Canadian regulators are actively exploring the future of heavy-duty equipment, with projects focused on everything from flexible side guards to tractor-trailer stability and autonomous vehicles.
Here are a few examples of ongoing work that was discussed during the annual meeting of the Canadian Transportation Equipment Association (CTEA) in Victoria:
Flexible side guards
The National Research Council of Canada is working with Manac and PHSS Fortier to test the promise of a flexible lateral protection device (LPD). The aerodynamic vinyl side skirt, which already boosts fuel economy by up to 4%, is built around high-strength tensioned flexible straps and anchored by galvanized steel supports at the front and rear.
The end result could even help keep vehicles from pushing under a trailer during a collision.
“Results to date are showing good performance for a range of collision scenarios,” said National Research Council of Canada team lead Gordon Poole, noting the system weighs just 245 kg and can be installed without welding.
Much of the testing has so far involved computer simulations, while coming work will explore various impact angles and speeds, as well as direct impacts on steel supports.
The end results will help inform regulators about the potential design, performance, and testing considerations for such devices, he said, crediting the industry for being proactive.
“It is something that does happen,” Poole added, referring to side impacts that are also being explored by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “These accidents are happening on a frequent-enough basis that the issue is being looked at.”
The National Research Council is also expanding its toolbox with a new heavy-duty highway and off-road vehicle simulator that will support research into tractor-trailer stability – such as the way multi-trailer configurations perform when traveling slippery roads and encountering strong wind gusts.
“So basically our crappy Canadian road conditions in general,” Poole quipped.
The simulator can be connected to actual hardware, and haptic systems will offer drivers realistic feedback at the steering wheel, he said.
The tool itself will support a multi-year research and development project with several countries, ultimately helping to develop options such as active trailer steering and active trailer differential braking systems, he said.
Cyber security rules
Meanwhile, steps are being taken to tighten cyber security measures as increasingly autonomous vehicles begin to emerge. An early sign of that is in the form of the Critical Cyber Systems Protection Act, now before parliament.
“It’s very high-level legislation at this time,” said Andrew Phillips of Transport Canada, referring to Bill C26.
The end result would require system and service operators to establish a cybersecurity program and report cyber security incidents, although the affected “classes of operators” haven’t been determined.
Transport Canada is also scanning international projects to support the test and deployment of autonomous vehicles, both to examine safety practices and potential regulatory barriers. That project should be completed by mid-2023.
Ontario platooning and autonomous safeguards
At a provincial level, Ontario is establishing the framework to pilot a cooperative truck platooning program. That will see tractor-trailers connected electronically, allowing those behind a lead truck to leverage highly autonomous controls and establish tight following distances in the name of better fuel economy.
“It’s more about connected vehicles than automated vehicles,” said Joe Lynch of the Ontario Ministry of Transportation Carrier Safety and Enforcement Branch. “It still requires a driver.”
That project is among several regulatory updates that are being established for ever-higher levels of automation and advanced driver assistance systems. And the province is going to put a greater onus on technology companies to accept liability for the way autonomous vehicle systems work.
“We needed to put some safeguards in place and protect ourselves and protect Ontario taxpayers,” Lynch said. “It really puts a lot of onus on these tech companies, and whoever is involved in this project, to accept liability for any incidents.
“We’re vetting their work plans – how they interact with potential construction, potential road closures.”
Ontario hasn’t seen many autonomous vehicle tests so far. “But we do have some requests coming in that we’re vetting right now,” he said. Municipalities will have a voice in the discussions, too.
But a different sort of commercial autonomous vehicle is already operating on provincial roads, he added, referring to autonomous farm vehicles.
“They are implements of husbandry, so technically you don’t even need a driver,” Lynch explained. They are admittedly rare because of the costs, but existing units are moving from farm to farm. They’re just accompanied by pilot vehicles at the front and rear when they do that.
One other project is exploring productive vehicle upgrades of another sort.
Ontario is approaching the mileage threshold on its first trial project involving a 60’6” semi-trailer, Lynch said, stressing that it’s still a trial at this point.
But the configuration can accommodate four additional pallets when compared to a traditional 53-foot design.