COMMENT: Advanced fleet management and sensors enable new era of connected trucking

Truck makers and fleets will undoubtedly reap benefits from improved connectivity, but the transformation of the industry means there are many unknowns ahead. By Xavier Boucherat

Technically speaking, connectivity is hardly a new phenomenon in the trucking sector. The world’s biggest fleets have been using telematics for route optimisation and vehicle health for several years. In that respect, the latest generation of technology for the ‘connected truck’ is an evolution of what has come before.

But it is also a revolution, in at least two important respects. First, the availability of improved cellular connectivity—with 5G promising even faster download times—and the development of connected service platforms, hosting both truck maker and third party offerings, means that fleets suddenly have a wealth of options to improve everything from vehicle uptime to driver performance. Advances in over-the-air (OTA) technology also mean that truck makers can offer customers continuous efficiency updates.

Some service providers argue that data can be anonymised and still prove useful, but scepticism continues to grow around the very concept of anonymised data

Secondly, whereas traditional telematics has tended to monitor truck systems in isolation, the modern connected truck can combine and weigh data from any number of systems and inputs: Daimler estimates that the average newly built truck can come with up to 400 sensors. Deep-learning technology can draw conclusions from figures which humans never could. For example, this could lead to far better predictive maintenance tools. This will be music to the ears of fleets and owner-operators. After all, a truck that’s not on the road is a truck that’s losing money.

It is all very promising, but these are early days, and cost sensitive fleets must move with caution. Connectivity carries with it the potential to transform the trucking industry and its value chain, and many thousands of players will be moving to secure their share of the market. This put fleets into unknown waters: truck makers and third parties alike will be pushing new offerings which, whilst perfectly logical in theory, have yet to demonstrate real cost reduction on the road.

Big fleets will also need to consider future maintenance arrangements, which are traditionally done in-house to cut costs. The increased complexity of the connected truck, along with a truck maker’s understanding of a vehicle and access to its data, could see fleets opt instead for service agreements with manufacturers. There could be added value in this, but fleets will also be aware of the push by truck makers to secure new revenue streams, enabled by connectivity.

Deep-learning technology can draw conclusions from figures which humans never could. For example, this could lead to far better predictive maintenance tools

There is also the question of driver privacy, especially for long-haul workers who live out of their cabs. Of particular concern will be the new in-cab video services which can monitor driver behaviour and report incidents of fatigue or distraction: agreeable in theory, but what assurances can be offered to ensure such capabilities are not abused? Some service providers argue that data can be anonymised and still prove useful, but scepticism continues to grow around the very concept of anonymised data. Researchers from Imperial College London and the Universite Catholique de Louvain recently completed a study which concluded that 99.98% of supposedly anonymised data is ‘reversible’.

With driver shortages and retention as big a problem as ever for the trucking industry, driver confidence and acceptance will surely be key to bringing connected trucks to the road.

Automotive World’s “Special report: The evolution of the connected truck” is now available to download

Close
Close