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A specially-equipped truck in the Baja 1000 off-road race demonstrated the ruggedness of intelligent transportation technologies - and may inspire future partnerships

A unique vehicle loaded with smart technologies entered this year's Baja 1000, the premiere off-road race along the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. While it did not place first in the 1,000-kilometer competition, or even finish the race, the high-tech communications system installed to monitor the engine and the vehicle's location was a winner.

The truck's most obvious difference was its size, about that of an 18-wheel tractor-trailer, and three times as large as any of the other 141 vehicles in the race.

But it's the electronics inside that made the vehicle an excellent demonstration of how intelligent transportation technologies can be used, observers said.

"The wealth of 'smart power' that has come together for this demonstration project can be harnessed and used for a number of more commonplace applications where performance, durability, reliability, and state-of-the-art electronics are a must," said Paul Ebaugh, director of central engineering at Columbus, Ind.-based Cummins Electronics Company, one of the vehicle's creators.

The truck's engine, transmission and other vital functions were continuously monitored electronically and information was sent to the race teams' home base via satellite.

The communications system built into the vehicle had to endure high travel speeds, incessant bumps, dirt, and the dry terrain of Baja.

Beginning November 11, the vehicle ran 16 hours over the rough landscape, but after traveling about 250 miles, five of the eight shocks failed and the truck had to stop racing.

However, Cummins says testing the technologies for future products and possible new partnerships with other firms was the real goal of running the race.

Other firms that helped ready the truck to race include Navistar, Trimble Navigation, COMSAT, and Goodyear.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Trimble contributed the vehicle tracking hardware that constantly monitored the location of truck by using the Pentagon's Global Positioning System, or GPS, satellites. Washington, D.C.-based COMSAT secured space on the Inmarsat satellite that transmitted data from the engine to the race team's home base in Cerro de Borrego, Mexico.

Every 15 minutes, engine information was automatically transmitted via satellite to home base and to two "chase" vehicles so that engine problems could be detected early on and repaired.

The Cummins team has not decided if they will enter another vehicle in next year's race, which will be a longer, 1,000-mile jaunt through Baja, said Ebaugh.

But the team of companies - which produced this year's entrant in just six weeks - plan to look for ways to team on future ventures, he said.

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