by Rachel Varra
Another in a series that focus on innovation
It began in Dallas with Robert Roy, president of Royal Truck & Equipment, Inc. and Curtis Eckhoff, environmental health and safety manager at Texas APAC. Roy and Eckhoff were chatting after a demonstration of Royal’s TMA (truck-mounted attenuator). Curtis recalls the comment that set the ball in motion: “So,” he says to Roy, “would you be willing to put a radar speed board on one of your trucks?”
Eckhoff, known for his motto turned mantra “Demand Respect in the Work Zone,” has been in the construction industry 20 years, taking a keen interest in traffic control devices (TCDs) throughout his career. “Several years ago, in Florida, I created a portable radar speed board and mounted it to a trailer… We parked it on a dangerous part of I-75 during a paving project. I made a demo of the effect of the device on traffic. You could see people slowing down.”
Eckhoff knew the idea was a good one, but then more stringent regulations concerning the “crashworthiness” of TCDs in work zones were implemented. “It was something that I didn’t have the means to address at the time.” But when he later “saw how Rob’s truck was constructed, having the arrow board at the end of the bed, for instance, where it was most visible to drivers,” he knew it was designed with attention to quality and meticulous detail. “I knew it was where the radar speed board belonged,” Eckhoff recollects.
The goal, according to Roy and Eckhoff, was to mount a speed tracking system to Royal’s TMA, which would both give a digital read-out to passing vehicles as well as work with a digital video recording system to document driver speeds as they entered the work zone. The challenge was to make this system compact, energy-efficient and financially viable for clients.
“After that day in San Antonio, we were constantly on the lookout for the technology that could make the radar system possible,” says Roy. Finally, while at an American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) Convention in San Antonio, they found what they were looking for. Eight months later, they had a prototype.
The radar system consists of a lighted signboards: (A) the digital MPH display, where the (B) radar sensor is embedded; (C) a digital “Speeding/Slow Down” display; and (D) a mini messenger for multiple programmable messages. The whole configuration is currently mounted beneath the TMA arrow board.
The radar detects speeds of passing vehicles. A visual read out is displayed both on the MPH signboard and on the TMA’s in-cab monitor. And, because the radar system has been integrated with Royal’s blackbox video recording system, these speeds are logged both electronically and visually with real-time traffic footage.
The radar system itself is modular and customizable (a design trademark for which Royal has received recognition in the past). For instance, the mini messenger can be installed on any TMA independent of the rest of the radar system. The system is compact (43.5″ x 6.5″ x 2.5″) so there is no loss of space on the truck bed. And, the mini messenger can be set-up wirelessly, and display up to 99 pre-programmed, customizable messages.
On the prototype, the radar sensor is activated when the truck turns on. (It is powered by the truck’s alternator). The system can be set so that any speed between 0 and 90MPH triggers the “Speeding/Slow down” message. The mini message banner also works when the truck’s motor is idling. The MPH and “Slow down” displays are integrated into the truck’s solar panel power system, which also powers the truck’s arrow board and lights.
“This is the biggest innovation to truck design in my company’s history,” Roy mentions. One of the things that Eckhoff and Roy are especially proud of is that the radar system has been integrated with Royal’s black box video/audio recording system. When paired with the black box system— rolled out earlier in 2014—the unique advantages of the system emerge. Video images of passing vehicles are accompanied by their speed and recorded. “It is a great liability tool,” emphasizes Curtis. In the event of a crash, police and other officials have access not only to video footage of the crash, but also know just how fast a vehicle was traveling when impact occurred. The speed of the TMA itself, if moving, is also recorded by the black box system.
Roy and Eckhoff are not alone in their excitement; Dave Meirick, president of Roadsafe, the nation’s largest provider of TCDs and the first company to opt for this technology on all its new trucks, is equally enthused. “It’s going to change the way we work,” Meirick notes, intimating that this design protects everyone—workers, companies and highway drivers. Recording is not only a great liability tool for companies, but also affects behavior. “When people are being recorded, you can actually see their behavior change,” Eckhoff emphasized. Drivers put down cell phones, and workers are more alert to their surroundings.
In addition, having the radar system as a component on the TMA surpasses using a stand-alone radar system. There are, undoubtedly, financial considerations; stand alone radar systems are subject to damage from errant vehicles. Mounting the radar system to a TMA beats stand alone units since TMAs, designed to withstand impact, better safeguard the investment represented by the radar system. The combination of systems on an already mobile piece of equipment, the attenuator truck, represents additional cost savings over having a camera and/or radar on individual trailers.
But the advantages of Royal’s system transcend the bottom dollar. “Not only does a TMA-mounted radar system facilitate set-up of the work zone because there are fewer individual components to put on the road,” Eckhoff notes, “but it increases safety, because workers won’t have to put boot to asphalt to do so.” Eckhoff continues, “To protect both drivers and workers on the road, we must use all the tools at our disposal. Color, size, light: people pay attention to these things.” Putting a radar system on the TMA capitalizes on these safety considerations. “TMAs are unique. They are big vehicles that demand attention. People will notice.”
Eckhoff was right, as Royal’s Marketing Associate, Justin Haman, confirmed just after testing the radar system. “Making a demo video [of the radar system during testing] was a challenge,” Haman mused. “We parked the TMA with the radar equipment on the side of the highway. We wanted to capture footage with the “Speeding/Slow Down” message activated, but we actually had trouble. The [passing] cars kept slowing down when they saw the TMA with the radar device.” In other words: the radar was doing its job.
Regulations for TMA use vary from state to state. In its current configuration, the radar system turns on when the truck is running. This poses no problems in New Jersey and Texas, where the first TMAs with radar and black box recording are being shipped. But in California, state law prohibits a TMA to be idling while in use at a construction site. Luckily, Royal Truck has planned for that situation. “An easy adjustment to the system also allows the radar to run from alternate sources of power. Royal Truck will be releasing that in 2015,” Roy says. “This means that our TMAs will continue to meet the most stringent of configuration and operation requirements nationwide.” And getting these trucks into California could be important. It is one of the eight states that accounted for half of all construction industry deaths in 2012.
For Eckhoff, Roy and Meirick, collaboration is not just talk. These men take feedback from their colleagues, clients and employees seriously. “Designing and implementing this radar system has really been a joint effort,” Roy observes. “So many people’s ideas have influenced the outcome of our product, and made it better. Curtis [Eckhoff] and Dave [Meirick] have been with us every step of the way.” And Eckhoff, whose mind seems never to rest when it comes to safety, has emphatically declared: “No matter what idea I have, I know I can throw it at Rob, and he’s gonna give it the highest respect. He’ll always consider the idea.” Meirick agrees, “Rob is so supportive. And that goes whether you buy one truck or 100. He’s gonna give you the same quality. His team has gone over and above in working with us and others to keep drivers and workers safe.”
Royal Truck & Equipment’s Mobile Safety System won top honors in the 2014 ARTBA Foundation Roadway Work Zone Safety Awareness Awards, which recognizes “outstanding programs, campaigns and technologies aimed at helping reduce roadway work zone accidents, injuries and