Disrupting the future of freight

Disrupting the future of freight

ROCHESTER, MI. Technology permeates nearly every fabric of our lives, but unless you’re the IT manager at a fleet, it’s probably not foremost on your mind day-in and day-out. That should change, according to Scott Belcher, president & CEO of Intelligent Transportation Society (ITS) of America.

“We found that in 2010, the ITS market in North America was $48 billion…It is an industry that’s growing at 17%, it’s an industry that is innovative, and it is an industry that is hiring,” Belcher told media members gathered last week in Rochester, MI, at an event to demonstrate the latest safety technologies from Meritor Wabco. “We’re no longer competitive with the rest of the world in moving freight.”

ITS promotes technology to solve transportation problems. It is a public-private non-profit organization of over 400 members. Members include Meritor Wabco as well as many other industry businesses and safety groups.

Belcher spoke about how technology continues to influence the industry, from real-time routing to cloud-based back office operations. But he also spoke on how technologies, such as Meritor Wabco’s radar-based OnGuard collision mitigation system, are making the industry safer.

“I think the things Meritor Wabco are doing are really transformational,” he said, while presenting the company’s president, Jon Morrison, with ITS’s Smart Solutions Spotlight Award. “This is a great example” of how technology is helping create safer roadways.

Belcher said that vehicle connectivity that started with light-duty vehicles will have a profound effect on how transportation companies move freight in the future.

“The future is transportation choices, and it’s not just in light-duty vehicles,” he said, noting supply chain management, electronic monitoring, and real-time routing are just a few examples. “They’ve all come about because of connectivity.”

“The future is big data. The future is managing big analytic data,” Belcher added. “The future is connected vehicles. If we can deploy this technology, we can reduce non-impaired collisions by 81%.”

 Even routing has become intertwined with technology, thanks to GPS and providers such as Garmin and Inrix. Belcher pointed out two navigation providers he finds innovative, Beat the Traffic and Waze.

“What Waze does is it gives you the routing. It looks at traffic and gives you alternate routing,” Belcher explained. “First it does crowdsourcing so you can share that information with friends and others on the road. Then what Waze does is adds a gaming system where you can get awards for going certain [directions].”

Shifting to more traditional subjects for trucking, Belcher noted that while he found it surprising that Congress passed a long-term highway bill, or, as he called it, “a longer-term extension,” the funding mechanisms included still do not address the issue of paying for infrastructure maintenance, let alone expanding capacity.

“We’ve got to have more concrete and asphalt; we need freight-only lanes; we need more lanes for platooning,” Belcher said. “We think in a resource-strained environment, technology can help.”

Belcher said the only realistic solution he sees at the moment is a vehicle miles tax. And with technology and the cloud-based services now available, he thinks that is a viable option more than ever before.

Safe truck parking is another area where Belcher said technology can provide a big assist. Belcher touted the idea of “smart parking” and said he believes its time is coming soon. Smart parking is in essence a reservation system. Just as a traveler would book a hotel room in advance, a trucker or fleet manager could identify potential stopping points by using technology to verify “vacancies” and reserve that spot for a night’s rest.

“It pays for itself, it generates revenue,” he said. “I think fleet providers would use technology to identify spots for their drivers to get off the road. Basically, I think we’ve got to pay. There’s a shortage of available parking, of safe parking, so I would think that fleets would pay to have a safe place for their drivers to get their mandated rest.”

While Belcher and ITS push the technology envelop, to the dismay of some, the point of their work is to inspire.

“I don’t have all the answers,” Belcher concluded. “I don’t know if the answers I provided are the right ones, but I wanted to challenge you to think about things differently. I think about things differently every day.”

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