As a commercial vehicle driver, I have more than two million miles behind the wheel. But I have never driven an automatic truck nor one with any form of collision mitigation, lane-centering or traffic-aware cruise technology. Therefore, my first experience was full of surprises.
The new 579 Peterbilt truck fitted out with Pronto’s Copilot driver-assist technology was amazing, especially when compared to my 2003 model 379 Peterbilt complete with twin-sticks, at best characterized as “old school cool” when compared to the luxurious condo-style interior of the modern-day big rig. In addition to the not-so-visible Copilot technology mounted at the top of the windshield, the first thing that I noticed was the amazing view afforded by the sleek aerodynamics of the truck. It is obviously pitched at the fleet buyer looking to combine fuel efficiency and safety with the almost cabover-like views of the road – the hood of the truck is barely visible from the driver’s seat.
About the Copilot system
Copilot is a Level 2 safety system that uses a camera-based software suite to control braking, throttling and steering. Pronto has taken the right approach and pitches its technology as driver-assist rather than driverless. The company is currently working with selected existing Tier 1 truck manufacturers to build the hardware for the Copilot safety system. For the aftermarket, trained technicians can retrofit a truck with the Copilot technology in about a day. Of course the minimum requirement for Copilot is an automated transmission, which rules out older-style trucks but makes the technology suited to most current makes and models.
Why should drivers care?
Even the best drivers have lapses in attention and it’s my contention that Copilot is technology every driver needs when they’re least aware they need it most, and this has little to do with experience and tenure. Unlike the 24-hour circadian rhythm of sleep, alertness, body temperature and eating, the human brain is hard-wired to go through an ultradian cycle about every 90 minutes. (An ultradian rhythm is a recurrent cycle repeated throughout a 24-hour day.) During these ultradian cycles, alertness levels rise and fall. It’s at the bottom of the 90-minute alertness ultradian cycle when drivers fall asleep behind the wheel or at best become distracted easily and start to daydream. It’s precisely at these moments when Copilot takes over and provides an added level of safety for the driver who subconsciously disconnects from the driving task – and often drivers are not even aware that a disconnect is happening.
For truckers to get access to all of the technological advances made in the highest-end luxury automobiles is a big win, because Copilot has been designed specifically for commercial trucking fleets. Usually our experience in trucking come from poor judgement – that’s why it’s called ‘experience,’ so what Copilot does is take years of experience from drivers and build the decision-making into software that allows even the least-experienced truck drivers to gain an immediate benefit.
Even someone like me – a driver with decades of experience – found the system stepping in to increase following distance when a car suddenly pulled into my lane at the very moment I was in the process of checking my mirrors.
It can happen to anyone and this system is a must for commercial vehicle drivers who have to deal with the ever-increasing number of distracted drivers on the roads… we need all the help we can get!