Many helpers make lighter transport work

By: Rob McKay


Drivers have so many aids with them or in the cab now that it’s easy to forget a time when there were just a couple. We look at how a simpler time and task became more complex

Many helpers make lighter transport work
The computing power means mobile phones can take proprietary, industry-focused or their own software.

 

One way to gauge how far the industry has come with technology is to talk to one who has worked up to a top position after starting as a driver.

Mark Anderson was a truck driver when starting out in the industry and, by 1992, he was experiencing the first wave of communications technology sweeping over the industry.

When he was carting milk or driving tippers was, of course, a different age. Often armed, in his case, with a Cat engine, trucks did what they did, by themselves and without electronics. Digital was manipulating things with your fingers.

That year saw him make the move from the cab to the office but already the markers for the future 25 years were in evidence, if somewhat primitively.

"When mobile phones first come into the trucks, they were fixed units, and a call-out phone was a ‘brick’ that you put beside you on the restaurant chair and you got weird looks from the people serving you," Anderson, now Rivet Energy managing director, says.

That was likely a Motorola and Anderson retains the same phone number save for the addition of a ‘4’.

Where there were some related electronics, it was on tanker metering devices.

On stepping down from the cab and into the office, Anderson was confronted with a disc operating system (DOS), pretty early in the scheme of things, given Microsoft launched that technology in 1981 and IBM and other tech firms piled in during the late 1980s.

That was the road in the office into electronics and there was a period after that when his firm, Cootes, was using Minorplanet Systems vehicle tracking solutions and satellite navigation technology.

This was for speed monitoring and crash detection amongst other tasks and came in around 1994-95.

The drivers took to calling that unit ‘Rowdy on the Dash’, using the nickname of the manager who introduced it.

By the mid-2000s a move was made to FleetEffect compliance-support technology , which the firm still uses, along with drive cam in all trucks and Rivet is presently trialling MTData and Guardian Seeing Machines products.

Rivet Energy conducts LPG and liquid fuel logistics, including aviation refuelling services, so safety and dangerous goods compliance in paramount. But with it comes a tangle of systems aimed as safety and efficient running and the company is seeking to rationalise those.

In the office back-end computer systems are looked after by CMS, another provider that has been in for the long-haul with Anderson’s company, indeed since 1992.

"It’s a data base scheduling tool invoicing and payroll system.

CMS has a long history and Anderson puts the attraction of its Freight2020 down to flexibility

"It depends what module you want and how many modules you want.

It’s a product the company has been able to integrate with a lot of other systems including in-truck tablets for corrective action requests. And if a driver has an issue at a site, this can be loaded on the tablet and the routed to the customer involved instantly via email.

Scheduling also happens through Freight2020, information uploaded directly to the driver’s tablet, with completed delivery information returned live. 

"From a cash-flow perspective, it’s all up-side," Anderson says.

But with great flexibility comes a great risk of driver distraction and one step being looked at is having the screen blanked out once the truck reaches a certain speed to become a voice over text screen.

One man’s experience gives a personal view of how technology and IT especially became ingrained in trucking.

Let’s now look at some of the technology developments that have made a mark in the past 25 years:

The alphabet soup

Drivers of new trucks have never had so many electronic and digital aids to help keep them on the road one way or another and running clean. And that’s before the truckmakers’ own plethora of transmission aids, each with their own names.

Many have emerged or been refined in the past 25 years and many have three word names, with relevant acronyms to make them manageable, some of which refer to the same technology.

Here are a selection: ABA, ABS, ACB, ACC, ASC, VSC, ASR, BSM, EBD, EBS, AEBS, ESP, LDW, EGR, RCA, TPM, SCR, DPF, the list goes on . . .  and on.

GPS

Global Positioning System (GPS) technology goes back to the 1970s and, like many 20th century innovations, had a military or security function.

GPS is crucial to vehicle tracking systems and is the basis of automatic vehicle locating. The technology was well entrenched in the 1990s, and 2000s when the push for mandatory in-truck tachographs was on. And GPS location-based solutions were central to the Intelligent Access Program (IAP).

Apps

Well, apps they are everywhere and they are part of the story of the last 25 years, at least in the part that is this decade. They have existed for log books as an aid for keeping work diaries up to date. They provide an opportunity to review past routes and times.

There have been apps designed to aid navigation using personal Apple or Android systems and some free ones have a good reputation.

Earlier this decade, they were there for drivers wishing to focus on the road rather than be distracted by mobile phone calls or text and email messages.

Fatigue detection

Be it steering pattern monitoring, lane monitoring, eye and face monitoring or using sensors to measure the state of a driver’s body, fatigue detection comes in all sorts of forms, some more intrusive than others.

It is, of course, a safety initiative that has been around for much of the past 10 years.

Tackling fatigue led to one of the more interesting private enterprise interventions in government tucking safety efforts when in 2010, local firm Optalert’s president, John Prendergast, described the idea of using GPS for fatigue detection as "dangerously misguided" as devices cannot factor in external influences. 

"We’ve seen drivers close to a fatigue related accident after only 30 minutes on the road," he saidat the time. 

"The only way to accurately measure the alertness of a driver during his journey is to monitor him in real time. This cannot be done through GPS, which uses pre-determined calculations to guess fatigue levels."

Mobile phones

Whether they be ruggedised specific-task items or the product of ever-developing hyper-competition between tech firms such as Apple, Samsung, Google, Huawei and the like, they have been with us for the duration.

Size seems to have been variable but thickness has gone only one way. And the computing power means they can take proprietary, industry-focused or their own software.

Tablets

Like mobile phones, they’ve arrived in many guises and, like personal computers and hand-held’s, they started out with a small glass face and turned into something bigger and more comprehensive.

This article first appeared in the January 2018 edition of ATN. Subscribe here.

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