicles demand. Any addition to vehicle electrical loads will require an increase in capacity, so manufacturers are considering moving to a dual-voltage system, which would handle multiple voltage levels. The dual-voltage system also promises to reduce vehicle weight, thereby reducing fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. Other vehicle systems, such as power steering, heating and air conditioning, and starting and charging, also will benefit from higher system voltages. TMC has a new information report on this, No.  2015-3, “Exploring the Potential for 48-Volt Commercial Vehicle Electrical Systems.” This can be found on TMC’s website.

• Waste Heat Recovery — Recovering useful energy from engine exhaust waste heat would directly reduce system fuel consumption, increase available electric power and improve overall system efficiency by adding the power produced by the engine. Of all the energy wasted in operating a commercial vehicle, 36% is lost as exhaust heat. Different recovery systems for future applications in diesel engines include mechanical and electric turbo-compounding, thermoelectric power generation, and steam and organic Rankine Cycle developments.

• 360-Degree Collision Avoidance — Combinations of visual and ultrasonic forward speed control, and 360-degree collision avoidance devices, are nearly road-ready. This new safety technology scans the environment around a truck and warns the driver when collisions are imminent, thereby preventing crashes. This will be enhanced further by anticipated connected vehicle technologies. TMC published two position papers on this in 2015.

• Automated Driving and Platooning — Automated driving and platooning technology will revolutionize the role of drivers, freeing them to do other tasks. New controls and alerts must be developed to ensure the driver can regain control of the vehicle, should the need arise.

• Big Data to Support Predictive Analysis — Fleets have an opportunity to use Big Data to support predictive analysis, downtime management, driver safety, productivity and total cost of ownership. New technology means better communication, including connected equipment that provides mechanical self-diagnosis, increased driver behavior data and driver support systems. Truck sensors and systems generate a river of data that fleets can analyze to establish procedures for pricing, purchasing and maintenance. This leads to the best alternatives with regard to total cost of ownership.

• Fuel Cell-Powered Shop and Fleet Facilities —  Hydrogen fuel-cell usage has been pushed as a pollution-free alternative to fossil fuels. The process makes water by combining hydrogen and oxygen and then generates electricity. Fuel cells are used in power plants and small cities across the world for sustainable long-term power. Fleet terminals require a lot of energy from the grid, and hydrogen power can be used to satisfy those power needs.

• Over-the-Air Programming — Engine control unit updates via wireless communication are a great innovation. Just like an operating system upgrade to computer programs or a smartphone app alert when a new update is available, the same opportunity will be possible for the future truck. With increasing vehicle software complexity, more than 50% of warranty claims are due to software glitches and electronic defects. It accounts for severe fleet costs in vehicle downtime. OTA is a framework-based, Internet-compatible architecture that helps data management for effective and efficient software updates.

• Grid of Things — The Grid is a “plug-and-play” platform that allows energy technologies to be connected with each other and integrated into the larger grid. Technology and innovation are moving faster and becoming so hyperconnected that it’s creating a whole new world of possibilities. For light- and medium-duty trucks, it’s growing an array of advanced energy technologies — from electric vehicles and rooftop solar to smart applications, battery storage and a host of energy-efficiency tools for platooning fleets.

• Wearable/Digital Tools and Technology — Wearable technology and digital aids will transform technician productivity, giving them more powerful and efficient diagnostic tools to perform repairs more accurately and rapidly. Some of these will take the form of apps for smartphones and tablet devices; others will emerge as stand-alone enhancements.

These topics will be explored in greater depth at TMC’s Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, from Feb. 29 to March 2, at Future Truck task force and committee meetings. One such session — “Strategic Innovations for Next-Generation Vehicles and Shops” — will cast a light on emerging technologies and trends that will revolutionize truck designs and vehicle maintenance in coming decades.

I encourage you to review these pioneering ideas and join our Future Truck Initiative by becoming an active participant of TMC. This is your opportunity to help us shape the strategic innovations for trucking‘s next generation. 

Duke Drinkard is Chairman of TMC Future Truck Committee