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Mobileye Inc. offers camera-based safety solutions such as the AWS-4000, which includes a smart camera that's installed on the inside front of a windshield (as shown above) and uses advanced vision technologies to detect and measure distances to lanes and vehicles and traveling speeds. When lane departures without signaling occur or potential forward collisions are detected, the system warns drivers with audiovisual alerts. Photos: Mobileye Inc.

Radar for low visibility: Eaton Corp. pioneered forward-looking warning radar on trucks to detect obstacles — The VORAD (vehicle on-board radar) system is now part of Bendix. Both ArvinMeritor Inc. and Bendix offer radar-based adaptive cruise control that can activate full braking if needed. The military uses millimeter-length radar waves that not only detect an object hundreds of miles away, but also can determine its shape, size, speed, and direction.

Lane recognition technology: The AutoVue Lane Departure Warning system from Iteris Inc. uses optical recognition to determine where a vehicle is within its lane. The device alerts the driver if the truck makes an unintended deviation without signaling. The AWS family of safety solutions from Mobileye Inc. combines camera-based lane departure warning with frontal distance warning. These systems issue visual and audio alerts to drivers.

Experimentally, lane recognition technology has been used with computerized electric power steering to automatically take control of a car and lessen crash severity or avert it. Just like cruise control, the system reverts to manual operation if the driver properly steers away or brakes.

Do these devices minimize the driver's role, opening the door for inexperienced newbies to sit in the left seat and just point the truck in the right direction? Probably not. In fact, more complex technologies coupled with more congested traffic requires better skills, and experience will be more important than ever.

Here's how it all comes together. Radar on the upper corners or roof of the cab will continually survey the landscape in an arc around the truck. The computer will detect and evaluate all potential threats. It never gets distracted and never sleeps.

If the computer detects crash potential, it alerts the driver with lights, audio alarms, or vibrating seats. If the driver reacts slowly or improperly, the truck will slow, speed up, stop, or even steer out of harm's way.

Crashes that might have happened won't. Crashes that do happen will be much less severe. We'll have fewer and milder injuries and fewer and lower repair bills. If this seems too futuristic, remember: We're more than halfway there already.

— Abelson (truckwriter@anet.com) is a former director of the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association, a board member of Truck Writers of North America, and active in the Society of Automotive Engineers.