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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Trailer Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) Identification and Sequencing System Using Wired Technology


To develop low-cost commercial technologies allowing identification of trailer characteristics at the power unit.


In North America, power units (also known as tractors) often haul a variety of towed units during their operation. In most cases, the tractor and the trailer(s) do not stay coupled through the life span of the vehicles. Commonly, commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operations involve a tractor hauling different trailers as often as each trip. The typical lifecycle of a trailer is much longer than that of a tractor, and there are operational and economic factors that contribute to these market dynamics. The most important ramification is that tractors often have to haul a wide variety of old and new trailers with substantially differing characteristics. Little-to-no information (that can be automatically detected without driver input) is available to the tractor to identify what is being towed. This phenomenon is creating a technological barrier for the development or optimization of advanced safety systems for combination vehicles.


This project has researched wired methods to identify critical trailer characteristics (such as lengths and vehicle identification numbers for each and every unit attached) at the tractor. During the Phase I study, the research team developed a low-cost, low-maintenance, easy-to-install, simple and modular framework of power-line-based communications between the tractor and trailer units. With this prototype system, status on each trailer is communicated to the power unit: brake light circuit condition, antilock brake system (ABS) condition, and activation of backup lights on trailers when a tractor is put in reverse. A patent is pending on the Phase I prototype system. On June 26, 2013, the Phase II Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) project on this study was awarded to Mainstream Engineering Corporation. The Phase II study includes design, manufacturing, and extensive testing of pre-production level components and systems in volumes and field testing and fine tuning of system architecture. In order to increase the commercialization and safety potential, in addition to the trailer identification, the end product will also report on fuel economy. Other FMCSA research has shown that safety benefits exist when driver behavior is modified to improve fuel economy. Phase II will produce a smartphone application that will be capable of communicating trailer information, trailer ABS status, and fuel economy to the driver.


Pre-production samples and commercial modules.


August 2012: Phase I SBIR research completed
June 2013: Phase II SBIR research commenced
May 2016: Phase II SBIR research completion


FY 2012: $750,000


Phase II is in progress.


Mainstream Engineering