Hartford firm brings video to the dashboard

Hartford firm brings video to the dashboard

Hartford, Wis. — Emergency vehicle drivers have a new way to see vital vehicle and patient information with Hydro Electronic Devices’ dashboard video screens. Replacing the traditional series of gauges and lights with a display screen no larger than seven inches, HED has attempted to streamline controls while providing drivers with more information.
“There’s so much to pay attention to,” said Keith Schmitz of the Schmitz Company, public relations for HED. “What could be better — a screen that gives you so much data consequentially gives the driver control for greater safety.”
Jimi Hall, national sales manager for HED, said the video screens complement the company’s existing services. Founded in 1987, HED works in the heavy machinery market as a provider of electronic control systems, preventing vehicle engines from overloading and supplying remote controls for heavy machinery. The company also provides access to complete vehicle control with the CANLink system, which handles GPS functions and provides a direct connection to the hydraulic systems and engine.
Hall said that the system was developed to provide the drivers with a better way to monitor the information they have made available, as well as raise their industry standards. “We give all the information about the engine, replacing dashboard gauges and ‘idiot lights,’” Hall said.
To create this complementary system for managing the different functions of a vehicle, HED chose to work from the preexisting electrical framework in the car. Because of clean-air policies passed by the EPA, vehicles are required to provide emission control units to measure the amount of exhaust diesel engines pump out. HED chose to use the same types of electrical signals to pull in data on other functions of the car, such as heating, headlights, and brake systems.
HED worked around the typically tangled wiring that is present in most vehicles, using a smaller series of “twisted wires” to feed directly from the video screen. These wires can be fed to other parts of the vehicle, providing data from areas such as cameras installed around the camera and the back of an ambulance.
“It’s a multiplex system that uses the signals — you don’t need all the wiring you’d need in a standard vehicle,” Schmitz said. “Now that you have your finger on what’s happening, you can come up with better data for service.”

Multiple eyes on one screen

Customized HED units are installed in each vehicle at the factory. Vehicle owners never install the screens personally. So far, the system is being used by two Wisconsin-based industrial vehicle producers, Oshkosh Truck Corporation and Pierce Manufacturing, which uses the screens in fire trucks and ambulances.
“We’re a little different customer base. We do all the code ourselves,” said Dwayne Pillar, chief engineer for corporate electronics at Oshkosh Truck. “We provide the software, and HED provides the hardware.”
Since this hardware is tied into all parts of the vehicle, it can call upon all the information the driver needs to keep going, with the graphics display becoming what Schmitz describes as a “central hub” for all activities in the car. The traditional components of a dashboard, such as the speedometer, fuel levels and air conditioning, are distilled into one screen and can be called up as needed. Access to more vital information is called to the driver’s attention, with failures like water in the gas tank displayed instantly.
In a specialized vehicle like an ambulance, HED’s system has more room to get creative by incorporating GPS capabilities and video cameras. When the driver activates his turn signal, a camera on the vehicle immediately comes up on screen to show him the area he cannot see when turning, essentially eliminating the blind spot. Additional wires can be run from the screen to the back of the ambulance to give a driver information on the patient’s status and letting them know when they need to get to the hospital faster.
“It gets a lot of eye-opening,” Hall said. “For the markets we’re in, it’s truly cutting-edge technology.”

Designed for durability and adaptability

While designing a system of this level was a challenging task for HED, one of the most difficult parts of the process was making sure it could survive the outside world. Since the screens would be installed in high-demand vehicles like fire trucks and heavy-duty machinery like cranes and salt trucks, they needed to have a durable design without losing any of their functionality. The large amount of data controlled meant the system needed to have extra memory.
Now past the initial design problems, HED is trying to find out which opportunity will open up next. Since its debut last May the system has performed well on all fronts, Hall said, and the company predicts video dashboard sales to be around $6 million for the next two years.
The system’s open-endedness has opened up several opportunities for HED, and according to Pillar, Oshkosh has been looking into expanding its use in their other markets, such as military vehicles and garbage trucks.
“It’s been good results so far – no field problems and positive feedback from our customers,” Pillar said. “The biggest challenge is that it’s all so flexible, customers all want something different.”