The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s long-running examination of conducting vehicle and driver inspections wirelessly moves to an important new phase next year.
That’s when the agency and its partners plan to kick off a field operation test (FOT) of wireless roadside inspection (WRI) technology in five Southeastern states using up to 1,000 commercial trucks and buses running in normal day-to-day operations.
If ultimately implemented routinely, WRI could offer fleet efficiencies similar to but possibly more extensive than today’s weigh station preclearance with the added benefits to FMCSA of virtual inspections and data collection at a far lower cost than the existing system.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is managing the three-year Phase III project. Innovative Software Engineering (ISE) is ORNL’s telematics services provider and software engineering services partner. Both ORNL and ISE have been involved in earlier phases of the ongoing WRI research and development. In 2010 as part of an earlier pilot phase of the program ISE demonstrated the viability of WRI technology during an FMCSA-sponsored Technology Showcase event in East Tennessee.
In a summary brief recapping the Phase II WRI pilot study, FMCSA said that this technology could mean 25 electronic assessments for every one physical inspection that is done today.
WRI is similar to today’s weigh station bypass in that it uses a red/yellow/green light in the cab to indicate whether the driver can continue driving or either drive through a station or stop to see an inspector.
But the approach differs from today’s preclearance systems because it involves gathering safety and compliance information from all participants, not just in managing which trucks get inspected.
The Phase II pilot research examined three different approaches to wireless inspections. In a test done in New York, the trucks directly communicated safety data messages (SDMs)– driver, carrier and/or vehicle identification and other safety and compliance information– using 5.9-gigahertz dedicated short-range communications (DSRC).
A Kentucky test used optical readers or radio frequency transponders to identify commercial vehicles and then request a SDM from the carrier via the Internet.
And a Tennessee pilot used commercial mobile radio services (CMRS)– basically the kind of in-cab telematics services already used by thousands of motor carriers– to trigger a request through geofencing and obtain the SDM from vendor or carrier systems.
In addition to a test of information delivery approaches, the Phase II study involved testing a prototype government office system (GOS)– the processing unit for receiving and identifying SDMs not just from vehicles and carriers but also federal and state databases, such as the Commercial Driver's License Information System (CDLIS).
Detailed below are key elements of the ongoing research effort:
Field operation test (FOT)
The Phase II study found that the CMRS platform produced the most data-- and it has the advantage of not requiring additional roadside equipment or vehicle transponders as DSRC does. Geofencing triggers SDMs without any infrastructure. Plus, the geofences can be modified readily in the event the system needs more time to process SDM requests.
“While we are not embracing any particular path, the goal for phase III is to pick a path that we think will mature the most quickly,” Gary Capps, technical director for ORNL’s Commercial Motor Vehicle Roadside Technology Consortium (CMVRTC) and WRI program director, told FleetOwner. “CMRS is already out there; it’s the most mature technology.”
“We are leveraging existing telematics solutions so that the industry doesn’t have to invent something new,” ISE president Hass Machlab told FleetOwner.
Even so, the SDM definitions and other protocols developed for and after the test are independent of the communications platform, so they would apply to other platforms, Capps said.
And regardless of the data-delivery platform, one of the major goals will be to develop and test a wireless inspection processing system (WIPS) that would be used in any technology option. “Anyone who can communicate with the WIPS will be WRI-compliant.” WIPS is being developed by North Dakota State University in conjunction with FMCSA and will be transferred to FMCSA once complete.
The basic SDMs under the field test will be identification of the driver, carrier and vehicles; electronic logging device (ELD) data; and, potentially, some vehicle sensors, such as lighting operability, vehicle gross weight and whether the driver is using is seat belts, Capps said.
The test probably will look at sensor data on only a portion of the 1,000 commercial vehicles used in the FOT. Between 10% and 20% of the vehicles in the test will be motor coaches.
The ELD information provided will be the same that must be provided by the driver and carrier to a law enforcement official during a roadside inspection. In effect, wireless inspections during the FOT will be equivalent to a Level III inspection absent the interaction between law enforcement and the driver, Capps said.
The FOT has three principal goals, Capps said. “We want to test robustness and data quality of the WRI system itself” and will wireless inspections increase the number of assessments and do so reliably?
Also, the FOT will help determine whether the WIPS can handle the volume of data that it would need to if WRI were deployed nationwide, Capps said. The big concern there is not necessarily the systems developed specifically for WRI but rather existing systems like CDLIS that will have to be queried each time.
Finally, the consortium will seek feedback from carriers, drivers and law enforcement on how beneficial WRI truly is or isn’t, Capps said.
ORNL and ISE will be conducting the FOT in Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee– the states participating in the CMVRTC.
To ensure sufficient data, the trucks and buses to be used during the FOT must be domiciled in one of those states, Capps told FleetOwner. That doesn’t mean that the fleet has to be headquartered in one of the five states, however. If a company has a terminal in one of the participating states that will be enough. The goal is to conduct at least one wireless inspection on each vehicle each day, Capps said.
Officially, the 12-month FOT begins in December 2015, but that will be preceded by a six-month “pre-FOT” that will ensure that all systems are working as intended before data collection begins. For this reason, ISE is targeting the beginning of 2015 to line up participants and certainly wants to lock them in by April, said Joe Barry, ISE’s vice president of business development. ISE has identified some participants already, but it still needs to line up most of the vehicles for the FOT.
Participants in the FOT will use a WRI module ISE has developed for its eFleetSuite compliance solution, which includes the ELD needed for the test. Although participants will need to buy the hardware for about $600, the $22-per-month subscription will be waived during the FOT. Existing eFleetSuite customers are eligible to participate as well.
“All size fleets are welcome in the field operation test– even owner-operators,” Machlab said.
Given that the goal is to collect more information than currently is being collected and feed that information to FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System, for example, fleets might be wary of participating in the FOT. But participation offers a number of benefits, said ISE’s Barry.
Similar to existing bypass arrangements, fleets in the FOT will be able to continue driving unless they are flagged for an inspection, thereby improving both fuel economy and productivity. The program also is attractive to fleets that like to be on the leading edge in adapting emerging technologies and want to influence potential policies, he said.
Capps believes the biggest benefit might be the self-test available to carriers and drivers. At the beginning of the work day, eFleetSuite module automatically runs a check to make sure that everything is order – that ELD records are in order, the driver’s licensing and qualifications are in order, the carrier’s operating authority and insurance are active and neither the tractor nor trailer is currently placed out of service, for example.
The self-test isn’t counted in carrier’s safety data, but it provides valuable information to the driver and carrier. If a driver gets a green light during a self-test, it means he will also get a green light after crossing a geofence unless something changes with compliance during the day, Capps said.
If the driver gets a red light he and the fleet can resolve the matter before making the trip, although a red light doesn’t prevent operation of the vehicle. Drivers can perform this self-test any time during the day. With the ability to use a self-test, there’s no reason that fleets participating in the FOT should get any bad inspections, Capps noted.
A related benefit is that every time a driver crosses a geofence and gets a green light, it counts as a clean inspection that feeds FMCSA databases, Capps said. That’s because it really is an inspection – just one conducted electronically. With existing bypass systems, however, no data is collected for FMCSA databases if the driver is cleared to keep driving.
Fleets interested in participating in the WRI program should contact ISE at 888-316-3533 or via [email protected].
For a copy of FMCSA’s full report on the Phase II WRI study, click here.