Integrating technology-based safety detection with automatic avoidance
by Jim Bean

Over the past few decades, we have seen vehicle safety progress from being predominately operator-based—relying on the operator’s ability to foresee and respond to a potential incident before it can cause any damage—to being increasingly technology-based.

At the current pinnacle of the technology-based safety pyramid are collision mitigation systems. Initially designed for passenger vehicles, these systems are expanding into heavy-duty industries. The construction industry stands to benefit greatly from these safety solutions, so long as business owners and equipment operators are open to innovating.

Safety Beyond the Windshield

Awareness of other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and stationary objects was once the sole responsibility of the operator. Back in the pre-tech days, it was the operator’s job to detect potential collisions by checking the vehicle mirrors; looking through the front, rear windshields and side windows; and enlisting the help of spotters.

Other devices, such as backup alarms, help operators by alerting nearby pedestrians and vehicles to equipment driving in reverse. These devices have the potential to transform the world of jobsite safety.

In the early 2000s, passive monitoring technology began to be added to equipment, specifically camera/monitor systems. Now, sensors, such as object detection radar, have been added to the mix.

These sensors continuously scan the area around the equipment in order to provide active, audible alerts when something or someone is detected (the system is considered active because the operator is alerted to the potential danger, regardless of where his/her attention is directed). Once alerted, the operator can focus on avoiding a potential collision with the object.

Integrating ADAS into Collision Mitigation Systems

It has taken longer for collision mitigation systems to enter the heavy-duty market because engineering the systems’ technology to withstand harsh work environments is not the same as designing automotive-grade technology. As you well know, a construction jobsite is no place for fragile technology solutions. Heavy-duty, object-detection sensors require advanced engineering to ensure enhanced and reliable performance, regardless of the setting.

These more advanced systems provide opportunities for sensor fusion (the integration of object-detection sensors and image-recognition systems). They enable the detection and tracking of objects through the use of core algorithms that are adapted to detect, scan and track vehicles, people and objects. Such systems also provide operators with an even more comprehensive view of what is in the operator’s blind zones, no outside spotters required.

When an object-detection sensor and a camera/monitor system are fused, operators can react when they are alerted to an object in the vehicle’s blind zones by braking or slowing the vehicle, and then confirm the potential danger with the camera/monitor system.

When advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are integrated into a vehicle’s steering, acceleration and braking systems, the technology takes pressure off of the operator. Instead of the operator having to sense and react to the presence of other vehicles, people or objects, ADAS steps in to stop unnecessary damage.

Object-detection sensors provide the active safety solutions that ADAS relies on to mitigate accidents. The next step, intelligent collision-mitigation applications, integrate telematics applications, vehicle control systems, vision systems and other sensors using industry-standard communications to further reduce heavy-duty, industry accidents.

Like Auto-Safety Systems

Collision mitigation is well known to people in the market for a new car. Nissan offers passenger-car collision mitigation technology known as moving object detection (MOD). MOD includes a backup warning system, forward emergency braking system, blind spot warnings and lane-change warnings. More recently, some car manufacturers are offering predictive forward collision warnings, in which the collision mitigation system actually monitors the movement of cars traveling two vehicles ahead.

All of these technologies act first to warn vehicle operators of the need to take action, whether by slowing down, speeding up or making steering adjustments. If the driver doesn’t take action, the automated system then takes over and completes the action or actions needed to avoid an accident.

When all of these technological advancements come together in one vehicle, modern, heavy-duty machines become intelligent. A dump truck or front-end loader might have a collision mitigation system that includes front, back and side radar sensors; backup alarms; interior safety monitoring and alert systems with visual, audible and/or haptic (vibration) alarms, and cameras that give the operator a 360-degree view around his/her vehicle and numerous viewing options, including a 3-D, bird’s-eye view.

New Safety Measures for a Distracted Society

As if it weren’t hard enough for operators to navigate tight alleys and busy jobsites in rain, snow, ice, dust, mud and dirt, now they must face the increasing incidence of distracted driving and distracted pedestrian behaviors.

For many drivers, pedestrians and even bike riders, cell phones can make them oblivious to the real world around them.

There is ample evidence that talking, texting and internet surfing on mobile devices while driving is causing a rise in very dangerous behavior. For example, has found that in 2014, 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. Just as one technology (handheld digital devices) is leading to the increased incidence of accidents, another technology (integrated object detection) is helping to decrease such accidents.

Detection Zones Adjust to Meet Specific Needs

Since all situations are not the same, advanced object detection manufactures are providing the ability to adjust radar detection zones to fit specific conditions. Radar sensors can be adjusted to detect objects from the face of the radar up as much as 100 feet away. The width of the detection zone can also be adjusted to fit almost all vehicle types. The systems can be adjusted to simultaneously identify the location and the velocity from one to a dozen or more people or objects.

At the same time, leading manufacturers are hardening detection devices. It is one thing to put object detection sensors on passenger cars that spend the majority of their time on paved roads. But when the equipment operates in harsh, off-road environments, these sensors must be impervious to the environmental rigors they are often exposed to when being used on a jobsite.

Investing in sensors that have durability in the face of harsh weather and environmental conditions, as well as electrical hardening, is a necessary expense for equipment owners.

Construction-grade sensors deliver endurance and reliability that passenger car systems cannot approach. Heavy-duty, construction-grade systems typically last the life of the equipment, with the return on investment typically recouped within the first year
following installation.

Collision Mitigation Systems that Test Themselves

To further prevent accidents, progressive safety technology manufacturers design their systems with built-in, fail-safe alerts that notify the operator of radar blockage or problems with communication between the sensor and the operator.

These alerts immediately notify operators (and potentially fleet managers, through remote applications, such as telematics systems) that the collision mitigation system(s) installed on a specific piece of equipment should be inspected and maintained. This is the kind of automatic testing safety professionals have come to expect from advanced technology.

The next trend in heavy-duty equipment safety is vehicles that can drive themselves. Semi-autonomous and, increasingly, fully autonomous heavy equipment is now being deployed on a growing number of construction and mining sites around the world.

Platoons consisting of digitally linked bulldozers move as one through underground tunnels, having been previously programmed to navigate themselves to jobsites. Chains of digitally linked tractor trailers are now becoming a feature of some European highways. For these vehicles, collision avoidance takes a new form as it communicates directly with the vehicle, rather than with the operator.

Intelligent vehicles will continue to make their way into our world, often limited only by society’s willingness to let them into what has been for thousands of years an operator-based system. But the days of the horse and cart are long behind us.

The gradual introduction of new technology, such as collision-detection systems, gives industry veterans a welcome chance to increasingly get used to the idea.

Companies that continue to innovate and deliver the technology to make this a reality are ultimately contributing to saving more money through equipment efficiency. More importantly, those companies are saving lives through the adoption of technology that has the potential to completely transform a construction jobsite.