What made Gordon Cooper decide to design an automatic reverse braking system for commercial vehicles at 18 years old?
45 years ago, Global Sensor Systems developed their innovative Search Eye Automatic Braking System. It was one of the first fleet management safety devices to succeed and remains the only automatic braking system that helps prevent backing accidents for commercial vehicles on the market today.
Gordon reflects on the memory.
“In the mid-1970s, one of my jobs was in direct sales selling light bulbs to businesses. One day I was in the warehouse, it was a warm summer day so the large warehouse door was open.”
“I heard ‘beep, beep, beep…’ outside so I went out the door to see what was making that noise. It was a truck backing up to a loading dock. I thought ‘That’s a cool idea…’, I told my brother, Richard, later that day what I saw and asked if he thought we could make something similar, Richard's background is in electronics. Richard said ‘sure we could make that’.”
“So I did a little research on potential users (this was way before the internet and Google) I found a company called Disposal Services in Weston.”
“I was green and really did not know what I was doing, I asked for the person in charge of their trucks. I was sent to the back shop and told to ask for Harry Chad. In a small office overlooking the maintenance garage was an unapproachable-looking man sitting behind a desk. He said ‘what do you want!?’ in a low gruff voice.”
“The chrome bulldog ornament at the front of his desk bared some resemblance. I said I was interested in speaking to him about the beeping devices on the trucks when they are backing up. He then said ‘It’s not the people around the vehicle who are the problem. I need something that will actually stop the truck from backing into sh*t!’ ” Gordon recalls with a laugh.
“Leaving somewhat deflated I went home.”
That evening at home and while flipping through TV channels, Gordon stopped on a show called Longstreet, a show he knew of but never watched. But for some reason, on that day, he stopped and watched it. The show is about a blind private investigator, Mike Longstreet, who uses the aid of a cane to help him navigate his surroundings. In this particular episode a friend gave him a new cane, this cane vibrated when Longstreet was in close proximity to an object.
“The lightbulb went on in my head! That’s how my brain works.” says Gordon, “When I see a problem, I will look for the solution until my gut tells me I have found a better way. It’s an exciting process, and a trait my brother and I share.”
The sensor in Longstreet’s cane is what would eventually spark the creation of Global’s unique Search Eye Sensor System.
By 1977, Gordon had rough sketches and drafts for the concept of his idea and was ready to share it with his brother.
Richard, with his electrical background, was naturally really excited about Gordon’s plan.
Together, with their father Charles, and without any investors, they spent a year designing, building and testing their product in their garage, while running back and forth to Disposal Services trying various revisions. Harry Chad became a valued supporter.
Gordon started selling the systems by visiting mechanics in their shops, doing demonstrations and eventually being introduced to fleet managers and owners. The automatic braking system was ahead of its time and would lead the way for other fleet safety solutions, including GPS and backing cameras.
“People were really excited about it!” Says Richard. “I still remember the name of the first person who bought and supported our system. It’s those moments that really cement and validate all the hard work and time we put into developing our product.”
In 1986, Global Sensor Systems Inc. was officially established. Disposal Services in Weston, Ontario was one of their first customers.
Backing accidents are the number one type of accident in the waste disposal industry (Waste360, 2014). Global’s automatic reverse braking system was a solution that not only gave the machine operators peace of mind but would eventually prove to save lives.
Word spread across North America and it wasn’t long before other cities and haulers included Global’s automatic reverse braking system in their list of vehicle specifications. The City of Toronto has been a long-time customer. Other companies that adopted the system include Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI) in Houston, Texas, The City of New York and one of the world’s top 3 largest waste management and recycling companies.
Family-owned and operated, all 3 Coopers assisted with the installations and would travel to trade shows with their prized product: a black briefcase with a sensor demo that would beep any time someone walked by the booth.
In 1987, Charles passed away and left the business to the boys. “Our Father was a brilliant man who could fix anything. He was a tool and dye maker by profession and shared the same outside-the-box thinking as Richard and I do. He adored his grandkids, Kevin, David and Caroline and Stuart (who at the time was a couple of months away from being born), and would be very proud of what they have all accomplished today.” Says Gordon, fondly.
Richard chimes in, “It is a family business through and through, and having the kids involved was part of the fun. Kevin was one of our superstar models. We still use his photo today! Everything we do at Global reminds us of our Father.”
In the early 90s, Gordon and Richard took a step back to focus on family and other businesses such as Cardinal Couriers Ltd., Isogrid and ExpressCube. They left the operations of the business to Ray Glenn, who was superb at building partnerships and was a champion of safety. Ray’s strength was working alongside city officials and making sure Global’s products met their needs.
When Ray retired, Gordon stepped back in as CEO. In 2019, Global’s Director of Operations, Mike Parker, joined the team to assist with running the company and gave Global an online presence.
A Bump In The Road
The pandemic slowed things down. According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), in 2021, there was a record shortage of about 80,000 drivers.
Fewer drivers meant fewer trucks on the roads, so there was less demand for Global’s products. “People tend to spend less money when the economy goes into recession.” Says Gordon.
Like many businesses, Global experienced delays within its supply chain for parts.
However, backing accidents were still happening. The Washington Post published an article in 2016 “Why backup cameras haven’t stopped drivers from backing into stuff.”
“This isn’t news to us,” Caroline shares. “My Dad identified this problem back in 1974, and spent years developing a solution that is definitively more effective than other backing accident prevention systems.”
Caroline goes on to explain the difference between using a camera as a backing accident prevention system, compared to using Global’s automatic braking system.
“Most fleet managers and owners think the cause of backing accidents is due to blind spots. We all know the bigger the vehicle, the larger the blind spots- and these machines are huge…like 80,000lbs. It makes sense that someone’s first thought to solve the issue of reduced visibility is to add a camera. Sometimes even several cameras. But cameras don’t actually stop the vehicle from hitting things, and it also doesn’t account for distracted driving or driver reaction time- which by the way decreases with age.”
Global’s automatic braking system does. It will stop the vehicle instantly the moment the sensors detect an object in its way.
Statistics show that cameras only reduce backing accidents and backovers by 16%. Global’s system reduces backing accidents by 80%.
The Future Of Global
More attention to the problem means there are more statistics on backing accidents and safety products available.
“It is our time now to leverage off what the legislation of cameras on trucks have brought to the attention of vehicle owners and operators, backing accidents happen,” Gordon responds when asked about how the industry has changed over the years.
An article in Car and Driver makes a fair comparison.
“Based on insurance claims for some GM and Subaru vehicles, IIHS said rear AEB [automated emergency braking] can reduce damage liability claims by 28 percent, while a backup camera or those beeping sensors reduce that by just 5 percent (Blanco, 2021).”
Global has been around for a long time, and it has remained small by design, but the demand is here for our safety systems and it’s finally time to expand!
With that, Global’s team has grown. In 2022 Gordon’s daughter, Caroline, joined the family business, along with their new Director of Partnerships.
Together they have already established a trusted network of distributors across North America, and worked with several programs who were an integral part of Global’s growth. Global wants to recognize and show gratitude to The Career Foundation, CDAP, ShopHere and York University and the University of Florida to name a few.
“We don’t want to spoil the surprise, but we should have something really impressive coming to market in early 2023!” Gordon says.
Global Sensor Systems is the automatic reverse braking system thought leader. Follow Global’s blogs and YouTube channel for updates and make sure you visit their booth at trade shows- their demos are always fun to watch.