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    The Transparent Trailer & Cargo Sense prototypes unveiled at Burghley Horse Trials 2015 offer an exciting glimpse into the safer, stress-free future of towing. We sent motoring writer Will Halloway to find out more.

    11 SEPTEMBER 2015
    • Towing blind spots and the stress of moving animals or valuable possessions could become things of the past with Land Rover’s Transparent Trailer and Cargo Sense prototypes.

      The two Land Rover research projects use existing technology in innovative ways to make towing simpler and safer.

      Transparent Trailer uses digital camera and image processing technology to see into what were, until now, blind spots behind the trailer.

      Cargo Sense provides a smart system to monitor the contents of the trailer and alert the driver to any problem. In both cases these Land Rover innovations help to reduce stress on the driver, allowing them to concentrate on driving.

      Given the obvious benefit to horse owners of any kit which improves towing safety, it was no surprise Land Rover chose to reveal the research technologies at this year’s Burghley Horse Trials. I went along to find out what these prototypes do, how they work, and speak to the people helping to develop them.


      How does the Transparent Trailer work?

      A video camera mounted on the back of the trailer or horsebox sends its image to the vehicle using a Wi-Fi link, and the image is blended into the vehicle’s normal reversing camera display on the dashboard information screen. In effect, you can see through the trailer, giving you a much better view behind when towing.

      “Whilst towing, you’re never quite sure if there’s someone coming up fast behind you. With Transparent Trailer, you can see what’s behind you.”

      Jeremy Greenwood Lead Engineer

      The Transparent Trailer system provides a view directly behind – something even towing mirrors cannot do. When reversing, the trailer camera image takes over the full screen, and Land Rover engineers are working to add reversing guide lines to the image just as you would see on a normal reversing camera view.

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      The Transparent Trailer's image can be viewed on the infotainment system and the rear-view mirror

      What does Cargo Sense do?

      Pressure sensors in the floor of a horsebox detect the horse’s movement while you are towing. “If there’s any sort of unnatural or abnormal movement then it sends us a warning and lets us know there’s an issue in the back,” says Owen Stickley, a Special Vehicle Operations electrical engineer on the project. The system ignores normal movement of the horse, and it self-learns – if you dismiss the warnings it raises the detection threshold.

      In the future the system could learn the characteristics of individual horses and store them as profiles. The system also provides a video camera link into the trailer, and both the pressure sensor information and the video feed can be viewed remotely on a phone or tablet via the Cargo Sense App.

      “The Cargo Sense system is monitoring everything for you”

      Owen Stickley Special Vehicle Operations Engineer

      How useful will the Cargo Sense App be to horse owners?

      Animal physiologist and amateur equestrian competitor Dr. Emma Punt told me she would find the app immensely useful. “I’ve gone to a cross-country event and missed out two jumps while walking the course because I was so anxious about getting back to the trailer. With Cargo Sense, I can go off, take my mobile phone and know I’m going to get an alert if my horse is fidgeting excessively. For example if I parked my trailer in the sun and didn’t notice, and now it’s getting too hot, it’s going to let me know. To have that peace of mind and to be able to check in on the live video feed means I can focus on walking the course.”

      How does all this in-drive information help the driver – and isn’t it a distraction?

      Though the Transparent Trailer system uses a composite image, it’s very easy to understand what you’re looking at. Driving the demonstrator Range Rover, I soon got used to glancing at the screen to see what was directly behind, instead of looking at my interior rear view mirror. The extra view behind is particularly useful when overtaking a tractor on an open country road, or a slow-moving lorry on a motorway. “You’re never quite sure if there’s someone coming up fast behind you,” says Jeremy Greenwood, the lead engineer on the project. “With this you can see what’s behind you.”

      Cargo Sense has the double benefit of providing a monitoring system for the trailer while also reducing distraction. “Quite often what people do with horses is have a camera in the horsebox and a stick-on screen somewhere on the dash,” says Owen Stickley. “It’s quite distracting when you’re driving, constantly flicking your eyes to the screen to check everything is OK. This is a bit of peace of mind – the Cargo Sense system is monitoring everything for you, and if there’s a problem it will send a message.”

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      What research will the prototype Land Rover system support?

      Data from the Cargo Sense system on how horses react to being transported is feeding in to a research project by Dr. Punt, in association with the Royal Veterinary College and the British Animal Rescue and Trauma Care Association. “We’re looking at trying to prevent accidents, because unfortunately accidents involving horses and trailers during transportation are on the increase. At the other end of the spectrum we’re looking at elite horses, where you want the horse to arrive in peak condition, relaxed and ready to perform. At the Olympics that could be the difference between no medal and a gold.” The project could also help us to understand better how often horses need to stop for a break and a drink during a long journey – current guidelines, surprisingly, are based on very limited research. “If that helps prevent accidents, and also helps win medals, everyone’s a winner,” says Dr. Punt.

      Will there be any other uses for these innovations?

      Both Transparent Trailer and Cargo Sense technology could have applications beyond towing. Transparent Trailer could be very useful on farm trailers, which have grown considerably in size in recent years, and Cargo Sense could be adapted to analyse load distribution in commercial vehicles, or optimise vehicle settings when a heavy weight is loaded on one side of a roof rack.

      When will these features be available on new Land Rovers?

      Transparent Trailer and Cargo Sense are both advanced research projects, so there’s no definite timetable for their introduction in production cars yet.

    11 SEPTEMBER 2015

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