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Connecting maps and navigation

Feb. 18, 2015
Connected-intelligence solutions promise to advance efficiency and safety route-by-route and turn-by-turn

It didn’t take many fleets long to replace the well-thumbed highway atlases, floating compasses stuck to windshields, and even the crackle of CB radio chatter that kept truckers company with sophisticated mapping software, navigation systems, and mobile communications.

For years now, savvy fleet owners have been leveraging these technologies to varying degrees to ensure their drivers are where they need to be when they need to be, all while operating in the most productive and safest manner possible.

But wait, there’s more. The industry’s high-tech roadmap is on the cusp of being reoriented for even greater effectiveness. The trend now is toward integrating software and hardware capabilities as well as mobile links to offer what can be described as “connected intelligence” solutions.

Trucking-oriented IT providers contend that fleets can expect such solutions to propel operational productivity and driver safety beyond the gains achieved to date by having adopted various truck-specific mapping, navigation and mobile-communications offerings.

One example of this approach is the development of mapping/routing and navigation solutions that are “hybrid”— in that both onboard and web-based computing capabilities are incorporated in the same product.

In general, the idea behind connected intelligence is to gain the capability to process raw data received from various sources (including truck drivers) on what’s happening out on the road to enable drivers and their dispatchers to make highly informed, real-time decisions that can improve fleet efficiency and safety performance a trip at a time as well as over the long run.

Making that happen, according to Telogis executives, involves such elements as accessing crowd-sourced data obtained in real time from system users; integrating navigation functions with routing and fleet-management software; and leveraging the “power of the cloud” to enhance truck-specific navigation features.

“We offer an integrated hybrid solution—one that has both onboard and web-based capabilities—to optimize routing and navigation functions,” says Kelly Frey, vice president—product marketing for Telogis. “Because the data produced is very detailed, this solution provides tremendous opportunities for improving trucking operations in various industries. And its hybrid capability pushes the data out to the trucks whether they are running over the road or are operating where locations are literally hard to find.”

He says an example of the latter is hybrid technology being leveraged in the oil patch: “It can take 60 to 70 different contractors to ‘light up’ an oil rig. That requires sophisticated logistics management out in the field to avoid expensive delays in implementation.”

Leveraging data

Frey explains that if a cellular connection can be made to the Internet, the system will calculate routes in real time via algorithms that address specific fleet requirements, such as limiting left-hand turns, avoiding low clearances or staying on haz-mat permitted roadways. Fleets can access up to 120 different such constraints using the system.

“We don’t have to limit a fleet to electronically selecting just a few points of interest in their system,” advises Luke Wachtel, vice president of navigation & mobile devices for Telogis. “Instead, our hybrid solution leverages the unlimited computing power of the web to maximize routing efficiency—route by route for each driver.

“By connecting the navigation system to the Internet, we can leverage data that goes beyond traffic and weather updates,” he continues. “That means we can send alerts to drivers on ‘new’ events, such as a brush fire, a flash flood or high winds, to prevent delivery delays and hardships for drivers.”

On the other hand, Wachtel stresses, “When the truck is out of cellular range, the driver can get a quick reroute via the system’s onboard capability. Then once connectivity is regained, the connected navigation system will pull down custom notes and limitations and incorporate those. We also update clients as needed through our servers. A fleet can ask for a route and then store it.”

He also points out that “we use all the trip data sent to us by customers’ drivers to constantly update our system for the benefit of all our users.”

“This driver-generated data is more informed than what merely crowd-sourced data would be because we professionally verify the input before incorporating it,” notes Frey.

“The whole idea,” adds Wachtel, “is turning data into connected intelligence in real time so that drivers and dispatchers can make the best decisions in terms of efficiency and safety.”

According to Tom Dorazio, PeopleNet’s director of product management, in the past year connected intelligence has developed to where there is “a convergence of routing and navigation for both pre-trip planning and post-trip analysis. We work closely with our navigation partners, principally ALK Technologies, to make their applications integral to our onboard systems and we package those capabilities with our monthly fee for PeopleNet service.

“For example,” he continues, “an ALK navigation solution can generate routes over our onboard device and as one of their back-office features. They would run, say, TMW routing software through the navigation to create a planned route that is set down. Then, should the driver deviate from that route, a notification is sent to the back-office system. Once the route is completed, the system can analyze the data for compliance and to further refine the route based on all the data received about it.”

Dorazio points out that customers can have a route downloaded to their PeopleNet mobile device “yet be able to customize the route easily with the dynamic information obtained via a web portal.”

He points out that PeopleNet is seeing greater interest in such connected intelligence from vocational fleets serving the energy-service markets out in oil and gas fields. “By leveraging our geofencing and ALK’s navigation capabilities, drivers for these fleets receive very detailed directions via direct navigation to well sites over what are often nameless roads.

“Another feature we’ve added through the navigation capabilities is the monitoring of actual vehicle speed compared to posted speed limits,” Dorazio advises. “A fleet can set up in-cab alerts to drivers as well as historically track their over-speeding based on a given threshold. Managers can also look at where the speeding violations occurred. All these inputs can then be integrated with an electronic driver scorecard, which is another available option.”

Rolling in

Put it all together, says Dorazio, and it’s evident “there’s growing interest in leveraging navigation beyond just generating a route for a truck by rolling in driver performance and safety improvement as well.”

Dan Popkin, ALK Technologies’ senior vice president of Enterprise Solutions, says the trend to embracing connected-intelligence routing and navigation solutions is “most prevalent among more forward-thinking motor carriers. They want the ability to bring back real-time data right from the road and leverage it through mobile services.

“ALK and our enterprise solutions group is involved with both aspects of this,” he continues. “As back-office software, our PC*Miler routing, mileage and mapping product can operate in isolation, but carriers may integrate it with software from other vendors to help them create an optimal plan. Certainly, as GPS tracking and telematics arrived for trucking, that let fleets leverage real-time, dynamic inputs.”

Popkin says ALK recognized that trend and saw the need for fleets to “gain the ability to conduct a post-mortem on how a route was executed and what could be changed to improve it. A plan may start out looking great, but issues can crop up out on the road. The problem with having separate back-office routing and onboard navigation systems was simply that they operated independently. It comes down to the difference between the route the fleet had calculated and the route actually followed by the driver.”

Mobilizing plans

He says that’s why ALK launched CoPilot Truck truck-specific navigation, which features over-the-air capabilities and stores detailed ALK maps enhanced by PC*Miler routing directly on a mobile device.

“Recognizing that customers want the routing plans created to be executed by their drivers,” Popkin explains, “we added the RouteSync feature that sends the routes optimized by the back-office PC*Miler directly to drivers running CoPilot Truck on an on-board device, smartphone or tablet. That way, navigation in the truck can be kept consistent with back-office operations and accounting functions.

“In effect, the combined solution mobilizes the plan and presents it to the driver with a navigation tool that enables dispatchers to determine where a route deviation would be preferred—such as when a haz-mat shipment requires an immediate change.  In other cases, a less expensive but more tolerant deviation would be suggested.”

Popkin says that “once you have that symbiotic relationship going between routing and navigation, the second piece that can come into play is leveraging real-time data obtained from the navigation system.

“That data can be shared internally as well as with shipper customers,” he continues. “For example, carriers can correlate data collected along a given route to a driver’s available hours of service and necessary fuel stops to make suggestions to drivers on where they should stop to stay in compliance. In addition, all of that can be communicated for back-office planning.”

As Rand McNally product manager Jill Swanson sees it, routing and navigation products have “traditionally been leveraged by the largest fleets, but smaller operations can also gain great efficiencies from these solutions.

“That’s why over the last few years we’ve been focusing on providing overall connectivity solutions to fleets of all sizes,” she continues. “Our approach is to provide customers with enterprise software along with the ability to extract key data from their vehicles and then integrate it with other solutions to increase fleet efficiency as well as to benefit drivers.”

Swanson advises that Rand McNally launched a “multi-phase project” to provide all that with the release back in August of its True Track command-and-control module. She explains that it amounts to a “mobile solution that informs the driver via an in-cab device and enables the fleet to access the information generated using the Rand McNally Connect cloud-based web portal.”

Cutting edge

The current first phase of  True Track “gives fleets better control of mapping with truck-specific navigation,” Swanson advises, “while subsequent phases due out this year will provide the ability to create, save and ‘push down’ routes to the driver in the cab as well as generate alerts when a truck deviates from its assigned route.” She notes that True Track’s modular design is intended to allow customers to gradually invest in the technology as they grow.

As it stands now, according to Swanson, True Track’s tools work with Rand McNally’s TND 760 and TPC 7600 in-cab mobile fleet-management devices to help managers improve driver safety by directing routing on truck-allowable roads and setting warnings for upcoming events; reducing out-of-route miles by sending locations over-the-air for immediate routing; and improving customer service by attaining more accurate arrival times for all shipments.

“Besides improving fleet efficiency,” Swanson notes, “leveraging technology this way also takes stress off of drivers, because routes are coming to them straight from the back office to the device being used in the cab.” She adds that the Rand McNally solution also boasts BYOD (bring your own device) capability as it can connect to existing mobile devices issued by fleets or the personal devices individual drivers might use.

“When it comes to routing and navigation, there is a lot of cutting-edge stuff for trucking coming out,” remarks Kevin Haugh, vice president and general manager of the Roadnet Technologies business unit of Omnitracs.

“Information technology is more and more about responding to customer requirements,” he continues. “For example, we’re addressing how to optimize planning and routing as it relates to the trend toward customers deciding when and how they want to receive information on deliveries.

“Besides wanting optimal routing and delivery scheduling as well as the ability to leverage data for making strategic decisions,” he continues, “carriers now see the value in getting optimized plans pushed out to drivers to make everything from loading trucks in the proper order to navigating the determined route as efficient and safe as possible.”

Haugh points out that the latest improvements to the Roadnet Transportation Suite on-premises fleet-management solution “significantly enhance users’ day-to-day operations by streamlining functions and processes.”

He says this latest release (Version 3.6.8) features the addition of MobileCast mobile-app enhancements for Android and iOS device platforms. These let drivers access an overview map of a planned route and to view the map anytime throughout the route.

“MobileCast is the intermediate piece between the defined plan and any of many mobile/telematics devices a fleet has to communicate with drivers,” Haugh advises. “It’s bi-directional in that it can ‘talk’ to the delivery plan and to the mobile devices to which it pushes out the specifics of the plan.

“The upshot of all this is the fleet can be much more dynamic in how it responds,” he continues. “This level of connectivity means the carrier can react quickly and effectively to dynamically re-optimize a plan based on incoming data as a route is being carried out.”

Golden age

Haugh says this re-optimizing of the plan (versus how it was laid out at the trip’s start) can be based on such factors as orders coming in during the day. By having such data at hand, he says the carrier “may be able to lower the cost of delivery by moving orders among vehicles ‘on the fly.’  The whole idea is to create value by pulling data from a website, optimizing trips with it and then pushing it back out to improve delivery times and costs.

“The software suite also now provides ‘role-based’ views for different employee types that offer exception enhancements, map updates and historical route information “to better enable role-specific productivity,” notes Haugh. In addition, he says the update includes an “out-of-the-box configurable scheduling interface” that integrates into customer websites to speed up delivery self-scheduling and the inclusion of planned and projected arrival and departure information that eliminates the need to use multiple tools to track delivery progress.

“This is the Golden Age of deploying connected intelligence to improve transportation efficiency,” Haugh sums up. “And we hear the need for this from our customers in their drumbeat sounding for heightened customer service and for protecting their margins as well.”

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