The Road to the Connected Fleet of the Future Part 1

It’s no secret that trucking fleets are incredibly connected, thanks to a long history of telematics applications used for mobile resource management.

A 2012 study by C.J. Driscoll & Associates concluded that there were approximately 5.5 million devices in use for managing vehicles, equipment and mobile workers. Sprint M2M Solutions estimates that 20 percent of all fleet vehicles are using telematics.

What will it take to get to the next step of connecting fleets and other vehicles to the greater transportation systems and infrastructure?

The potential benefits are huge: V2V communications among vehicles on the highway could reduce traffic accidents and deaths. V2V communications to enable platooning could help trucks reduce fuel usage by as much as 30 percent, not only cutting costs but also reducing emissions. V2I could save trucks time by letting them bypass weighing and check stations, while also reducing fuel usage. Ports can reduce congestion by automatically sending information to trucks about when freight will be ready to load.

To realize these benefits, challenges must be overcome. These include analytics to make data more usable, as well as ownership of and access to connected vehicle data; and who will pay the bills for systems that have societal benefit.

Prospects for platooning

Truck platooning – two or more trucks traveling in concert – is already being tested on European roads. Platooning allows the vehicles to stay in much tighter formation than normal, immediately reducing congestion a bit while reducing aerodynamic drag. Therefore, the biggest driver of platooning efforts is fuel efficiency and reductions in greenhouse gases, according to Franck Leveque, vice president of automotive and transportation for Frost & Sullivan.

Leveque notes that, over the past two years, Scania has implemented platooning concepts in its own transport operations and has shown that fuel savings of up to 5 percent can be achieved through reduced drag. Spanish companies IDIADA and Transportes Cerezuela plan to test a platooning system on Spanish roads in the autumn of 2016, according to Leveque.

Driver shortages and safety also play a role. But Leveque thinks that the safety improvements expected for platooning are rather limited. "An ITS-enabled automated driving ecosystem will address safety challenges more than stand-alone platooning," he says.

Of course, plenty of fuel savings and emission reductions are available via existing fleet management systems that optimize routes and train drivers. Yet, according to Jan Unander, executive director of Telematics Valley, an interest organization for the European telematics industry, penetration of fleet management systems among his group's members hovers at a mere 12 percent.

Telematics Valley has been working with its members since 2012 to encourage usage. It found three reasons for this low adoption of fleet management systems: First, fleet managers, owners and operators are unsure whether they can trust the data. Many fleets have more than one brand of truck in their fleets. Even when there's one, third-party service provider, values for different brands of truck may not match up.

Second, the fleet company has to be able to consume the data and make use of it. "In small and medium-sized companies, there may not be time to do driver training and handle the data," Unander says. In Sweden, for example, 50 percent of fleets have only one or two trucks.

Finally, fleet owners won't be able to see full ROI and efficiencies if they don't integrate the fleet management system with the rest of their business systems. "That can be quite tricky and expensive," Unander notes.

Rules of the road

Driver behavior and regulations need to be adapted to facilitate truck platooning, notes Nico Zornig, a researcher at TNO, an applied research organization in the Netherlands. The question, he says, is, "How do you adopt this way of transport into society and also into fleet management?"

There's the not-so-simple matter of creating platoons composed of different fleets. "If one company has two trucks going somewhere, that helps, but normally trucks from different companies drive on the same road. Which trucks will platoon, and which of them will go first, second and third?"

At the same time, civilian drivers must learn to treat a platoon as one long truck, and not try to pass them one at a time. Zornig foresees public education campaigns similar to the Dutch one to encourage "zipping," that is, alternating cars when merging while maintaining speed. The government has been running TV commercials explaining and encouraging this driving behavior for as many as 10 years, he says. "It's help, but it's not sufficient. You also have to address this in driving classes."

However, drivers will somehow need to be given real-time information that they are approaching a platoon, and connected-car systems could help in this regard, he thinks.

When it comes to regulations, governments will need to change rules about how long drivers can drive and how long their rest periods need to be to take into account the less-onerous duties of drivers who are not leading a platoon and as a result do not have a driver’s task.

And these regulations will need to be standardized among countries. TNO envisions a corridor between Rotterdam and Vienna, Holland, Germany and Austria for platooning, as well as platoons going other places. This corridor approach could speed things along. Zornig says, "If we have to wait for EU regulations, it's too far away. You have to start with something and have an evolutionary strategy. That is why TNO started with tests with two trucks platooning on public roads in the Netherlands, facilitated by the Dutch Government. You can't reach everybody at once."

Meanwhile, Telematics Valley is also trying to speed the industry without waiting for EU standards bodies such as the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA). It's working on harmonizing the data that comes from various brands of vehicles in European truck fleets to make it more readily usable. The focus is on eco-driving, and, in November, the group defined a common way of measuring deliberate idling that can be compared among brands, with the data available from a web interface. Telematics Valley plans to present this to ACEA. If accepted as a standard, Unander says, "The ambition is that everyone will be able to capture this data from this interface.

Ecosystem building blocks

Frost's Leveque breaks down the necessary ecosystem this way:

·        OEMs

·        Tier 1 suppliers, especially those for braking systems and integrated safety systems

·        Component specialists, including sensors, vision systems, LIDAR and radar

·        Communication providers, including telematics vendors, wireless network operators and internet companies

Peter Vanderminden, industry manager for manufacturing and supply chain at Microsoft, says that three main things are needed to make this ecosystem work:

·        Truly autonomous vehicles that can respond to changing conditions

·        A database of trucks

·        A method to enable transportation vehicles to stay connected all the time

First, completely autonomous vehicles need to be able to adapt to changing conditions, says Vanderminden. He points out that the Google autonomous car can only drive on prescribed routes – and, if something changes on that route, it can get confused. This requires the ability for a vehicle to constantly connect to disparate data sources

Second, a database of trucks on the road could reduce unnecessary stops at weigh stations, enable dynamic platooning, help companies plan and control their supply chains, and increase efficiency at ports, Vanderminden says. That database should include information on ownership and capacity of the truck, as well as who's driving it, its destination and the last time it was inspected. For example, if a truck's transponder pinged a weigh station that it was five miles away, the weigh station could query the database to find out that it had been weighed only a couple of hours ago and send it through without stopping.

Third is the connectivity challenge. Even with the cost of cellular modems falling, reception is spotty in rural areas, to say nothing of the connectivity problems of containers on ships crossing the ocean or trains going over mountains. Vanderminden believes that satellites are the answer.

"It tends to be thought of as very expensive and only used in extreme situations," he says. But there are new fleets of satellites being launched using the high-bandwidth Ka band that he thinks can solve this problem. He also looks forward to new antenna technologies such as Kymeta Technologies' mTenna that can continuously track satellites.

"There's clearly more work to do," Vanderminden says. "There's a need for the platform providers to start thinking about how they will extend their ecosystem to fit into overall operations and supply chain systems."

For the latest update on connected fleets in Europe, take a look at Connected Fleets Europe 2015 Conference and Exhibition (10th-11th March).


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