The Road to the Connected Fleet of the Future: Part 2

UBI convergence

One major way of enhancing data about road usage is likely to come from usage-based insurance schemes, or UBI. Peloton is developing analytics that will offer fleet operators information about drivers, vehicles and fleets. Just as fleet telematics products have been converging with usage-based insurance offerings, Peloton CEO Josh Switkes proposes that his firm’s system can be both a data provider and consumer, offering fleet operators information about driving behavior, such as hard braking, by merging sensor data from vehicles with info from other sources to provide a more complete picture of the environment around a hard braking incident.

Verizon Telematics, as the TSP behind Allstate’s DriveWise in most states, also sees itself as a provider of enhanced data about traffic, road conditions and driving behavior, according to Tom Taylor, vice president of advanced strategy for Verizon Telematics. The company is working with several states to determine if UBI data can be used as a fairer way to charge drivers for road maintenance. Taylor points out that in most states today, maintenance is paid for by gasoline taxes. However, as cars get better mileage, they buy less gasoline and contribute less to maintenance funds, while hybrid vehicles contribute still less and electric vehicles contribute nothing.

While there are proposals to charge every driver a fixed annual amount, or to put metering devices on highways, Taylor thinks UBI data could be the most effective way to make sure each driver pays her fair share. “We have some pretty cool data here, so let’s make decisions on good data. The beauty of doing it with insurers is we get…all different makes and models,” Taylor says.

Further out, he foresees even more uses for connected-car data, such as automatically tracking emissions instead of making drivers show up for smog checks every year or two.

Taylor notes that state governments, insurers and DOTs all want the same thing, but they currently have no way of cooperating. He doesn’t think one hub database is the best tactic, however. “States are uncomfortable working with a single company,” he says. Instead, the way he sees it, a state would pull data from a handful of different companies and databases. And consumers could choose where their data goes, based on the services they opt for, such as insurance.

Vehicle Data Science is another company that’s aiming at the convergence between UBI and connected transportation. It’s developed a prototype called Kinematic Map that aggregates millions of vehicle traces to create an accurate and information-rich roadway map. The company hopes to serve the automotive, insurance, and fleet management industries, with initial discussions targeting OEMs and insurers.

The Kinetic Map assembles probe data from vehicles and uses analytics to build information models of the most appropriate ways to drive on a particular stretch of road.

Getting probe data from vehicles could help solve a lot of the transportation issues we face, according to Chris Wilson, CEO of Vehicle Data Science. He sees access to his company’s enhanced road data as an incentive for OEMs to publish their probe data to the greater connected transportation ecosystem. The biggest barrier to connecting transportation and infrastructure is creating a business model for OEMs to do this, he says. “Right now, OEMs are very protective of this data and not inclined to share it at all. If they can make better safety systems based on probe data, they will be more likely to enable its collection.”

While OEMs could use this data as well for advanced safety systems that could perhaps warn a driver when he’s exceeding a safe speed for current conditions, for example, Wilson also sees the insurance sector finding value in the information. Does a driver habitually take corners faster than the majority of drivers or not respond correctly to bad weather? Wilson says the system can help identify someone “driving just a little bit bad. By building models, we can see the details of how someone drives and that will be more indicative of risk,” he says.

Data in, money out

It’s likely that many entities in the connected transportation infrastructure will be both providers and consumers of data – and some of that data will come from beyond transportation systems. Says Christian Kotscher, CEO of MetroTech Net, “It’s no longer the ITS show. It’s smarter cities plus it’s plus mobility plus it’s connected cars — how the infrastructure and people and vehicles work together.” MetroTech Net is developing technologies that turn video feeds from traffic and security cameras into data that can be used to better synchronize traffic lights.

The result of weaving all these sources together will be what Kotscher calls “dynamic content” – the kind of information that Vanderminden identifies as being crucial for fully automated vehicles.

Data hubs

MetroTech Net is one of the companies that aim to act as a switching center for data, adding value in the form of analytics and then publishing it to other entities. While state Departments of Transportation have made significant investments in sensors, cameras and other data-gathering devices, their ability to monitor them all is limited, according to Kotscher, and they are unable to publish it outside of transportation management centers. A DOT may have 8,000 screens showing inputs from various devices, but only be able to monitor 15 at a time. He says MetroTech Net can take in all DOT data and apply analytics and alert transportation personnel if there’s an important incident.

The company also plans to take this data and make it publicly available to fleets, carriers and automobiles. It could also be used, he says, to power actively responsive traffic signals, so that an approaching truck could message the signal to let it through if there’s no cross traffic.

The business model is that MetroTech Net will get sensor data from cities at no cost in return for returning it in a more usable form. Cities will benefit from using the data to tune streetlights, control traffic signals, aid in planning and enhance real estate valuations.

In a pilot program at 100 intersections in Santa Clara, Calif., MetroTech Net publishes the data to Santa Clara in a format that’s standard for California. The system has reduced 18,000 stops per day, the company says.

Connected supply chain

Just a few years ago, fleet operators had concerns that drivers would resist being tracked and rated by telematics applications. Today, drivers themselves are leading the charge for mobile applications, according to Kelly Frey, vice president of product marketing for Telogis, a location intelligence platform that works with commercial clients.

“I think we’re over that. With the explosion of smartphones and tablets, there are very sophisticated applications in the hands of drivers behind the wheel,” Frey says. “Some explorations of these technologies are starting at the grassroots level, with drivers themselves looking for ways to be more productive and get home sooner.”

He thinks the conversation should be reframed to shift the focus somewhat away from driver performance toward better coordination with supply-chain partners. “One of the biggest productivity wasters in the shipping industry is the unnecessary waiting time at pickup and receiving locations,” Frey says. “We still do not really enforce pickup and delivery appointment setting and don’t impose unnecessary waiting time penalties, even though most contracts have them.”

That’s in part because shippers have the power; if a carrier complains about waiting around to load or unload, the shipper can switch to another. But shippers, too, could benefit from better information about truck locations, Frey says. “Shippers and carriers need to realize we’re all in this together.”

Retailers, for one, could benefit from getting an ETA for inbound loads so they can coordinate back-of-store resources. In addition, Frey points out, some supercenter stores are becoming outbound delivery locations. To do this, “They have to have a very coordinated physical flow of goods in and out of the store – and for that, they have to have very good data flow from carriers,” Frey says.

Aggregated, cloud-based data platforms could aggregate information from intermodal containers, the chassis the containers are sitting on, and even individual pallets or packages of goods, thanks to technologies like ZigBee, Bluetooth Low Energy and RFID, he posits. “As the internet of things continues to permeate, there will be more and more opportunities to integrate these GPS feeds to give supply chain anchors very good visibility down to even the pallet level,” he says.

Ports could access the same data to track how many vehicles are waiting in line to unload and share that back to drayage companies, reducing their idling time and – at least in theory – providing them with firm appointments.

Frey says, “A global supply chain and the sourcing of global products means we need to get better at thinking of the world globally and integrating cross-modal. The more definite we can be about the coordination between the modes of transportation, the better we’ll be.”

Show me the money

In all of this, technology is really the easy part, says Kevin N. Balke, a research engineer with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Finding the money to pay for intelligent transportation initiatives, along with setting policy, instituting regulations and determining liability are hard.

A case in point is the Transportation Institute’s own TransLink Research Program, described by the university as “a national, multi-modal, multi-agency public-private program of research, development, and professional education.” Its funding ran out.

As a state agency, most of its research money comes from external sources, and the vast majority of those are public entities, Balke explains. “They fund what they can. Most of the [ITS] effort has been on the private side with the auto manufacturers that have been pushing really hard to get their technology developed. Government entities are lagging behind a little,” Balke says.

Balke notes the low-hanging fruit in ITS is streamlining processes to allow freight to move with minimum amount of delay and interruption, including providing pre-clearances at weigh stations and of trucking credentials.

The federal and state governments certainly understand the benefits of connected transportation systems, he adds. However, “Because of the far-reaching nature of transportation systems, it’s hard to get everybody’s priorities into alignment and get large-scale issues addressed.”

Kotscher of MetroTech Net says the ITS industry is stuck on the idea that the federal government will write a check. “But the telematics industry knows fleets have money to spend. So fleets pay and pass the costs onto the consumer,” he says. In-car mobile advertising could help pay for consumer services, in his view – and his company is in talks with a mobile advertising platform that understands that location-enhanced data can increase the relevance of the ad and increase cost of impressions to advertisers.

Policy needed

Balke identifies several of the many legal and policy issues that will need to be decided in the not-distant future.

Truck platoons alone raise many issue, he says. What kind of regulations have to be in place to permit the driver to take his hands off the wheel? Should the operator of a truck following in a platoon to be considered a passenger rather than a driver? “All our laws are geared toward the driver being ultimately responsible for what happens in a vehicle,” he says.

Should there be different licenses required for platooning? How should equipment manufacturers test all the different scenarios to make sure their technology is safe? And, he asks, ” What defines safe?”

Despite funding issues, Balke has found state and government entities to be very progressive about ITS technologies. He says, “They recognize it as a good thing and want to foster the development of the technology. But government entities have to think harder about the long-range implications of doing this.”

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