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How Predictive Cruise Control Can Enhance Your Fleet Operations

We want to end it on a good note. How do you get the most out of your vehicle’s cruise control system? Whether you are the largest fleet in your region or an owner-operator, cruise control is a consideration.

There are many advanced systems fleets choose from when they spec their rigs. The number of available add-ons or options are simply overwhelming. One of them is cruise control. Before motor carriers put truck drivers into a cab, it is worth ensuring full understanding of the technology being used. Truck drivers should not be confused or reluctant to use a technology because they don’t know how to, or they have not been properly introduced to it.

What are the Differences?

Predictive cruise control is one of these technologies. While motor carriers stock their vehicles with everything they possibly can for a safer ride, predictive cruise control is a popular option. Predictive systems represent a sea-change from vintage cruise control systems that only controlled engine torque to deliver assistance on increased hill climbs but could not moderate low engine speeds.

New, predictive cruise control systems can see what is ahead of it on the road and make a prediction on what the engine should run at. The system itself makes the decision on which is the most efficient gear given the situation.

Many trucking companies would not run with traditional cruise control systems because the best-case use scenario was rarely there. With newer functionalities of more advanced cruise control systems, fleet technicians and procurement managers are making the case for a shift.

Adaptive and Predictive Cruise Control helps fleets:

  • Increases overall driving safety by managing a safe distance from the vehicle in front;
  • Reduces break wear;
  • Reduces fuel consumption;
  • Reduces vehicle downtime;
  • Offer enhancements over traditional cruise control;
  • Controls a stable and safe driving distance from the vehicle in front;
  • Allows truck drivers to set a speed and distance, and;
  • Includes so much more.

Standard systems were great for flat roads where all truck drivers worried about was a steady speed. Today, cruise control systems assist truck drivers where rolling hills are a problem and seeing around the next corner isn’t as easy. But how does it work?

Predictive cruise control for a Class 8 commercial motor vehicle combines a GPS receiver on the vehicle itself with a cloud-based maps system. Advanced technologies communicate with the onboard receiver in fraction of a second, keeping the predictive cruise control system updated on a real-time basis.

These systems can actively modulate cruising speed to match the surrounding area or terrain. If a predictive cruise control system senses an upcoming grade, it may hold a gear flat in anticipation of that grade. As the vehicle ascends and crests the hill, the predictive system drops the speed slightly below what the cruise control is set at, allowing a bit of a coast, and increasing fuel efficiency.

New cruise control systems are also much better at managing how aggressively to manage the throttle or braking systems. The software has now become so advanced that it can gently accelerate and decelerate a vehicle running a gross weight of up to 80,000 lbs. A fleet can use adjustable parameters to control how much a tractor should go above or below whatever speed the truck driver has set.

The point is to maximize fuel efficiency. Allowing a deviation between set speeds provides for a more flexible driving situation. Big OEMs such as Volvo and Mack trucks have been getting in on the game with engine brake features that allow an engine brake to apply in stages as the truck begins to descend, using momentum and inertia as assistants in the braking process.

Obviously, the last thing anyone wants is for the truck to run free down the hill, but by drooping into the engine brake through stages, especially when assisted by an advanced system, heat is taken off the brakes. Each stage can also be set by the trucking companies depending on the application they are working in.

What OEMs Have Been Working On

OEMs have been aware of and working with these features for many years. While many OEMs produce equipment that accomplishes a similar task, they all function in essentially the same way. OEMs do build their own variations into the system, however. Daimler, as one example, offers a predictive shifting strategy for terrain that includes acceleration and deceleration. The system increases speed before a steep hill to prevent dip coasting or downshifting. This essentially aids the system increasing speed in the dip of a downhill before an uphill swing.

Mack Trucks offers two cruise control options. Their first option sets the system for long stretches of highway and keeps the vehicle at a set speed. While quite basic, this system also can adjust the motion of the vehicle depending on the type of grade being traversed. If the truck is on a downgrade, the system might adjust the speed a bit for the sake of fuel efficiency.

Another option offered by the company combines sensors from the truck with GPS data to understand what route the truck is taking. By knowing the topography, the software can actively plan for what speeds the vehicle should be driving at during what times. The system is so advanced it can store thousands of hill profiles into its digital memory.

While all these new systems come online, it is more important than ever that trucking companies understand what they are using and can then properly train their truck drivers on the systems. If a predictive cruise control system has several different modes, but the truck driver is not aware that there are several different modes, a problem could arise. You do not want a truck driver overreacting to something that isn’t even a problem.

Fairly extensive orientation and training systems must be set up. New truck drivers are especially nervous about operating with advanced new equipment. Some may be reluctant to use a cruise control system that can isolate whether a truck needs to slow down or speed up on a hill. But there are efficiency gains to be made by using these systems. Operators must feel comfortable in a vehicle they will be operating day-in and day-out.

While some truck drivers might even think they can out-drive a predictive cruise control system by properly managing the throttle pedal, it is hard to get much more accurate than something performed by an automated system. This is the future we are moving towards.

The Neverending Story

It is the tale of man versus machine. We talk about it in automation coming to the trucking industry, and the same can be said where predictive cruise control is concerned. Different systems on the truck will soon all be linked together and making split-second decisions based on what various sensors are telling them.

Trucks are now posting average fuel economy over 10 mpg, something that was unheard of just half-a-decade ago. Now it is commonplace. The better part of predictive cruise control is that it is not entirely anonymous. It works with the truck driver to better manage safety and fuel efficiency. Take the Mack system as one example.

On some occasions, depending on the hill, the truck driver can make decisions on whether they want to increase or lower the speed depending on what the system tells them. While not many truck drivers would have the patience to pay such close attention to the intricacies of these advanced systems, they are an important part of any fleet safety and efficiency initiative.

Even more, fleets making investments into enhanced fleet management systems should look for vendors who can offer adaptive cruise control as a part of the package. If you are already going to invest in a new system, when you have interoperability and other issues to worry about, would you not want to invest in a solution that includes everything you need to run your fleet effectively?

Whether you plan on using predictive cruise control as a standalone option or combining it with another system, you simply cannot afford to wait to move on these technologies. Fuel efficiency is the name of the game, so when you aren’t utilizing products and services to assist in that endeavor, you are missing out on a critical component of your fuel efficiency and potentially creating problems for your bottom line.

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