The development and implementation of smart trailers are key to improving the overall safety and efficiency of a fleet. However, in order for the smart trailer to work, the tractor and trailer need to be able to function as a cohesive unit. When it comes to tractor-trailer connectivity, there are three main future technologies that need to be considered in order for better connectivity: communication, safe and integrated systems, and physical connectivity.
Keys to Proper Tractor-Trailer Connectivity
Robust tractor trailer communication is needed to provide standardized data communication for increasing data volume and speed, data analytics for vehicle health and warning systems, and most importantly, command control systems for braking, roll stability, and temperature control.
Having safe and integrated systems are also key because they can provide 360-degree visibility to the driver, cargo monitoring via cameras and sensors, temperature control of the TRU for food safety, and component health monitoring for equipment longevity and maintenance.
Finally, physical connectivity, including air and electrical connections and tractor-trailer coupling, is a crucial component of connectivity. Front air and electrical connections are especially critical because they are environmentally vulnerable and getting larger in order to accommodate increasing options for auxiliary and electronic systems. Proper tractor-trailer coupling is also important to ensure the safety of personnel and equipment, longevity and sound operations.
Improving Safety & Efficiency with Connectivity
In addition to being able to collect data and communicate information between the tractor and the trailer, there are several other future technologies available to take advantage of tractor-trailer connectivity to make fleets safer and more efficient.
One technology is auto-coupling. Auto-coupling is a system that uses an automatic tractor fifth wheel to a trailer’s king pin connection, including pneumatic brakes and electrical systems. It enables the physical coupling with remote control and display as well as electrically powered landing gear with auto deploy and retract systems. The full automation of the manual coupling process can ensure greater safety and efficiency in modern fleets. Safety is perhaps the greatest benefit of auto-coupling as it requires no driver intervention before or after coupling. It also eliminates human error and the chance for injury in the coupling process since the landing gear is remotely retracted and deployed and electrical connections are made when the tractor and trailer physically connect.
Another contributor to improving efficiency of the tractor-trailer unit as a whole is by making use of trailer electrification and energy. Regenerative braking, for example, can harvest a significant amount of energy from the trailer in comparison to other alternative energy technologies, such as solar. Regenerative braking uses the electric drive system to capture the energy that is created when the brakes are applied and uses that energy to supplement the drive power. This technology can bring benefits such as fuel savings, emissions reductions, and access to restricted urban and port areas by proving electrical power to the TRU and aux trailer systems, as well as possible government incentives.
Finally, fuel efficiency is one of the biggest goals the industry is trying to achieve with connected vehicles. For many years, the Department of Energy (DOE) has challenged the industry to produce a highly efficient tractor-trailer combination through its SuperTruck competition program. The contestants are working hard to develop the most fuel-efficient tractor-trailer through improved trailer aerodynamics, low rolling resistance tires, and light weight.