Truck Tech

The Human Element, First and Foremost

Blog commentary by Jack Roberts, Senior Editor

October 20, 2017

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Properly deployed, technolgy should make our lives easier and more productive. Photo: Mercedes-Benz
Properly deployed, technolgy should make our lives easier and more productive. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

With 2017 about to go into the books, it seems likely it will be remembered as a turning point in the history of trucking and transportation– the year when “the future” stopped becoming something we all read about, talked about, and wondered about and instead became a reality to be carefully considered and prepared for.

In the course of the past year, give or a take a few months, every single Class 8 truck manufacturer serving the North American market has unveiled a new, or significantly upgraded truck. And all of these new models not only feature the latest technological breakthroughs, but are  designed with the next 10 to 15 years’ worth of technology in mind.

For the first time ever, fleets have the option of buying “upgradable” trucks – vehicles that will only increase in productivity and efficiency as new technologies come on line and can be uploaded into the truck’s onboard computer system.

And yet, for all the futuristic tech designed into these new trucks, it is striking to note that the majority of it has been engineered with the needs of drivers and fleet managers foremost in mind. We’re seeing this again and again now as OEMs and suppliers alike bring new systems online. Everything from advanced cruise control systems to active and passive collision avoidance systems to telematics “war rooms” manned by knowledgeable, friendly event managers who are there to make sure a “human touch” is present during the entire repair process.

And that’s what technology is supposed to do. From the time oneof our early ancestors first picked up a sharp stone to help skin an animal he or she had just killed, tools and technologies have developed over the ages to make our lives better, safer and more productive.

Sometimes, of course, our first stabs at a new technology don’t always work out. We’ve all experienced the disgust of buying some new wonder gadget only to find out it’s more trouble to use than it’s worth. Or, equally as bad, waited until the bugs have all been worked out of a new piece of technology, only to buy it and see it become obsolete in just a few months’ time.

Things are moving fast. And I’m on record as saying (repeatedly) that I think they’re going to move even faster than most forward-thinkers in our industry  are expecting today. But I am glad to see that OEMs and industry suppliers are keeping the “human element” first and foremost in the new products and systems we’re seeing coming online now.

This, I think, is going to be the crucial component in not only making new technology work in trucking, but convincing skeptical fleets and drivers to buy in as well. The easier new technology is to comprehend, learn and use, the better it is for everyone involved: from customers who get their products on time, to drivers who get home more often and are less tired when they get there, to technicians who have to dig into these increasingly complex vehicle systems and keep them running, to fleet executives, who have to invest in this technology and then make it profitable in trugh, real-world, day-to-day trucking operations.

All indications are that the next 10 years are going to be mind-blowing in terms of technological advancement in trucking. But if OEMs, suppliers and fleets all keep that human element first and foremost in mind, then the coming decade will be exciting. And not in a scary kind of way.

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Author Bio

Jack Roberts

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Senior Editor

As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.


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