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Published March 01, 2010, 04:50 PM

N.D. trio invents, sells truck warning systems

A trio of North Dakota inventors are ready to move on marketing a pair of inventions designed make truck operations safer for farmers and others.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

A trio of North Dakota inventors are ready to move on marketing a pair of inventions designed make truck operations safer for farmers and others.

Scott Ault of Reynolds, N.D., and partners Darren Olafson of Mountain, N.D., and Darren Driscoll of East Grand Forks, Minn., were among the dozens of booths at the recent International Crop Expo at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D.

Their company, Deceleration Technologies L.L.C., currently makes two products — Slow-N-Tell and Lift-N-Tell — both truck safety technology.

While many exhibitors worked selling farmers on ways to care for their crops and market them, these guys are selling the idea of getting those crops to market more safely, without injury to the public or equipment.

Slow-N-Tell “instinctively” lights the truck’s brake lights whenever the truck decelerates at a “braking rate.” The device is important because sometimes trucks slow down in ways — active braking, engine braking, down-shifting and coasting — that don’t activate the brake lights. The idea is to avoid rear-rend collisions and “accordion” accidents and related human and business costs.

The need for lights

The idea for Slow-N-Tell came to Ault 10 years ago while he was driving sugar beet trucks in the northern Red River Valley.

One misty, muddy evening, Ault’s wife and their children delivered a meal to him in the field. Afterward, he pulled out to head for the piler. His wife pulled out past Ault on the road, barely escaping an accident with another that truck that was on the road ahead of him. She didn’t notice that the truck was slowing down by down-shifting, the lights not activating.

“She put her pickup in the ditch to avoid the truck — scared the hell out of me,” he says.

A professional salesman, Ault enlisted Driscoll, a master truck technician, for technical help. Driscoll, a half brother to Ault, helped put the company together and secure financing. The company came together when they participated in Innovate ND, a North Dakota Department of Commerce program that fosters entrepreneurship.

The Slow-N-Tell devices sell for about $600, plus an hour and a half of installation costs. The company has sold 24 of the units in the past year in the region from Fargo to Winnipeg and west to Montana.

In a “soft deceleration,” the device doesn’t kick in. A trucker going down the road is trying to slow down “softly.”

“Maybe you’re going up a hill, or there’s someone in front of you. You don’t need your brake lights on ’cuz you’re not slowing down that fast,” he says. The light won’t activate in an uphill deceleration.

Lights usage

Here are two situations where it does activate:

n Normal deceleration. A trucker needs to slow down, but not immediately. He hits the so-called “jake brake,” which cuts fuel and interrupts the transfer of mechanical energy to the drive mechanism.

“It’s kind of dragging you a little,” Ault says. “You’re slowing down, slowing down. Then, you pop the throttle to engage the jake harder and the brake lights will come on when you reach braking deceleration.”

The “braking deceleration rate” is the rate at which the deceleration of the truck is equal to or greater than the rate of deceleration that is caused by stepping on the brake pedal. Slow-N-Tell holds the brake lights on until the truck has sped back up or has leveled off its speed and the deceleration disappears.

n Extreme deceleration. A trucker wants to slow down fast.

“If you really nail your jakes, you drop a gear and you’re trying to slow down, the brake lights will turn on in a half-second.”

Ault emphasizes that the trucker doesn’t drive any differently with the system, which makes the changes automatically, or “instinctively.”

“You just go and drive. When the brake lights need to be on, they will be,” he says.

The difference for following motorists is that the brake lights come on whenever the truck is slowing to this brake speed. Without the lights on, the following motorist can be an inattentive driver.

“When we see the brake lights come on, we become a focused, attentive driver,” Ault says. “Now, we look at what the truck is doing. Are the turn signals also on? Are there people beside or behind me?”

Road test

One customer that runs grain trucks to terminal markets in Minnesota. He has two trucks — one with Slow-N-Tell, and the other without. The one with the device has noticed a remarkable difference in the spacing of cars that are able to brake more effectively.

While the device should make trucks much safer, Department of Transportation rules don’t yet require it.

“DOT doesn’t say the brake lights have to come on when you’re slowing down. It says when you’re stepping on the brake, the brake lights must work,” he says. “What we’re saying is alternative methods of slowing down should have brake lights, just like stepping on the brake pedal.”

A truck often slows down more effectively by these alternative methods than by stepping on the brakes.

Ault thinks that eventually the product could reduce insurance rates. It could cut accident rates, down time and legal expenses.

Avoiding damage

In fall 2008, the company added a second invention product — Lift-N-Tell.

Here, the idea came to Olafson when he heard about a beet truck driver who, at 2 a.m., had dumped his dirt tares in a field, then failed to put the box down.

“He pulls into the beet lifter with his truck box up in the air — tears a lifter boom off,” Ault says. “Now you’ve got a beet lifter down, a truck that’s damaged: You can’t do a thing with either one of them. We avoid that kind of accident.”

Lift-N-Tell is a switch that lights a high-intensity, fast-flash LED on the dashboard, alerting the driver that the dump box is not seated firmly on the box rails. Another switch on the end-gate indicates that the end gate isn’t locked.

Both products are thoroughly North Dakotan, carrying a Pride of Dakota label.

Deceleration Technology gets its circuit boards comes from Amber Waves Electronics in Richardton, N.D. Enclosures are built in ComDel Innovation Inc. in Wahpeton, N.D., and wire harnesses is at Sheyenne Dakota Inc. of West Fargo, N.D. Final assembly is in Grand Forks.

Products at this point may be acquired through its Web site at www.slowntell.com. Deceleration Technologies also is on Facebook. Bert’s Truck Equipment in Moorhead, Minn., has the devices, as does Wallwork Truck Center in Fargo and Bismarck, N.D.

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