Smart anti-rollover coupling can jettison the trailer to save truckies
Big trucks tip over rather more often than you might expect. Whether because of high winds, driver error or the frequently baffling behavior of other road users, roughly 9,000 injuries and 400 American deaths per year are the direct result of rollover accidents involving class-8 semi trucks. That's more deaths than roofers, airline pilots, loggers, garbage men and oil derrick workers combined.
These are terrifying accidents for all involved; the trailer can start to roll over for any number of reasons, and when it does, it grabs the front cabin section of the truck by the trailer hitch and twists it, slamming the cabin down sideways on the ground. Should the driver survive, there's not much they can do but wait until the thing stops sliding. You certainly don't want to be in the way.
California company Axicle aims to completely eliminate semi-cab rollovers with a new fifth-wheel coupling plate designed to jettison the trailer altogether if it starts to roll, keeping the driver safely upright and in a position to control the cab, potentially steering away from further incidents.
The TARS (Tractor Anti-Roll System) looks a fair bit like most fifth-wheel setups from the top, with its cast steel top plate and trailer locking mechanism. It can handle 55,000-lb (25,000-kg) loads, it's easy to use with a low-effort handle for coupling and decoupling, and it's got a visible pin that pops out when the kingpin is properly latched.
But it's also got some extra smarts built in, with sensors collecting all kinds of operational parameters, including load, vibration, wind and trailer coupling information and a high-fidelity inertial measurement unit. If the TARS system detects a rollover incident, it fires its pneumatic- or pyro linear-actuated anti-rollover release mechanism in the space of a millisecond and drops the trailer off the back of the truck.
Axicle founder and engineer Steve Krug tells us that the TARS system has the potential to be a huge winner not only for truckers, but for the trucking companies themselves and the insurance companies that have to pay out on the damage and trauma caused by these accidents. "We have had verbal estimates from leading insurance companies, that this technology will save US$2K-$3K each year per semi truck on insurance premiums, where the product itself will cost around $4K," he says. "So it makes you money in under two years, even before it eliminates any rollovers."
The TARS system has been prototyped and tested at one tenth scale. A full-scale prototype has been tested with low loads, and by the end of the year, Krug says a production-ready prototype will undergo full-scale testing with heavy loads. The company has the seed funding to get it to that point, and its series A funding round is "mostly secured upon success of the full scale testing."
"Once we demonstrate a successful full scale test and conduct more rigorous testing, we'll build a high-volume production line, that down the line, will ultimately be able to output 100,000+ units per year," says Krug. "We believe our technology will become a standard for all fifth wheels in the future, as it prevents more injuries than rollover bars for convertibles."
Seems like a very promising life-saving technology with the potential to nearly halve the yearly fatalities among long-haul truckies. The company says it'll have some fun demonstration videos put together later in the year.