As we approach the 10th anniversary of the smartphone, it’s amazing to reflect how completely this small device has revolutionized many aspects of our lives–bringing together personal data, productivity tools, and communications capabilities in ways we couldn’t have anticipated before June 2007. And the smartphone’s potential appears infinitely expandable, with “app stores” teeming with millions of solutions developed by third-party innovators.
We now stand on the threshold of a similar revolution in freight logistics, with tremendous productivity enhancements being delivered through the technology platform used for truck telematics, and many more likely to come. The telematics platform was initially used only as a means to stay abreast of trucks’ location. However, this same platform now offers multiple quantum leaps of logistics benefit for shippers, improving trucks’ reliability, safety, productivity and efficiency–as well as trucks’ competitiveness compared to other forms of transportation.
Enhancing Vehicle Reliability
The telematics platform’s benefit, of course, starts with improved vehicle maintenance. By sending a steady stream of vehicle system data to fleet managers, telematics devices have for years provided alerts about potential breakdowns, giving drivers the means to know the exact meaning of that flashing red light on the dashboard. Today, telematics systems’ data-based Fault Code Action Plans go even further, telling drivers not just what the problem is, but also what to do next: stop now, service the vehicle immediately or service it soon. Advance notice of major issues has made it possible to convert up to 80 percent of unplanned break downs into planned maintenance, thus reducing repair costs by as much as 30 percent, while also speeding the movement of shippers’ goods.
Going even further are open-architecture telematics systems like Navistar’s OnCommand™ Connection, which aggregates the data streams from multiple telematics service providers into one convenient web-based portal, where fleet managers can monitor their entire fleet–regardless of vehicles’ make. Now, thanks to the advent of big-data analytics, fleet maintenance managers are also able to pinpoint whether a given part needs to be replaced on every vehicle in the fleet, versus just one or two. This enables fleets to convert “proactive” maintenance campaigns into more-precise, “predictive” maintenance that can save even medium-sized fleets hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
"The data from other new apps connected to universal telematics devices can help address imbalances in trucking industry economics"
Still newer apps allow vehicle data to be remotely fed into service facilities’ systems so that when a truck driver arrives to have his or her vehicle serviced, the service technician already knows what the problem is, and has ordered the parts to fix it. Advance diagnostics can even link to “smart repair routing systems,” sending drivers to a truck service facility that not only has the right part needed to repair a vehicle but also the right technical expertise and available service bays.
Improving Truck Safety and Productivity
Additional innovations deliver more than enhanced truck reliability alone, yielding advanced productivity for truckers and the shippers they serve. “Over-the-air programming,” for example, “reflashes” engine control modules remotely, using a safe, secure WiFi connection–thus removing the need to take your vehicles to a dealer or local maintenance location for this purpose.
“Situational” data about a truck’s environment, such as temperature, humidity, altitude, barometric pressure and others, can also yield critical benefits for safety and productivity. For example, when fleet managers are alerted that the outdoors temperature where the truck is driving is dipping below 32 degrees, they may infer from telematics data that black ice is present because the truck’s differential is slipping, prompting them to steer trucks away from that stretch of road. Meanwhile, “social data” shared by drivers, including route information, traffic pattern data or truck stops’ customer ratings, will increasingly send truckers on smart routes that will deliver shippers’ goods to their destinations more quickly.
Making the Trucking Industry More Competitive
The data from other new apps connected to universal telematics devices can help address imbalances in trucking industry economics that are especially affecting small fleets and owner-operators–and collectively reducing the industry’s efficiency. For example, fewer than 30 percent of small fleets currently have access to telematics, compared with over 80 percent of large fleets, making these small fleets less competitive. Fortunately, universal telematics devices like OnCommand™ Connection Link 2, which can plug into trucks’ service ports and accommodate multiple apps via connection to a mobile device such as a phone or tablet, are likely to provide a more cost-effective telematics solution, and thus remove a major barrier to telematics’ use by smaller players. And by creating a “level playing field” in which all truckers have access to similar technology tools, this telematics-based system will greatly enhance shippers’ overall productivity.
Building on such hardware devices are open-architecture technology platforms such as OnCommand™ Connection Marketplace, which offer third-party developers a channel for reaching multiple makes of vehicle. Other productivity apps likely to be delivered via such telematics platforms will make it easier for small truckers to find loads or allow them to aggregate their purchasing power for fuel, tires and other common needs. This, too, may help small operators become more competitive, along with the shippers they serve.
Future apps being fed by universal telematics devices will also make the trucking industry as a whole more efficient by improving traffic flow. As the Internet of Things progresses, sensors will increasingly gather and share robust streams of data not just from trucks but also from roads, traffic signs, and other infrastructure elements. New apps will also take greater advantage of connections between one truck and another, or between all trucks and the highway system. As vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) connections become a bigger factor, highways’ traffic will be increasingly optimized.
Tomorrow’s trucks will be more “connected” than ever before. As apps and analytics convert growing streams of operating data into actionable insights, the entire logistics ecosystem will benefit. New solutions of all kinds, delivered through the diagnostics service port which was previously telematics’ exclusive domain, will increasingly make it possible for drivers, fleets and shippers to connect more easily and find common technology solutions to their shared issues.