The Road to the Connected Fleet of the Future

The Road to the Connected Fleet of the Future

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 American roads. Platooning allows the vehicles to stay in much tighter formation than normal, immediately reducing congestion a bit while reducing aerodynamic drag. Peloton, an automated vehicle technology company, has found that during the 11,000 miles its two test truck have driven in formation, they've saved more than 7 percent in fuel while driving at 65 miles per hour.

But Peloton's system requires quite a lot of hardware: Each truck that wants to platoon needs forward looking radar; a cellular connection; V2V radios and antennas mounted on the rear-view mirrors; an ECU to run control software, and a video display mounted on the windshield.

On the back end, Peloton operates a cloud-based network operations control center that determines whether road and traffic conditions make it safe to platoon, as well as letting truck drivers locate other trucks with which to platoon.

"Many fleet operators are open to platooning with trucks from other fleets. By platooning across fleets, you can maximize the number of miles you're traveling.," says Josh Switkes, Peloton's CEO. The ability to identify potential platoon-mates will be especially important when penetration of V2V communications is low, as it is now.

Switkes acknowledges that critical mass for V2V communications has been a barrier to platooning systems. Some large fleet operators already operate their trucks in groups, thereby having the requisite mass to gain benefits from platooning. Even fleets with fewer or scattered trucks operate mostly on the interstates, he notes, so the problem of finding buddies is not as difficult as it may sound. "We don't need millions of trucks equipped with our system, just tens of thousands of trucks," he says.

Switkes notes that his system is designed to take advantage of technology that's in the market now, instead of waiting for some DSRC-enabled future. "We are not relying on any infrastructure like the vehicle to vehicle standard; we're not relying on the greater ecosystem — but we will definitely be part of it as it evolves."

Ecosystem building blocks

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.

HELP, a not-for-profit, public-private partnership dedicated to advancing the safety and efficiency of the transportation industry, provides PrePass, electronic screening and pre-clearance technology for weigh stations. The system lets verified trucks bypass the weigh stations. With 304 operational weigh stations and inspection facilities in 31 states, HELP says that since 1997, carriers have saved more than 47 million hours of driver time and more than 228 million gallons of fuel. States and carriers have also saved $3.9 billion in operational costs.

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 the Rockies. 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."

Volvo is about to explore partial automation for truck platooning in collaboration with the California Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology, or PATH; PATH is a project of the University of California at Berkeley. The plan is to demonstrate a three-truck platoon on Interstate 710 in Southern California, the highway that goes to the Inland Empire from the Port of Los Angeles.

Initially the system will work with the Volvo trucks, according to Aravind Kailas, ITS research engineer at Volvo Group, but the hope is it could eventually be used by any brand of truck.

This project, too, doesn’t require anything from infrastructure providers to achieve benefits, he notes. "Once you invest in the in-vehicle equipment, as the adoption rate increases, you'll see more and more benefits," Kailas says.

Volvo Group is also a member of a newly formed Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership (CAMP) Vehicle Safety Communications (VSC) consortium that will look into V2I safety, mobility and environmental benefits from connected vehicles. In early 2016, an intersection in Palo Alto, Calif., will be equipped to demonstrate multiple V2I safety applications.

The CAMP VSC consortium will also examine issues of data security and anonymity. This will be important as more and more entities, including connected transportation machines, begin to generate data that can be crunched to provide new services and drive business value.

The Consortium will also examine issues of data security and anonymity. This will be important as more and more entities, including connected transportation machines, begin to generate data that can be crunched to provide new services and drive business value.

Kailas says, "There’s even an opportunity for a third party to become a data broker." This could be an OEM, or it could be a wireless network operator, which could act both as the communications backbone and a private data broker. "

However, he says, there are issues with allowing the data generated from public infrastructure, such as road sensors or traffic signals, to be managed by any private party. Kailas says, "Utmost care has to be taken about what is being recorded and shared. Anonymizing, parsing, and accuracy of the broadcast date will be critical to the success of this ITS environment."

For the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics West Coast 2014 on October 30-31 in San Diego, USA, Telematics Munich 2014 on November 10-11 in Munich, Germany, Connected Fleets USA on November 20-21 in Atlanta, USA and Consumer Telematics Show 2015, January 5 in Las Vegas.

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