The cameras are what most consumers notice first—there are up to seven on many new pickups.
These broadcast every movement of the truck – from what’s on the road ahead; to side views; and to reversing maneuvers – as they happen in real-time, right to the large centre screen. Frankly, given the size of pickups today, that help is much appreciated.
The days of “judging distance” are fading fast as these multi-camera systems are taking the guesswork out of parking and reversing.
In fact, helping drivers is what so much of the new tech in these trucks is all about—these video aids are just the most obvious examples of what’s really a driver-assist-technology revolution.
Pressing forward on how we back up
Ford’s new Super Duty, for instance, uses three cameras just for the trailer reverse guidance. On the centre screen, these create a bird’s-eye-view diagram of the truck as well as a split image of the left and right side of the trailer. The truck will even warn the driver if the trailer is about to jackknife.
In addition, an auxiliary camera can be mounted at the rear of the trailer, and the image it captures can also broadcast on the centre screen via the seven-pin electrical connector.
In essence, with these video inputs, it is possible to back up a trailer without looking at the mirrors at all, an option that will seem ridiculous to any trailering veteran. Yet not only can it be done, it’s actually safer than the old-school methods we have been using for decades. Simply put, you can see far more with cameras than you can with mirrors.
This revolutionary leap in driver-assist systems is just one of the electronic marvels in new trucks now. This isn’t future tech—it’s here today.
A camera built into a Ford Super Duty tailgate
And while the cameras do have an impact, particularly during one-person hitching to the bumper or even to the fifth wheel or gooseneck pin – imagine: no more spotters, no jumping in and out, no yelling! – it’s the integrated computer programs that are making trucking safer and less stressful.
Going from bigger and bigger—to smarter and smarter
If you’re sensing a theme, it’s because there is one. I’ve been driving trucks and reporting on them for over 40 years, and I’ve watched as over the last two decades the industry has dedicated itself to building bigger and better trucks.
However, the emphasis was on powertrains, passenger space and luxury, and cargo capacity. Yet with ever-larger trucks and greater loads, the driver’s skills also had to increase. I believe they did—but the anxiety and stress that came with mastering those skills was undeniable.
Now the manufacturers are finally focused on helping drivers get the most out of these trucks, and safely. Multiple cameras, adaptive cruise control, wi-fi, and never-before-achieved weight limits—these are the headlines, but also lurking in the wiring are a multitude of subtler systems that, combined, are making the driver’s life easier.
Adapting in ways cars’ve never had to
GM, Ford, and Ram all feature adaptive cruise control technology, now, that accelerates and slows with the pace of traffic, something particularly important on HD trucks. ‘This is exactly what these systems do on cars,’ you say—but with trucks the wild card has always been weight.
Being able to haul over 30,000 lb with modern pickups, the scary flaw in previous systems was that during downhill runs, trucks would over-speed the cruise control. Today, though, the new driver-assist computer has drawn together the transmission gearing, exhaust braking, and vehicle and trailer brakes into one system that automatically holds any preset speed no matter the weight or the severity of the grade.
The trailer reverse guidance system in a Ford Super Duty
This single innovation alone is award-worthy—I, for one, will not miss white-knuckling it down long grades as the load pushed the truck ever faster and I feathered the brakes praying they wouldn’t overheat.
Ford and GM, for instance, both offer adaptive steering systems that change up steering input at low speeds, which makes backing maneuvers easier. Digital steering also holds the truck to the crown of the road at high speed, fighting cross-winds and lousy pavement.
Add to that Lane-Keep Assist and you have a second set of eyes keeping your rig on the right side of the road.
Plus there has always been some guesswork and faith in knowing when to re-enter your lane after passing a slower vehicle with a trailer. Ford now has a system called BLIS to help with this.
It’s a blind-spot-alert system, not unlike what most manufacturers have, but one with a programmable setting where you can enter the length of your trailer. Using that data, BLIS can indicate when your truck and trailer have cleared the passed vehicle.
Taking trucks and towing tech to the next level
Nissan’s new Titan has paid Detroit a compliment by copying most all the mainstream driver- assist features while adding one or two of its own. A Trailer Light Check system is unique, allowing one person to check turn signals, brake lights, and running/clearance lights from behind the trailer using the key fob.
Its camera system also includes Moving Object Detection (MOD), which detects moving objects behind the truck when backing—it gives the driver an on-screen notification and a warning chime.
While these current driver-assist electronics are nothing short of miraculous in their scope, there is more to come.
A quick look at the heavy truck industry gives a hint as to what’s next. Volvo Trucks of Europe has just developed a safety system that utilizes cameras and radar technology to monitor the road and activate an automatic emergency braking system in case the driver is too slow or doesn’t react—and that’s in a full-size tractor-trailer.
It won’t be long before this and similar technologies trickle down to pickups, and make trucks even easier to drive. The stress of towing or hauling heavy loads could soon be a thing of the past.