Article

Pushing the Technology Envelope in Trucking

August 2017, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by Jim Beach, Technology Contributing Editor - Also by this author

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Photo: PeopleNet
Photo: PeopleNet

During the opening session of the PeopleNet and TMW in.sight User Conference + Expo Aug. 14, Mark Botticelli, executive vice president, Technology, PeopleNet, described how some wearable devices such as virtual reality goggles or a smart arm band could aid drivers.

The smart arm band is capable of learning and reacting to a driver’s gestures by sensing muscle movements. These gestures can then be used to send commands to various components inside the truck cab. For instance, the driver might use one gesture to request the mobile comm unit read his messages for the day, Botticelli explained a follow-up interview. Such a device could help cut down on driver distraction by allowing the driver to manipulate devices within the cab without taking his eyes off the road or hands off the wheel. Smart wearable devices are already available on the market.

Virtual reality goggles could aid a driver during pre- and post-trip inspections. When a driver looked at a component, the goggles could display a drop-down list of past repairs or issues with that components. A dispatcher might use VR to “get inside” the cab to see what a driver sees via a 3-D rendering of the road ahead, or even tap into the truck’s ion-board video system to see what the driver was seeing on the road and what is around the truck. “Of course, a dispatcher could do the same thing via a computer,” Botticelli said. But the VR goggles would provide a richer experience. 

Or, VR goggles could be used on the loading dock. The goggles could display a schematic of the trailer indicating where each part of the load should be placed thereby optimizing the way cargo is loaded.

While autonomous vehicles may still be some ways in the future, they may be closer than you think, Botticelli said. “It depends on who you talk to,” he said. “Certainly, Trimble has been in the space for a while.” Before there are self-driving truck, there could be remote controlled vehicles – trucks controlled by an operator located in a control room, similar to how the military flies drone aircraft.

One vision of the future is of a control room with 10 drivers maybe handling 50 trucks, Botticelli said. While some trucks were being loaded/unloaded, the operator could focus on others. Maybe, the remoted operators take over when a truck enters an urban area, but once on the open highway, they are on their own, with the operators checking on them periodically.

Autonomous trucks will use artificial intelligence capabilities to “learn” how to drive. “You can’t program every possible scenario into it,” he said. The trucks need to encounter situations and learn from those. Once such trucks get enough miles under their wheels, Botticelli said he thinks people’s confidence in them will grow.

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