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Toll Group: Under control

Toll Group recently unveiled its new national transport control room in Melbourne with the aim of more efficiently and safely coordinating freight movements and drivers


Walking into Toll Group’s new control room as transport minister Michael McCormack is shown around its 9.5-metre-long interactive touchscreen could almost resemble a scene out of Minority Report.

The 24/7 monitoring and telematics room in Melbourne is one element of the transport and logistics giant’s broader eight-year, $1.6 billion new fleet and equipment investment strategy.

Designed to improve efficiency and safety within its road network, the room operates constantly throughout the year and is responsible for monitoring fleet location, delivery times, vehicle performance, driver fatigue and distractions, and incident analysis in real time.

Working with road technology companies such as Myfleet GPS, Mix Telematics and Seeing Machines, the data from trucks and various operational software is displayed and processed on the video wall, which Toll claims is the largest in Australia.

Up to 24 personnel occupy the space at any given time.

Read more about the control room launch, here



On our particular visit, a document on the screen shows there is enough freight for 81 B-doubles to leave Melbourne on the day. Freight volumes are set to rise 40 per cent as the busy holiday season approaches.

National control tower manager Jacques van Niekerk shows guests around the room and explains the screen’s functionalities.

“This particular setup is equipped with thousands of infrared sensors that locate your finger and make it a very big iPad, in effect. It can recognise 32 different fingers at the same time and track what those fingers are doing,” he says.

“There are two sets of screens – one half and the other half – that operate independently but are aware of each other so you can move across them if required. There are several layers of information that are pre-populated.

“One particular screen is about tracking – we can view the weather, we can see where a driver is and what the conditions are like in that location.

“Aircast allows any computers to stream information to the screen. If there’s a specific event or news coverage, we can also watch that live through Foxtel.”

The room is divided into small divisions. The allocations team looks for equipment to meet demand. The planning team understands what the freight forecast is going forward – from a day to 18 months. The control team undertakes the execution monitoring of that plan, tracking how demand is being supplied and if they’re ahead or behind schedule.

“Teams can come together to have a discussion, or to look at something specific such as documents. This facilitates an interactive discussion that doesn’t need to happen around a computer screen,” van Niekerk says.

“For example, if there’s an incident, a team can meet and access a document library with standard operating procedures and discuss how to manage it and assign tasks to people.”

Along with the monitoring aspect of the control room comes operational recovery if an incident does occur.

“We record a lot of detail around what’s in the truck and who is on the truck – if there’s an incident, we’d like to know if there are dangerous goods on board because that will dictate how we handle that incident,” van Niekerk says.

“If we get a live event going on, for example if someone falls asleep, the control room will react to that.

“If we do not want to continue with a trip because of the driver’s fatigue situation, we will work on a recovery plan to locate another truck to come out or a ute with a driver to replace the fatigued one.”

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A key driver of the aforementioned fatigue management aspect is Seeing Machines’ Guardian technology.

In a truck, infrared cameras in the cab (which also work when a driver is wearing sunglasses) constantly monitor eye movement, and seats are equipped with a vibrating device to wake a driver up if they are falling asleep.

“If you close your eyes for two seconds or more it picks that up and shakes the seat – also, if you look sideways and are distracted by something, it will alarm you,” van Niekerk continues.

Should an incident occur, the system sends a video clip of the last 20 seconds to an American centre, which reviews it to rule out a technical issue.

Once that footage is reviewed, it comes back to Toll to devise an appropriate course of action. This process happens within two minutes, van Niekerk explains.

“It gives you a report saying your eyes were closed for however many seconds, how far you travelled in that time, what speed you were heading, your direction and location.

“We will call the driver and say there’s been an event we then ask them to assess the situation, pull over when it’s safe, and go through a series of questions with them – a script designed to assess their mental state in that stage: What is going on in your private life? Did you get enough sleep? When did you last sleep? How long did you sleep?

“If all those are positive, we can call a mandatory half-hour break and the driver can continue and we monitor them all the way home.

“If it happens a second time, we go through a more intense set of questions and make an assessment whether to discontinue the trip: what’s happened since the last event, and so on.

“On a couple of occasions we have terminated the trip. Someone has come out to pick them up, and when they get home, with their local supervisor they will go through an assessment of what happened and how they can fix that going forward.”

The system is supplemented by one set of cameras in the cab and more around the truck that record events for incident and training purposes.

“One camera faces outwards and forwards, recording the road,” van Niekerk says. “Sometimes we also have some looking out the side of the truck, and one coming out the side into the truck so we can see the driver’s reactions to things happening in front of them.

“That is used in an incident to help with an investigation to understand how it came about and how the driver reacted. It’s also used in training in a near-miss event, where we see drivers’ reactions to those events and can help train them if something can be improved.”

The system was trialled for about six months before Toll was satisfied with its effectiveness and implemented it in its trucks.

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There are 76 Toll vehicles with the Guardian technology operating at the time of writing, with further plans to roll it out in hundreds of new trucks and retrofit it into old ones – throughout all divisions.

It would still take a “couple of years” until the full fleet is complete, but van Niekerk is confident it will become “absolutely standard in future”, not just at Toll.

In fact, it is mandatory for contractors to have some form of tracking system in order to work for Toll. If Toll needs to know something that relates to where a truck is, it will contact contractors for that information. Bigger contractors have a feed with information sent directly to Toll, which has plans for greater direct access capabilities into contractors’ systems.

When asked if this system can be perceived as ‘Big Brother watching’, van Niekerk strenuously denies it and reinforces the safety aspect, saying that drivers and unions – despite initial apprehension – are coming around to the technology.

“It’s absolutely about safety. Nobody is ‘watching’ anything. For drivers, it’s about understanding we are not here to spy on them or look at them. We have a lot more interesting things to do than watch you drive a truck.

“Initially, drivers were a bit reticent, but today we get lots of calls from people thanking us for being there, saying ‘a bad thing could’ve happened, and you helped prevent that, so thank you’ and appreciate the support and see it for what it is.”

He says no crashes have occurred with the system in place with people falling asleep, but in any given week there are about seven alerts due to microsleep events.

It’s a system endorsed by the federal transport minister after touring the facilities.

“I am very impressed by what I’ve seen today. It is a clear a significant amount of expertise has been invested by Toll in this facility to support drivers and the community,” McCormack says.

“It is an important milestone, not only for Toll, but for the community and industry in our quest to improve road safety across Australia.”


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