Thomas Papenheim, Global Test and Validation Engineering Director, WABCO
Testing is an integral part of developing any technology, but when creating innovations for commercial vehicles, safety comes before anything else. This is why WABCO puts every new system through a rigorous testing process both digitally and in the real world. Working on innovative, forward-looking technology, makes it paramount that every system is put through increasingly complex test simulations across a range of different scenarios. This happens in two ways: digitally and in the real world. The former includes automated tests that eventually include hardware to refine the technology and how it works. The tech is then taken to one of WABCO's three test facilities for testing in the real world.
The Real and Virtual Worlds: Working Together
The digital simulations handle the development of the technology to ensure it works as it should, keeps the user safe, and delivers the performance WABCO customers are used to. This digital step means the forward-looking systems can be refined in such a manner that makes them appropriate for the future of mobility. Dr. Thomas Dieckmann , advanced development leader at WABCO, explains: "For WABCO's Evasive Maneuver Assist (EMA), which we demonstrated in 2017, we used a model-based development to quickly find a suitable control algorithm that was finally refined and tuned in real life testing." It's not a case of digital and real-world testing being mutually exclusive, but rather very different methods work in harmony.
The introduction of advanced digital testing has, of course, changed the way this integrated technology is developed but there are some things that can only really be refined in the real world. Dieckmann says: "In terms of safety and durability, real life testing still plays a vital role in developing and proving new functions, making sure systems are working 100 per cent as intended– especially when it comes to final releases and performance fine tuning." Using these two types of tests together means products can be brought to market quicker, allowing for enhanced safety as we move along the road towards autonomy.
Testing in the Arctic
Technologies and systems tested under extreme conditions are able to withstand almost anything the world can throw at them. One of WABCO's three testing facilities is located in the Arctic where, from December to March, the average temperature is -30° C (-22 °F).
As well as testing under these extreme conditions, the facility is laid out to offer a wide range of road conditions too. With 11 hectares of steep grade tracks, a handling course, and a heated asphalt surface, the facility is designed to test and optimize the systems created by WABCO. One particular benefit of the cold temperatures is the low friction value of the surfaces, which allows for stability control testing at high and low speeds.
This is an important part of testing new safety innovations for commercial vehicles. Driving on slick surfaces can often be dangerous so it's important to develop next generation technologies with this in mind.
Looking to the future
With all the benefits in terms of efficiency, cost and safety, it's no wonder we're closing in on a reality of self-driving trucks — in fact, we're likely to see these on our roads before self-driving cars. Dedicated testing and development of the systems that will facilitate this is already being developed, and newer commercial vehicles are already fitted with some of the technology that will drive our future.
The challenge of developing autonomous technology is replicating the different scenarios a human driver has to tackle on a day-to-day basis, both on the road and in the yard. An autonomous truck needs to be able to sense and react to every possible thing that could happen in a live situation.
This is another reason why real-world testing is so important. Digital simulations can help develop the technology but driver assistance systems — as well as fully autonomous trucks — need to be tested in a specialist facility before they're deemed safe to be out on the road.
Testing in this way means WABCO is able to deliver performance and safety while looking to a future that's going to see a lot more autonomous vehicles on our roads.