Innovation: All aboard the super lorry

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The Independent Online
ENGINEERS at Cambridge and Cranfield universities are joining forces with the truck industry to create a safer and more road-friendly juggernaut, writes Nuala Moran.

The aim of the Vehicle Dynamics Consortium is to build an advanced heavy vehicle that will do minimum damage to roads and provide maximum safety in terms of rollover, handling and braking.

David Cebon of the Cambridge University engineering department is hoping to recruit 10 or so companies to the consortium. 'Each company will represent a different sector of the industry - for example, one tyre manufacturer, one manufacturer of braking systems, one of shock absorbers,' he explained.

'In this way different sectors of the industry can work together in a non-competitive, co- operative environment.'

There are clear links between safety and road-friendliness. A vehicle with a good suspension system will bounce less on braking, stopping in a shorter distance and causing less damage to the road. 'This is why we need to take a holistic approach. The consortium's concept vehicle will take account of all the interactions between different parts of the vehicle in a way that the manufacturer of one part may not be able to,' Dr Cebon said.

One part of the study will work on improved designs for anti-lock braking systems and the interactions between the brakes and the suspension. The aim is to build a vehicle that can stop on a corner and stay controllable. This will involve using computerised systems to monitor vehicle dynamics and warn the driver of potentially dangerous situations.

One study in Australia showed that, on average, truckers drive within 10 per cent of the rollover point on corners and roundabouts by going too fast. There are fears that providing information in the cab from sensors could encourage truckers to drive on the limits; Dr Cebon says the project will include research into human factors, related to how the information is displayed to prevent this happening.

Although the project will not consider damage-resistant road materials, it will pass on to civil engineering colleagues anything it learns about how heavy vehicles damage roads. Research by Dr Cebon has shown that badly designed or poorly maintained vehicles cause twice as much road damage as good ones.

(Photograph omitted)