Reverse cameras are now fitted as standard on virtually every new car.
But truck drivers use less advanced technology to check what’s behind them.
They climb out of their tractor (the cab, or front of the truck), walk to the back of the trailer, make sure it’s clear, climb back inside the front. And then reverse. They call it GOAL – Get Out and Look.
If you’re outside the world of trucking you’ll probably find that hard to believe. But it’s true.
Until now it’s been virtually impossible to fit a camera on the back of the trailer and transmit real-time video images to the driver’s screen.
The longer the cable that connects the two, the more “noise” you get – interference from other cables, antennae and cell phones that’s known as EMI or electromagnetic interference.
It’s not a problem in a 15ft car, but when you have a 50ft-plus trailer, and the length of the front of the truck, it becomes impossible to send a “clean” signal. And wireless systems are even less reliable.
Valens, based in Hod Hasharon, central Israel, is a long-established public company that makes semiconductors for the audio, video and automotive industries.
It says it has a solution, in the form of its “hidden jewel”, a tiny chip about the size of your thumbnail that effectively cancels out the noise and allows a rear-view camera to communicate, interference-free, with the driver’s mirror display.
It’s a huge step forward that will inevitably help save lives. More than 5,600 people died in the US alone in 2021, in accidents involving large trucks.
And the industry struggles to recruit young people. The average age of a US truck driver is 55 and many potential recruits are put off by safety concerns.
Introducing rear-view cameras, something car drivers pretty much take for granted, could make a huge difference for millions of truck drivers globally.
Valens says it’s introducing reliable rear-facing visibility to trucks for the first time ever.
“Everyone assumes that if they have a reverse camera in a car, they’d have the same in a truck,” says Dana Zelitzki, the company’s Senior VP Marketing. But that’s not the case.
“It’s very, very complicated for a truck, primarily because of the long distance. The longer the cable the more difficult it is to maintain the signal integrity.”
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Wi-Fi isn’t an option. “If the signal drops while kids in the back of the car are watching a video it can be very annoying, but it’s no big deal.
“But when it comes to the actual functionality of the car, manufacturers do not accept and cannot rely on Wi-Fi. It is the least reliable protocol. And other wired protocols are not resilient enough.
“There was absolutely no solution for rear cameras in trucks, because no one was able to meet the requirements of the distance and of the noise.”
Valens developed the technology to transmit high-definition camera signals through the existing heavy-duty cables that provide electricity to the trailer. It was challenging, because the cables are old, unsophisticated and prone to interference.
“Eventually we succeeded, with a unique solution,” says Zelitzki. “So we are able to provide rear visibility, sending high resolution video for up to 40 meters on the powerline that connects the car to the trailer. That’s something that no one else can do.
“Today, truck drivers are obliged by their insurance companies to get out of the truck before they reverse, to go all the way to the back side and check the surroundings. They suffer knee problems because they keep climbing out of the front of the truck and back in again.”
The tiny chipsets that Valens has developed – silicon devices with algorithms – will be installed in the rear-view camera and in the driver’s screen so they can communicate effectively and accurately.
“Our unique capability is that we are able, despite all the challenges and despite the distance, to maintain error-free connectivity.”
Valens will sell its chipsets to companies in the automotive world that provide camera systems to truck manufacturers.
“Our solution, perhaps the only one capable of operating over the existing wiring infrastructure of trucks, will save lives by introducing rear-view visibility to an industry that until now had next to none,” says the company.
Next to none. So is this actually the first, or is it not that simple?
“I can tell you what we know for sure is that there isn’t,” says Zelitzki. “There isn’t a solution that can go up to 40 meters. And there isn’t a solution that can go on the existing power line that connects the tractor and trailer.
“There are several solutions that attempted to go with Wi-Fi and were not acceptable. There are some solutions that are very low-resolution video and which have a delay. But there is no solution that can handle the quality that we can handle over such a distance.”