Traxen ‘Trains’ AI-Based Adaptive Cruise Control for Trucks
iQ-Cruise system provides 10% fuel savings for heavy-duty commercial vehicles and promises increased automated functionality in the coming years.
Artificial intelligence (AI), high-definition maps, and advanced algorithms and sensors combine to enable Traxen’s intelligent adaptive cruise control (ACC) system for commercial vehicles, iQ-Cruise, to reduce fuel consumption by an average of 10% on customer routes. Piloted by several fleet customers, the system becomes available to the commercial-vehicle aftermarket in the first quarter of 2021, followed by OE truck manufacturers in the next 24 months.
“We are increasing the trucking industry’s profit margins by 50%,” said Ali Maleki, founder and CEO of Traxen, a Plymouth, Michigan-based technology startup that’s been developing and testing the system for the past two years, logging more than 1.5 million miles of data from customers’ trucks. “With fuel cost being one of the top operating costs for fleets worldwide, delivering a solution like iQ-Cruise that offers a 10% fuel efficiency improvement on average is a remarkable feat for the industry.”
In addition to cost savings on fuel, brake and tire wear, maintenance, insurance and training costs also can be reduced, said Maleki. Fleets could save an average of $5,000 per truck per year using the iQ-Cruise system, he said, noting a payback period of less than one year for the technology. “We also improve end-to-end logistics and provide actionable insight from big data to fleets.” Vehicle tracking information, state of health, and arrival and departure notifications are provided to fleets in real time.
“We are applying existing AI technologies that the industry has developed over the past 10 years – full autonomous driving technologies – to a specific application of longitudinal speed controls,” Maleki explained. “Figuring out what works best was our biggest challenge [during development]. We started from one algorithm, to another, and the third one was the version that worked for us and that we’re implementing today.”
Real-world field trial
Traxen conducted its first side-by-side, cross-country field trial in August 2020, which was independently reviewed by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). Starting in Michigan and driving to North Carolina, then to Las Vegas and back, the iQ-Cruise-enabled trucks outperformed those with experienced drivers but without the system activated, executing “far more energy-efficient speed controls,” the company said.
“In our analysis of Traxen’s real-world field-trial data, we observed fuel efficiency (FE) improvements in the range of 2% to 20% in various segments over a 6,100-mile cross-country drive,” said Mike Roeth, executive director of NACFE. The average FE improvement was 7%.
Roeth acknowledged that many variables are at play with real-world FE testing, including wind speed and direction, elevation, payload changes and driver variations. “The best practice is to combine all forms of analysis and testing to understand how a technology will perform for fleets,” he said.
Phased approach to full autonomy
Traxen engineers recognize that autonomous-vehicle operation will not happen all at once, driving the company’s strategy to progress in phases, beginning with speed control. Through proprietary hardware and software that’s been developed to “production-readiness level,” iQ-Cruise monitors road conditions such as changes in elevation, curvature, traffic patterns and weather “for up to three miles ahead,” said chief technology officer Dr. Syed Ali.
“Over the long-distance horizon [up to 500 miles ahead], iQ-Cruise plans the overall speeds for each road segment,” Ali explained. “If a driver has remaining hours of service, and the arrival depot is backed up, the system can utilize the additional available time by slowing down the vehicle to minimize fuel consumption, thereby also reducing idling once you arrive. This type of end-to-end automated speed management has never been done before.”
Traxen said that it continues to “retrain” and enhance its AI-based iQ-Cruise performance. The company expects FE gains to approach 20% by 2023, based on “systemic learnings” from 700 million miles of data obtained from customer drives. “The systems learn from each other on how to drive different segments better,” said Ali. “This ‘crowd learning’ makes the systems get smarter over time.”
“We agree that full autonomy is ultimately achievable and certainly is our eventual end game,” said Mary Petrovich, chairman of Traxen’s board of directors. “However, we believe that full autonomy is years away given social and other issues. Instead, near term, we choose to take a practical path,” noting the initial focus on full-speed ACC and the aftermarket.
Engineers focused on developing an easily retrofittable product. “That’s why we designed our own hardware that includes the entire telematic AI domain solution and vision processing all in one unit,” said Ali. It’s an air-cooled, passive system that does not require fan- or liquid-cooling. The installation kit consists of radars, a driver display and the domain controller, and overall installation time should take less than an hour, he said.
The hardware was designed to be scalable. When functionality is added for the iQ-Vision +Urban Assist system by 2023 – meaning additional vision and perception sensors, and possibly an additional domain controller – customers “will not have to rip and replace the existing solution,” Ali explained, adding that the software also is over-the-air upgradeable.
Traxen already is partnering with key OEMs interested in the technology. The company has supply chain and sourcing agreements established, and its manufacturing plans are in place. It has filed eight patents to protect its intellectual property, Maleki said.