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Towards connected trucks and cities

By Quinton de Villiers


Global road transport companies are harnessing the significant advances made in telematics technology to achieve new levels of productivity and efficiency, and their South African counterparts are gradually following suit.

At the most basic level, telematics technologies have enabled the improved monitoring of driver behaviour to bolster productivity and realise new levels of efficiencies. Fleet owners are now able to better manage their many drivers to safeguard against poor practices, such as idling, speeding and rapid acceleration, all major contributors towards increased fuel consumption and costly breakdowns and repairs.

The ability to identify bad driving habits, such as harsh braking, speeding and “jackrabbits”, has also enabled transport specialists to implement individualised and more focused coaching and driver-training programmes to significantly improve safety. Importantly, telematics technologies have also enabled fleet owners to monitor the performance of individual drivers and track their progress on an ongoing basis after they have completed their training, and take swift action if and when required.

However, this is only scratching the surface, in terms of the application of telematics technology in road haulage, and we still have much to learn from our international counterparts.

They have already entered an era of “connected trucks” that provide a wealth of data to better manage fuel, driver wages, in addition to the maintenance of their commercial vehicles.

Combined, these inputs account for about 62% of fleet operating costs, with truck depreciation comprising about 10%, insurance 6%, tyres 1%, maintenance 5%, fuel 26%, driver wages 30% and other inputs, such as tax, levies and tolls, the balance.

These “intelligent” trucks have already boosted productivity by between 10% to 15% and reduced overtime by between 10% and 15%; fuel consumption by between 20% and 25% and vehicle idle time by between 20% and 30%. This is in addition to reducing truck kilometres travelled by between 5% and 10%; saving between 20 minutes and 30 minutes in day/driver labour; and increasing vehicle utilisation by between 15% and 20% for leading global fleet operators.

This “connected truck” era has also been made possible by the host of solutions that are now also being supplied by various Tier 1 suppliers to the truck-manufacturing sector to complement existing telematics technologies.

More recently, a leading fleet-management technology specialist and one of the world’s foremost engine manufacturers partnered to offer customers two unique engine diagnostic solutions. These will complement the extensive and stellar work the engine manufacturer has already undertaken in the field of remote diagnostics and fault analysis for filtration, power generation and turbo technologies.

The first solution provides customers with daily and monthly engine health status reports. They include prioritised, time-based recommendations to enable fleet owners to distinguish between immediate repair needs and those that can be postponed to save costs.

The second entails the continuous monitoring of engines and diagnosis of fault alerts remotely using advanced analytics and proprietary algorithms.

Meanwhile, all of the leading truck tyre manufactures have gradually entered the so-called “connected truck” market. Their efforts are being complemented by more telematics solutions that are also now being developed by their own major suppliers.

Two leading tyre manufacturers have already commercially launched two notable telematics solutions for fleet operators.

One of these features eco-driving technique training, as well as an optimised tyre-management and load temperature monitoring systems. This is in addition to fleet tracking, as well as fuel and dispatch management capabilities.

The other includes a tyre-pressure management system, track-and-trace solution, over-and-above driver-behaviour monitoring technology.

This is on the back of other major related developments in the field of truck braking, stability, suspension, steering and axle systems.

Considering the sheer volume of truck telematics data, including information on oil, as well as fuel pressure and temperature, that is now being received on an ongoing basis, some international fleet owners have even had to appoint technicians on a permanent basis to monitor and manage truck-fault codes.

Meanwhile, work has also continued apace on developing “smarter” trailers that are used to haul goods and materials to their final destination.

These solutions provide information on, among others, past and future trailer maintenance requirements, while enabling transport specialists to easily verify that deliveries have been made. This is in addition to measuring and controlling temperatures inside refrigerated trailers that are used to transport perishable and other fast-moving goods.

Just as much focus has also been placed on bolstering cargo security by enabling transporters to remotely verify that the correct truck is hauling the trailer. There are even technologies with sensors that trigger alarms remotely when doors are opened or goods are moved from the trailer unexpectedly.

The next inevitable step will entail more collaboration between the many manufacturers to develop open-access software kits that facilitate the effortless integration of the various systems. This is in addition to partnering and even consolidating to offer customised fleet-management service packages to industry participants.

This will pave the way forward for an era of autonomous trucks, which is considered to be the future of road transport in the developed part of the world.

Most of the large truck manufacturers and telematics systems manufacturers have already run successful “platooning” trials.

Using connectivity technology that has been integrated with automated driving systems, “platooning” entails linking two or more trucks in convoy to enable them to maintain a set, close distance between one another without any intervention from a driver.

The truck in the front of the platoon is the leader of the convoy and the vehicles behind automatically react to changes in its movement. Drivers can take control of the trucks at any given point in time and leave the platoon.

It is believed that platooning will reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions as trucks can drive closer together to significantly mitigate air-drag friction. Some experts anticipate that platooning will reduce fuel consumption by up to 16% from the trailing vehicles and up to 8% from the lead vehicle.

Moreover, it will greatly assist in raising road safety levels as braking is automatic and immediate, with the trucks following the lead vehicle only requiring one-fifth of the time a human needs to react.

It also enhances productivity by freeing up the driver to undertake other tasks, including making calls and administrative work, while significantly extending the legal driving time in certain instances.

Notably, platooning will also optimise existing road infrastructure by delivering goods faster and reducing traffic congestion in cities.

In fact, many suppliers of telematics systems are already vying for a share of ambitious international “smart city” projects. They entail developing urban areas with significantly improved traffic management to reduce travelling time.  This will improve productivity and efficiencies, as well as reduce vehicle emissions from both passenger and commercial vehicles.

Mining the extremely rich real-time insights on transportation and mobility available from telematics will add immense value during both the planning and operation phases of these cities.

South Africa may be lagging behind its international counterparts, but it is clear that the technology exists to solve many of the challenges we are currently facing. Perhaps, it is time to accelerate the uptake of these solutions?


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