GPS devices have inserted themselves into many areas of life, but the trucking industry seems to have seen more than its share. Navigating unfamiliar routes with the help of a GPS display is now par for the course, and more and more dispatchers are using the technology to keep track of their trucks in real time. A new GPS device, though, helps the trucker himself in an immediate way: it shifts gears for him.
If you’ve ever been behind a semi on a steep decline and smelled the unmistakable evidence of burning brakes, you’ve probably wondered—isn’t there a better gear he could be using? And when a trucker turns a corner and discovers he’s faced with a long incline, often it’s too late to comfortably shift into the optimal gear for the climb. If only there was some way to know what the next few miles hold and what gear would be best for them!
The Mercedes-Benz Actros, an advanced long-haul truck, now includes a GPS device that does just that. Sold mainly in Europe, this truck automatically shifts into the ideal one of twelve gears, using GPS to anticipate what type of terrain lies ahead. This is something like being able to count on always having an expert driver who is thoroughly familiar with the route and can save gas by planning ahead. The average fuel savings are about three percent—a small number, but translating into real money when spread across an entire fleet.
An extra feature of this device is its ability to shift the truck into neutral on some declines. Coasting is a great way to save fuel, but the trouble of shifting in and out of neutral is one that most drivers aren’t willing to bother with. Fuel efficiency isn’t the only goal of this system, however; it takes away a distraction that might get drivers’ eyes off the road in dangerous situations. Instead of quickly handling multiple up- or down-shifts, a driver can simply let the GPS device do it and concentrate on the road and the other vehicles on it.
It may not be long before this technology reaches our shores, but for now it is not on the U.S. market.