Steady course – with Chalmers behind him

​A new, high-tech power steering system for trucks was launched in the autumn of 2013. Although action hero Jean Claude Van Damme may have made the technology world-famous, one of the real heroes of the project is Chalmerite Kristoffer Tagesson.
Photo: AB Volvo

It has been called the biggest breakthrough in steering since the servo. Kristoffer Tagesson, who got his master’s degree in Systems, Control and Mechatronics – has been the spider in the web for the development of Volvo Dynamic Steering.  The new steering technology makes trucks easier to manoeuvre at both high and low speeds and reduces the risk of repetitive strain injuries on the driver.
The engineers working on the project were quick to realise this was going to be big, and success became a fact after only a few days in the limelight. The news quickly spread to a broader public when Jean Claude van Damme tested the system in the commercial “The Epic Split”. The action hero does the splits between two reversing trucks and the scene became the most widely spread YouTube film in the world when released, seen by well over 70 million viewers by April 2014. 
Kristoffer TagessonToday, when Kristoffer Tagesson tells people what he works with, they know right away what he is talking about.
“That’s fun.  Usually, as an engineer, you work in the shadows. And it’s also a reward for all the hours of meticulous work we have invested in good function,” said Kristoffer Tagesson, who was function owner of the project at Volvo.
 
Big interest in the master’s program
Kristoffer Tagesson joined the Engineering Physics program at Chalmers in 2004. Three years later he opted for the master’s program, Systems, Control and Mechatronics.
“Today I can see it was a good choice. I enjoy working with the theoretical parts, but I like to see theory put into practice. The program has provided me with an excellent theoretical grounding. It is very satisfying to be able to demonstrate how something works in black and white terms in real life.”
He is talking to a hall filled with more than 200 Chalmers students who have come to listen to information about the master’s program.
”If you wish to work with vehicle movement you primarily need to understand two factors: the first is control technology, automation and mechatronics and the other is vehicle dynamics.”
The interest in Chalmers’ next largest master’s program is considerable.
”At Volvo we are grateful for the great interest shown by students, because this is an area that is growing rapidly,” said Kristoffer Tagesson.
Since the autumn 2012 he is back at Chalmers as an industrial PhD student in Applied Mechanics.
”Once we were finished with the project at Volvo I wanted to carry on working with future steering developments, although with a somewhat longer time perspective. It is possible to work long-term in industry too, but in the academic world there is a favourable climate, you meet lots of people and exchange ideas – including with other companies. And if your focus is fixed on the far future, matters of industrial confidentiality are not so sensitive.”
 
Variation at work
Kristoffer Tagesson occupied a role as function owner during the development of the steering system. His job was to coordinate the work within the engineering function. He describes the job as being more technically involved than that of e.g. project manager.
”Because I have in-depth knowledge of the technology it was my job to push development forward and set standards for the work. Standards are an efficient tool for communications – we need precise knowledge of what we are asked to achieve. The more engineers involved in the project, the more important it is to set up clear and shared objectives. Otherwise there is a tendency for decisions to be made by the person handling that particular aspect.”
He has participated in testing the function.
”Quite simply, we conducted tests by driving the trucks along varying routes, at different speeds and over a very long period of time. We drove the same test route for three days and nights non-stop.”
He enjoys the fact that his working days contain variation.
”In my case, being responsible for function development, I get plenty of variation. Not only entailing technological development and ensuring we develop the software in the right direction, but also driving trucks on the test track, connecting cables and solving problems. That’s a fun variation.”
 
A very potent launch
He emphasises that this success was based on outstanding teamwork from all those involved.
”Us project engineers could see the potential of the function early on. We had actually surprised ourselves over how well it functioned and we felt we needed to get this message across.”
First of all they had to convince the Volvo communications staff of the powerful force contained in the new product.
”We arranged several internal test drives and these served to impress. It was clearly demonstrated that this was an important breakthrough that deserved marketing. And with that they have succeeded extraordinarily well,” said Kristoffer Tagesson.
 
Text: Malin Ulfvarson
 
 

Image: AB VolvoFacts: Volvo Dynamic Steering
The steering system is positioned in an electric motor that regulates the steering so that the correct quantity of power is transferred to the wheel in every driving situation. The technology is fast, steering is regulated about 2000 times a second.
The purpose is to simplify manoeuvring and create consistency in all driving situations. E.g. driving on uneven surfaces results in a jerky steering wheel, but the system compensates for the unevenness. At high speeds, course stability is improved and in demanding manoeuvres, such as navigating roundabouts, the driver can steer even very heavy trucks with very little effort because the torque of the servo is regulated continuously.
”This reduces the load, and thereby the risk of repetitive strain injuries on the driver. Plus improving traffic safety,” said Kristoffer Tagesson.
Reversing is also a lot easier. Just as with driving forward, the wheel automatically returns to the original position. This enables reversing in a straight line for a long distance without holding the wheel. In a truck lacking this new steering system, the trailer slides to the side after just a few metres.

Published: Tue 26 Apr 2016.