Driving a big truck or bus around urban streets carries a number of risks, and not only to someone behind the wheel. Wide turns and big blind spots can make it a real challenge to spot obstacles, whether telephone poles, bicycles or pedestrians.
A system developed by Mobileye N.V., a tech company based in Tel Aviv, could improve truck safety by helping large vehicles spot obstacles. Both New York and London are testing the technology in buses on their congested streets.
“This technology could be a real game-changer in preventing collisions with pedestrians and bicyclists, which is a big problem in cities,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Dubbed Mobileye Shield Plus, it uses a set of cameras strategically mounted on the outside of a vehicle to see what the driver might miss. If there’s a risk of impact, it sounds an alert and flashes a warning to show where a hidden obstacle is lurking.
The technology could readily be adopted for use on large trucks, according to Lior Sethon, a senior executive with Mobileye.
The launch of Shield Plus gives Mobileye the opportunity to enter an entirely new market.
The Israeli firm is a pioneer in vision-based advanced driver assistance systems for cars. Its EyeQ and EyeQ2 camera-on-a-chip sensors are used by virtually every major automaker – including Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen. It is also working with GM, Nissan and VW to develop advanced, 3-D maps that will be needed by autonomous vehicles. But it is new to the bus and truck market.
Mobileye’s challenge will be to get bus and truck fleet operators to accept the cost, said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with IHS Automotive.
The system costs between $5,000 and $6,000 per vehicle to install.
Another hurdle is that “the lifecycle for trucks and buses is so long that it could take a while to get such technology out on the road,” Brinley said.
Mobileye is hoping many fleet operators will choose to add the feature long before they replace current trucks and buses.
The city of Boston also is looking at similar technology to reduce vehicle versus pedestrian collisions, Rader said.
For now, city vehicles use a physical shield to prevent traffic deaths. Boston requires all large city-contracted vehicles to be equipped with side guards — panels running between the two sets of wheels that keep people from being run over in a side collision. Instead, they get swept out of the way of the wheels. New York and other cities also are adopting the system on their trucks.
Side guards helped slash bicyclist deaths by 61 percent and pedestrian fatalities by 20 percent in side-impact crashes with trucks after they were adopted in the United Kingdom, according to the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, a federal research institution in Cambridge, Mass.
In the Big Apple, the city’s transit authority, the MTA, plans to test Shield Plus on 300 new $755,000 buses it is just beginning to roll out.
“Testing these systems is part of our ongoing commitment to improving the safety of our customers, pedestrians and bicyclists,” said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz. “These tests will take this commercially available technology and hopefully show that we can put it to practical use on a larger scale under New York City operating conditions.”
Federal regulators, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, are pushing for greater adoption of technologies such as blind-spot detection on both cars and trucks. Mobileye plans to give 300 of the Shield Plus units to the city that wins the Smart Cities Initiative program sponsored by the Department of Transportation.
More than 1,000 of the units are now in operation, a year since the technology was introduced, and there have been no pedestrian collisions, Sethon said.
The system also collects data “on not just real collisions, but near collisions,” Sethon said.
That information, he said, can be used to train drivers, advising them of locations where they need to slow down.
New York and other cities could also use the data to isolate “hot spots,” and then make infrastructure changes, such as posting new lights and signage, or moving a pedestrian crosswalk to improve safety, Sethon said.