GPS: Trucking finds its way

Your driver pulls up to the warehouse, finds the correct bay and backs in. It's a scene repeated thousands of times every day all over North America. It's as routine a part of any trucker's job as there is. But it's not only what happens during that time, but what happens before and after that delivery is made that determines how productive that driver is. How long did it take for him to get there?

Your driver pulls up to the warehouse, finds the correct bay and backs in. It's a scene repeated thousands of times every day all over North America. It's as routine a part of any trucker's job as there is. But it's not only what happens during that time, but what happens before and after that delivery is made that determines how productive that driver is. How long did it take for him to get there? Where does he go next? How soon until he arrives? Will the customer be waiting? Will he be waiting?

GPS technology and onboard computers can take all that information, analyze it, calculate expected delivery times and even notify customers to reschedule if necessary. That, though, is just one small part of what GPS data technology can do today, and will do tomorrow. And yet, there are still more fleets not taking advantage of that data than those that are. But what if that same data could make your driver more productive? Could help that driver, and by extension your company, stay in compliance with the law? What if by simply knowing where your company's truck was at any given time, you could improve efficiency, safety and your bottom line? Would more companies take advantage? Sure they would.

Clem Driscoll, founder and president of C.J. Driscoll & Associates, pegs GPS penetration at 40-50% in the truckload sector today, with smaller carriers and private fleets using it less. “[For] private fleets, the market's not quite so mature,” Driscoll says. “We estimate 25-30% of long-haul private fleets use GPS. [For] local delivery fleets, of which there are all types, it's still probably 20%.”

Driscoll also points out that many fleets that do use the devices still do not take advantage of the opportunities available to them by using the data in real time, although that is changing as costs come down. “It's a technology that could be used in several ways,” Driscoll says.

Navigation is the big use for GPS data, of course, but with limited systems applying truck attributes and the lack of significant access to real-time traffic information, this is still an area with great growth potential. “Today, trucks are not being routed based on real-time traffic information,” Driscoll says. “What you have today is pretty good information on the major roads, but if the truck gets off and onto a local street, the information is not as good. “

DRIVER PRODUCTIVITY

But even as these uses become more popular among fleets, the next generation of technology is slowly working its way through the pipeline. Driver productivity and compliance with FMCSA's new Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 (CSA 2010) are among the uses many providers are targeting with new software releases this year.

PeopleNet's focus in the future will be to create better driver workflow, says Kirsten Lester, product manager. “In the cab itself, every fleet wants its drivers to accomplish certain things,” she says. “What PeopleNet's focus has been is driver workflow. What time of day is it? Where is that driver? The ability to prompt the driver to do certain tasks is based off geofencing.”

“One of the things our customers want to know is exception data,” says Airclic CEO Rick Pontin. “They want to know how long it has been since the last delivery, if the drivers are going outside their geofence. If you can save an hour or two a day and you have twenty or so drivers, you're talking about saving headcount. You're saving four or five drivers.”

It's all about increasing productivity, he adds. “I'm a believer that in life, or as a leader of a company, you don't get what you expect; you get what you inspect. And GPS allows you to inspect.”

Requirements to comply with CSA 2010 regulations are changing the rules for GPS usage going forward. A number of providers are offering solutions geared towards verifying electronic logs in compliance with the new regulations. “Electronic driver logs require this data,” Lester says. “Those fleets [that are using that] are definitely at an advantage at that point [implementation of CSA 2010].”

DATA DELIVERY

As more uses become evident, the delivery of that data becomes more important. While location data won't change much, the way it is delivered will change.

“I think a really key industry imperative is to open up our platforms to mobile applications,” says Lester.

Back in the fall, SkyBitz introduced an application through its Insight Asset Management Tool in cooperation with Kore Telematics that provides information in real time back to the driver on any mobile device. “It's that advancement of mobile devices that has allowed us to bring that technology forward,” Craig Malone, SkyBitz senior vp-product development, says. And continued advances in the area of mobile technology make possible further uses for location-based data.

“I think we'll see an increased use of smart phones for fleets, especially for smaller fleets, to minimize cost,” Driscoll says. “The smart phones can be tied into the vehicle, so while the phone will [generate] the information, it will be displayed on a screen inside the cab.”

“There are a lot of additional benefits to come from exploiting the information customers already have,” Malone says. “What we're doing with our web applications is we're climbing that chain, going from reporting data to reporting knowledge data. That information can allow you to apply business logic.”

“GPS [systems] are everywhere these days, so it's hard to imagine the data improving much,” Ray West, director of product management for TMW Systems, adds. “The ability to use that data throughout systems continues to increase, for example, electronic logs, ETA data, etc. At some point, GPS usage will become the cost of doing business and no longer an option.”

As systems “learn” how to interpret the data, analyze it and deliver it back in real time to the driver, be it through onboard computers, cell phones or even newer technologies, it becomes more useful.

“Accuracy of GPS [location] is not really the issue,” says ALK founder Alain Kornhauser. “There is little need for greater accuracy in GPS. What is needed is better information about the road ahead, especially in response to changing conditions [i.e., congestion, short-term detours, weather], not necessarily for the driver's explicit knowledge, but for the routing algorithms to provide the driver with a better way to go and ETA.”

AN IN-CAB MARKETPLACE

According to Tom Flies, senior vp-product marketing at Xata Corp., the increasing use of geotagging of GPS information has potential uses within the industry as well. Geotagging is a process of adding geographical identification metadata, usually latitude or longitude information, but also time and date stamps, to photographs, videos and web sites.

“We're starting to see some of it on the consumer side with geotagging,” Flies says. Flies likens the future of data use to our present use of tools like Google and phone applications. When you search for restaurants in Google, for example, you can input your location and receive a list of area restaurants, even sorted by type of food if you prefer. The big difference here is that drivers would not enter the information. By using geotagging, the GPS would send the location information to the software, which would cross-reference it with preset preferences.

“Rather than using just GPS, you're taking all the events…and instead of just one report, we're putting” together a complete picture of events, Flies says. “Using GPS and being aware of a driver's preferences, like where they like to eat, or even preferences for the truck, for example, you can look for a shop in the area that has a bay open for preventive maintenance or a favorite restaurant for the driver to eat at.

“We're taking buyers and suppliers, bringing them together and creating a marketplace around drivers. Instead of becoming a batch marketplace, it's becoming more real time,” Flies adds. “Think of it as an eBay on wheels.”

And that is just one change coming to the cab. Another is what Rick Turek, CTO of Maptuit, calls “driver communities” and “fleet communities.”

Next Page: New Revenue Sources

And that is just one change coming to the cab. Another is what Rick Turek, CTO of Maptuit, calls “driver communities” and “fleet communities.”

“The driver community is the real-time sensors we have out there, so we want the driver community working together,” Turek says. That, he adds, is already happening today. Drivers relay information back to their offices and then that information is integrated with the data the GPS is producing, creating a more thorough look at conditions. As more drivers participate, the more accurate the information becomes and that drives efficiencies for the fleets involved.

“The other is the fleet community where we don't want Fleet A doing one thing, and Fleet B doing the same thing,” Turek says. “The community part is there today. Candidly, it takes people realizing they need to work together to make a better product.”

That, Turek says, is the problem. “Some of the fleet community is there, but that's an area we want to continue to explore. The technology is there; it's the business side we need to work on.”

The benefits of a fleet community, Turek believes, outweigh the negatives of fleets working with competitors. Safety is one area that could be improved through efforts like this. For instance, GPS units may direct trucks down a particular road, but drivers who have driven that route might report back to headquarters that there is a lot of pedestrian traffic, or several turns that are just not easy for tractor-trailers to navigate. By sharing that information, the routing algorithms used in the GPS units could be adjusted. The result is now a route that may be longer in terms of distance or time, but puts drivers and their vehicles at less risk of an incident.

The community aspect is important in driving future efficiencies because of the variations in current GPS data. “Ninety-nine percent of the systems out there are loaded on the device,” says Luke Wachtel, EVP sales and marketing for Maptuit. “So much of that data is outdated because it was probably loaded six months ago. Even if I [think I] have perfect data, it isn't. It's constantly changing.”

“It's all or nothing” with the community idea, Turek says. “Either you're participating in the community or you're not. If you have enough trucks and fleets in the community, it becomes a disadvantage not to be in it.”

NEW REVENUE SOURCES

More and more, fleets will use GPS data in the never-ending search for extra revenue streams. In addition to detention charges, the ability to identify new revenue streams, either through backhaul opportunities or even new lanes, is possible simply by knowing what roads your trucks are traveling on at any given time. “You can use GPS to locate how many vehicles are in a given area,” says Frank Moreno, vp-marketing and product management for Cadec Global.

By correlating that with other information, such as hours-of-service records to know which drivers have available hours remaining or which trucks have made deliveries and have room for additional cargo, and then identifying which vehicle is best equipped to make a pickup, the result is real-time revenue opportunity that didn't exist ten to fifteen years ago.

“What we want to do with the fleets is help them sift through all this data to find the important information,” Turek adds. “They should see some efficiencies just by increasing technologies.”

Jim Bak, spokesperson for Inrix, a provider of both real-time and predicative traffic data, says that company's sales staff is hearing a number of innovative ideas from fleets, including the concept of congestion pricing.

“It's basically the ability to bid on cargo at a given price based on when that cargo needs to be picked up,” Bak says. “We also layer on our historical data major happenings such as sporting events, road construction, or anything that might pull more traffic into the area.” As an example, a fleet may receive a request for a quote for a pickup on a Tuesday afternoon in Los Angeles. By using the data, the fleet would know that Tuesday afternoon traffic in that area of Los Angeles is heavier than it is in the morning.

In addition, by adding more layers, the fleet may know that there is scheduled road construction on that particular day. As a result, the sales representative could quote several prices for the customer — one for the customer's preferred time of pickup, but also reduced rates for times when the truck can get in and out quicker, thereby creating more efficiency for that vehicle.

Airclic is seeing its customers utilize additional technologies to leverage GPS data in generating sales leads. By using camera phones and the ability to record voice notes, drivers themselves can identify potential customers.

“Employees can take notes in their phones, GPS can time-stamp them in real time, and send that information to sales representatives for leads,” says Airclic's Pontin. “It's taking the eyes and ears of drivers, which is where the best business information comes from, and putting that information in a database.”

Pontin points to a trash hauler that utilizes Airclic's services. The company, he says, has its drivers snap pictures of competitors' dumpsters near their scheduled stops if the dumpsters appear full. The information is forwarded to sales personnel for follow-up.

ALK's Kornhauser says improving customer service is also important. That includes a driver's ability to get product to and from the customer while meeting the requirements of the delivery protocol, which might include a specific location where the delivery is to be made, or a particular entrance that must be used for trucks.

For instance, “Is there a legal shortcut through a parking lot? The specifics of these types of nuances could be captured and made available to the next driver who serves this customer,” Kornhauser says. “These maneuvers are all captured by GPS; the challenge is ‘harvesting’ them and making them available the next time.”

And as trucks sit idle at docks waiting for loads to be readied, charging for detention time has become another source of revenue for fleets.

GPS data can be used to “determine how long a truck was [at a delivery point] so you can charge more for detention,” Robin Hamlin, project manager for mobile communications for McLeod Software, says. “Being able to use the positions in relation to seeing what vehicles you have for possible backhaul opportunities” helps maximize vehicle usage, adding value to the system.

Next Page: Planning for Weather

PLANNING FOR WEATHER

Weather is always a major headache for fleets. Just ask a driver who has tried to navigate the country this winter. But it won't always be that way, according to Maptuit's Turek.

“By taking that GPS and incorporating, for instance, weather, you can help the fleet manage its vehicles,” Turek says. “In the future, it's taking a national version of weather and flowing that information into the systems.”

Currently, fleets can add weather information to their units, which then reroutes drivers. But because it is a manual process, it can be extremely time-consuming. Managers must check local weather maps, verify the location of their drivers and their expected routes, and input the information. Not doing that can leave drivers stranded, costing fleets money.

Automating the process makes that information more useful. The problem that exists today, though, is the lack of a reliable national weather database. Rerouting a truck hundreds of miles because of a weather event that doesn't materialize will not make for happy fleets, Turek points out.

QUALIFYING DRIVERS

Not only can GPS location data be used for all the above purposes, but fleets are increasingly interested in using it to generate training programs for drivers. For instance, ports may have specific requirements, be they training certifications or paperwork requirements, for drivers to enter. Using the location data, the onboard computer can generate an alert to drivers as they approach a facility both informing them of the requirements as well as streaming audio and video into the cab to complete required training as necessary.

“If they're going to a specific customer that has a particular way to handle freight, for instance,” a driver can be trained before entering the facility, Chris Silver, senior manager-product marketing for Qualcomm Enterprise Services, says. This eliminates the need to have specific drivers driving particular routes because of unique skills. The system could also ensure drivers are aware of documents needed to cross a border, for instance, or that they are qualified to pick up a load.

“It's not just the location; it's the information about the location and the driver. When you get that information synched up” the system is that much more powerful, Silver says.

WHERE WE'RE GOING

For C.J. Driscoll & Associates' Clem Driscoll, the future of GPS use has as much to do with the present as it does any new uses. “We see penetration increasing,” he says. “We think more and more trucking fleets will be using GPS, even smaller fleets, as costs are coming down.”

To get a perspective on future uses, Driscoll suggests looking to the commercial market for ideas. Safety-related features will be a prime focus for developers. “Navigation systems in vehicles will have digital maps that will map upcoming turns as well as elevation, and the system will be tied to the cruise control, which will adjust the speed of the vehicle to minimize risk,” Driscoll says.

In addition, Driscoll sees usage improving as the proliferation of alternative-fueled vehicles advances, particularly for hybrid-electric vehicles that require special charging stations. “As we get to alternative-fueled vehicles, we'll need to keep track of how much fuel or electrical power the vehicle has left,” Driscoll says. “It's important to know where the fuel stops or electrical [stations] are. That information is vital.”

What is likely not up for discussion is the growing importance of GPS to fleets. “I can't believe that ten years from now, any fleet manager will not be using this data because it's too expensive not to,” Driscoll says.

Safety benefits

Believe or not, GPS data also provides a safety benefit to fleets, which in turn can reduce insurance costs. Speed monitoring, hard-braking alerts, and overall driver performance are just a few of the metrics used to create a driver's safety profile.

“It does help you in tracking driver performance,” Ray West, director of product management for TMW Systems, says. “You can avoid risk by identifying drivers who overspeed, putting you at risk, or identify drivers who are out of route, costing you money” in excess fuel and late delivery charges.

The ability to more effectively route trucks around congested areas is also a safety benefit, as is the notification systems for preventive maintenance on the vehicle. If a driver knows maintenance is required, his GPS can route him to a nearby facility before a potential breakdown, or even worse, an accident, occurs.

Even more innovative safety features may be possible in the future. Cadec Global has secured a patent for a rollover sensing system. While the product is still a long way off as technology catches up to theory, Frank Moreno, vp-marketing and product management, says the system would help warn drivers of potential rollover situations and also log warnings drivers receive to identify areas of training.

“It can sense if a truck is moving too fast for a turn based on cargo weight [and the truck's center of gravity in relation to the metrics associated with the corner],” Moreno says. “The on-the-fly data analysis can either warn a driver or track that data over time. It could be enough time to warn the driver, but the more likely scenario is to identify a driver who has had, say, three rollover warnings in the past month, and identify that intervention is needed. It's an exciting roadmap capability down the line.”

It works like this: The system would calculate the vehicle's rollover propensity as a function of the location of the center of gravity of the vehicle in relation to the tires. The higher the center of gravity is in relation to the road, the greater the chance for a rollover. In order to predict a rollover, the lateral acceleration has to be estimated.

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