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January 6, 2012

From noise-cancelling headphones to vibration-cancelling truck seats

Premier audio manufacturer Bose has been a feature at trucking events for the last several years. But the company is not there to promote its highly superior automotive sound systems. Instead, it has a traveling exhibit that showcases the Bose Ride System, the ultimate truck seat suspension.

At first sight, it’s a curious diversification for the company famous for sound, but the seat suspension technology draws heavily on the basic math and design talent that have made noise-cancelling headphones such a popular product. Think of the seat suspension as a vibration-cancelling technology.

Instead of the usual air spring and shock absorber of the conventional air-ride suspension seat, the Bose Ride System uses a super fast acting, active electromechanical actuator to cancel out the vibrations that find their way to a truck driver even when a suspension seat is specified.


Specifically, Bose has identified and all but eliminated the vibrations frequencies that excite sympathetic vibrations in the human body. They are in the region of 1 to 30 cycles per second (Hz) and are responsible for some unpleasant whole-body vibrations that cause discomfort, fatigue and even loss of cognitive recognition.

Particularly distressing vibrations are at around 4Hz where the body’s main organs reside, causing that familiar discomfort in stomach, liver and kidneys and much of the flabby tissue. At 20Hz, the vibration excites the eyes causing a recently discovered phenomenon in which the loss of a continual steady image causes the brain to reconstruct the image many times a second, failing to recognize changes in the image that a steady image registers.

Most drivers – and managers – don’t even know this effect exists except that they may not recognize or read road signs or changing traffic patterns as readily as they could if they were not being subjected to the vibrations.

Also identified as problems from whole body vibration are back problems and stiff, sore necks from having to support the head as the body is pitched around by these relatively low-frequency but large-amplitude vibrations.

The end result of canceling these unpleasant vibrations is more comfortable, less fatigued and healthier drivers, says Bose Chief Engineer Mike Rosen.

But those wins didn’t come easily. At the launch in 2010, Principal Engineer Jim Parison said he had been working on the project for 15 years and had drawn heavily on the extensive research and development resources of Bose, resources that have brought products used by auto manufacturers and the military as well as those noise cancelling headsets and top-quality audio components. The common thread is the same basic math that underlines the R&D of the very different products.

The Bose Ride System uses extremely fast-acting actuator technology driven by a computer with a microprocessor of similar power to an engine’s ECU. To act fast and react to a driver who may be 350 pounds, the system draws 3500 Watts (around 50 hp) but the innovative design uses the actuator as both a forcing device and as a regenerative generator which, with some energy storage built into the assembly, means most of this energy stays within the seat base. The actual current draw in most circumstances is only around 4 amps or about the same as a 50W light bulb.

The system recognizes incoming input and then acts very quickly – in less than 1,000th of a second – to cancel out the frequencies at just above 1Hz to 30Hz while lower frequencies – which follow the profile of the road as it slowly rises and falls – are still fed to the driver in seat motion. The result is that only a fraction of the vibration spectrum from 1 to 30Hz – about 10% – finds its way through to the seat and driver.

The system has been refined and packaged so that the components, including an air spring that supports the driver’s weight and provides an air-spring fallback if the system should fail or lose power, fit within the seat skirt. The seat base and assembly bolt to the standard floor mountings. The seat looks extremely comfortable and stylish and is supplied by a conventional truck-seat manufacturer, though Bose doesn’t say who. Switches are mounted to the seat, which features all the premium features, including armrests.

In a demonstration at Bose headquarters in Framingham, Mass., the seat proved very effective in side-by-side comparisons on a vibration rig. The washboard-type road input could be distinctly felt in the air seat, and holding out an arm as one would, for example, to adjust the radio showed that familiar inability to control the motion of the hand and fingers.

In the Bose Ride System seat, however, I could barely feel the significant vibration and it all seemed supremely smooth until hands and feet were back on the pedals, when the extent of the vibration could be experienced and understood.

In fleet testing, 77 drivers texted the Bose Ride System for four months or more and overwhelmingly preferred the new seat. Only 16% said they didn’t like the seat, half of these being “low-rider” drivers who like to dump the air and lower the seat to the floor for that “cool” look. Only about 8% had real complaints about the motion of the seat with 84% strongly in favor of it.

The drivers said they were much less fatigued at the wheel. The decreased fatigue and back pain were noticed when driving the truck and at the end of a shift when drivers said they still felt fresh and less prone to making mistakes. Significantly, many said that at the end of a trip, although previously they needed a day or so to recover, they were ready to deal with family and chores much more readily.

At the Bose website (www.bose.com), there are testimonials from real drivers. One I like in particular quotes a fleet driver with 38 years of experience: “If you offer me a new truck with a 13-speed transmission or a three- or four-year-old truck with the Bose (Ride), give me the Bose (Ride).”

The seat assembly is premium priced at $5,995 installed. Rosen says some new truck buyers are ordering with the passenger seat deleted, and then apply the savings towards the Bose Ride Seat, remounting the driver’s seat on the passenger side.

Distribution can be direct from Bose or from a number of installers around the United States and Canada. A list is available at www.bose.com/controller?url=/bose_ride_system/index.jsp but new installers are being signed so a call to the Bose Ride toll-free number 800-721-2673 might be worthwhile.

There’s nothing particularly difficult in the installation as the system uses the standard air and 12V supply of a conventional seat. However, since seat belts are involved in the install, there are safety concerns that have to be addressed by qualified installers.

Bose believes there is a strong business case for the seat, but says it will take a leap of faith on the part of a fleet to establish realistic return-on-investment numbers. However, with the looming driver shortage, fleets that want to hang on to their best drivers would do well to consider specifying the Bose Ride. Owner-operators, who make their decision with different priorities, have been among the first adopters, investing in a more comfortable, safer seating option.

To understand more about the system and experience the quite remarkable ride quality, you can catch up with the exhibit at the spring 2012 Technology and Maintenance Council meeting mid-February in Tampa. The team will also be at the Truckload Carriers Association annual meeting in Orlando at the beginning of March and at the 2012 Mid-America Trucking Show at the end of the month. The end of April will see the exhibit at the National Private Truck Council meeting in Cincinnati. 

As the driver shortage returns with improving business – as it inevitably must – this might be just the ticket to hold on to the good drivers. Even at nearly $6,000, if the seat can save one driver turn because of comfort or health benefits, it has paid for itself. And if a driver avoids a fatigue-related accident, the price is almost irrelevant.

Fleets can know one thing for sure. The quality for which Bose is known is built into the seats and million-mile, maintenance-free durability and reliability should be beyond question.

4 comments:

  1. Shortages were due driver with improving business - as must inevitably - and this may be just the ticket to stick to good drivers. Even at nearly $ 6,000, if one seat, in turn, could save the driver because of convenience or health benefits, and paid for itself.

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  2. Generally speaking, the main purpose of running with others is to actually....talk to others. As such, during my 16 mile run this weekend I ditched the headphones to run with a running buddy, Ryan.Digital headphones

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  3. Nice. Bose was my favorite earbuds of choice. Me, Jowdjbrown and Ryan used to run along with these on in Detriot. Nice days. Headphones

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