Technology on tour

Road show takes drivers for a spin on the InternetAll sorts of Internet-oriented suppliers are now competing for the attention of truck drivers. That much was obvious when perusing the show floor at last month's NATSO (formerly the National Assn. of Truckstop Operators) meeting in Nashville's Opryland Hotel.Many a booth exhibited one ware or another that could be accessed by longhaul drivers at truckstops

Road show takes drivers for a spin on the Internet

All sorts of Internet-oriented suppliers are now competing for the attention of truck drivers. That much was obvious when perusing the show floor at last month's NATSO (formerly the National Assn. of Truckstop Operators) meeting in Nashville's Opryland Hotel.

Many a booth exhibited one ware or another that could be accessed by longhaul drivers at truckstops via on-site Internet links.

But little was said by exhibitors about the impact making use of these wireless connections could have on fleet operating costs, productivity, and driver turnover. That was largely unintentional, since the audience for this show was truckstop operators, not fleet managers.

However, there was plenty of food for thought dished up alongside the barbecued chicken and other fast food being pitched by vendors to the convenience-store side of the truckstop business.

What especially comes to mind is how smaller fleets might make use of roadside Internet access to communicate at low cost with their drivers or to provide them with a means of staying in touch with family and friends, receiving up-to-the-minute news and weather, or even some entertainment during their down hours.

If any of those possibilities sound enticing, the next step would be to contract with truckstops or third-party suppliers to set up Internet access for drivers. That may be accomplished with a few phone calls or Web site visits.

What may be harder to achieve, and to do so at low cost, is to get the truck drivers actually up and running, comfortably, with the Internet.

But one of the most intriguing displays at the NATSO show may provide a solution - at virtually no cost to fleets.

The exhibit was hard to miss: a tractor and semi-trailer loaded with informative displays and Internet kiosks, even a classroom fitted with eight laptops. The Nashville show marked the kickoff for a two-year tour by the tractor-trailer.

It was put together by PNV Inc., which is perhaps best known for its Park 'N View suite of cable TV, communications, and Internet-access services offered to drivers at truckstops.

Officially dubbed the Technology Road Show, according to PNV CEO Bob May, the trailer is "a computer lab and learning exhibit on wheels" designed to help educate longhaul drivers on how the Internet can increase their information, communication, and entertainment options.

The unit will be staffed by a driver and a team of trainers and will set up at PNV-equipped truckstops and industry events across the country for two to three days at a time.

Wherever the traveling show stops, drivers will be able to sign up for half-hour training sessions customized to their level of Internet knowledge and will receive their own e-mail ID.

Along with displays from other sponsors, including Cummins, Thermo King, and Chevron, the trailer will feature a driver-recruitment station sponsored by Arnold Transportation Services, Covenant Transport, Jevic Transportation, and U.S. Xpress.

"Already, 20% of drivers travel with a computer in the cab of their vehicle," notes PNV's May. "Providing access to the Internet, and helping drivers to learn how to use the latest online resources that are available to them for their work and enjoyment, may end up being the most valuable service we offer drivers."

To get the Road Show's schedule, contact the company through its Web site: www.PNV.com.

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