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Aiming to gain true “real time” data from trucks

May 9, 2013

One of the main thrusts of fleet software and telematic system going forward is to create true “real time” delivery of data regarding engine speed, braking events, etc. – including making such information more widely available on a range of electronic devices, especially commercial-grade hand held devices.

Pete Allen, CEO of fleet software firm Cadec, says that for many years, data gleaned from engine control modules (ECM) and other components and collected by a range of on-board computer or OBC devices provided “near-time” data, but rarely in real-time.

“There are usually delays of 20 minutes or more” in terms of data transmission back to the fleet, he explained. “That’s why now we’re seeing huge demand among fleet managers for true ‘real-time’ data off trucks so they can better manage their businesses and make smarter, quicker decisions.”

Allen added that there’s also increasing demand for what he calls “mobilization” among fleets – meaning for systems that can securely enable drivers to leave the truck cab but take some of the OBC intelligence with them, via a handheld device, and then capture information from that handheld and convey it back to the yard.

“We’re not talking just personal consumer based mobile devices, which don’t tend to have the computing power or security features and are easy to lose, but sturdy, purpose-built commercial mobile devices that are highly secure and designed just for this purpose,” he stressed. “We’re doing a lot of work in this area in 2013.

Telematics plays a key role in this, noted Monica Truelsch, director of marketing for TMW Systems, as it adds connectivity to the relationships between trucks, drivers and fleet managers, enabling the sharing of a variety of critical metrics: vehicle status information, location, engine on-off data, hard braking, driver load and duty status, etc.

“The key difference from old-time CB [citizen’s band] and radio communications is that telematics data is transmitted in digital form, not as analog sound waves, and so software applications can ‘read’ the data and incorporate it directly in databases and trigger other actions based on the information contained in that data – without requiring a human to re-key the data in to an application,” she stressed.

“Although an important use of telematics is the exchange of information between people, it also makes possible machine-to-machine (M2M) communications that offer tremendous opportunities for efficiency,” Truelsch pointed out.

For example, she said a telematics solution in the cab might be enabled with “geofence” technology to recognize when a truck enters within a certain proximity to a location such as a customer delivery site.

“Then, based on business rules set up within the software, the in cab computer may ask the driver to confirm that a delivery has been performed at the location by pushing a single button on the console,” Truelsch explained. “That location awareness and driver confirmation signal is all the system needs to send to the company’s transportation management software to indicate that the order has been closed, which triggers the invoicing system to generate billing to the customer – without any additional human intervention beyond the driver confirming what the telematics solution observed.”

In the future, as sensors in the vehicle or additional situational and operational data can be integrated, telematics systems will need to rely less and less on driver intervention to confirm certain types of information like delivery status, Truelsch noted.

And it’s that type of “instantaneous” communication based on actual vehicle data that could significantly alter even simple trucking industry tasks, added Ernest Betancourt, founder/president of QuickQ.

“We have arrived in the era of ‘big data’ and those that have led in this arena have prospered,” he explained. “Our focus is on the fuel transaction, and fueling today is still stuck in the 1970s technology wise. About the only thing that has changed is that the driver enters data on the fuel island instead of telling the cashier or fuel attendant, while a magnetic stripe card from the driver’s wallet stands in for the truck, and the driver enters data, which may or may not be validated.”

By contrast, technology being deployed today can automatically announce a truck’s arrival in position to fuel, and the data required to format the transaction will be sent to the processing system at the carrier for analysis.

“So instead of a ‘daily limit’ of fuel, data from the on-board systems will determine the amount of fuel, diesel exhaust fluid [DEF], reefer fuel, or natural gas to be authorized. If the carrier needs to be alerted to unexpected data, that will happen as well,” he noted.

Thus the ability to access such data in real-time “means the truck in the near future itself will become an active participant in the fueling process,” Betancourt added.

Yet such “real-time” data capability can also help on the customer-facing side of the trucking business, too, stressed Mike Scarbrough, CEO of NexTraq.

“Many bigger shippers have insisted on fleet visibility from their top carriers for years, supporting not only track-and-trace but service exception alerts and JIT [just-in-time] inventory management,” he explained.

“With an explosion in the number and types of devices that are now available to support telematics integrations for carriers, with everything from smart phones and iPads or other tablets now added to a broad range of proprietary in-cab computers and permanently mounted laptops, even the smallest fleets can benefit from the competitive advantage connected trucks can offer when looking for business with many shippers and logistics service providers,” added Scarbrough.

Indeed, vehicle operating data collected with many telematics solutions can demonstrate efficient route execution, safe and efficient driver performance and miles per gallon performance can align with many shipper goals, such as reducing their carbon footprint, he noted.

Even smaller operators can benefit from these “real-time” data trends, added TMW’s Truelsch.

“For smaller fleets and owner-operators, there are already initiatives underway for their vehicle telematics solutions to be quickly plugged into or removed from a given broker, shipper or 3PL’s track and trace system only for the duration of a single order, so they can move fluidly from one load opportunity to the next,” she said.

“That allows smaller carriers to offer many of the same benefits of a contract carrier to the end customer,” Truelsch pointed out. “That means more earning opportunities for the owner/operator and greater visibility throughout the supply chain for shippers.” 

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