Java is an apt name for the computer language that is capturing the attention of the trucking industry. After all, coffee/java has helped to power truckers as long as diesel has powered trucks. There's more to this Java, however, than a steaming hot title with the electronic equivalent of a caffeine kick.
Sun Microsystem's Java is an open computer language designed to help developers create software applications for public networks, like the Internet. One thing that makes Java so special is that applications written in this language can be embedded on a Web page rather than stored in your computer like Word or ACT programs, for example.
When you want to execute a particular on-line function, an applications program written in Java is temporarily transferred to an interface on your computer called a "Java Virtual Machine" that runs the application to get the job done. Since the applications reside on the host system, rather than in each networked computer, they can be equipment independent, running on whatever computer platforms a company happens to have.
To use a more concrete analogy, imagine your technicians working in a service bay without any tools. Instead, whenever they want to do something, the equipment required to do it just shows up. Ready to rotate tires? Ah, here's the power torque wrench. Need to grease that fitting? Presto! Here's a grease gun. Well, you get the basic idea; Java lets developers tie an applications software "tool" to the task it performs, no matter what kind of "shop" wants to use it.
For the trucking industry, Java may be the right idea at just the right time. At least a TMC S12 task force is exploring the possibility, according to chairman Kevin Otto, director of advanced diagnostics for Cummins Engine Co. "This task force is really an information collection and discussion group," Otto explains. "Eventually, we hope to construct a set of standards that would allow fleets to more easily connect their office computers to their vehicles. Java may be the enabling interface that facilitates this bi-directional exchange of data and all the efficiencies it will bring.
"Right now, however, we're just beginning the discussion process," he notes. "Clearly, there are other ways to get to the same point; we're trying to decide if Java is the best alternative available now. At Cummins, we think it is.
"Even though Java is a newer language than Visual Basic (VB) or C, and it's certainly not perfect, Java offers a lot of positives," Otto continues. "It is a technology that would allow a company to get information from all their trucks, even if it's a mixed fleet, and pass the data to everyone in the supply chain who needs it.
"Vendors who use Java could essentially write a program once and have it run on everybody's system, instead of writing separate programs for every customer or, conversely, mandating a particular operating system, as we have to do now."
"Although there has been an amazing proliferation of on-board computing systems, there is still proprietary data out there," adds Bill Linden, director-marketing planning for HighwayMaster. "Adopting Java MIX [a Cummins-coined term for 'machine information exchange'] as a common language would allow embedded systems on the vehicle to be fully rationalized. If we are ever to realize the true potential of our industry's investments in computing technology, we will have to agree upon a standard protocol, a way for all our diverse systems to easily talk to one another."
While on-board and office systems can't all talk with one another right now, fleets and suppliers certainly can. Suddenly, it seems like the perfect time for a discussion of productivity, communication standards, and maybe a little Java.
[Ed. Note: * With apologies to "Java Jive" composers Milton Drake and Ben Oakland and to Drake Activities/Warner Bros. ASCAP. ]