With the completion of its biggest acquisition ever meaning even more transportation and logistics data it can leverage, Trimble is ready to build on its experience with artificial intelligence and the internet of things to give customers more insights and increase opportunities for fleets to use real-time data.
In the opening session of the Trimble Insight transportation tech conference on Sept. 25, executives detailed Trimble’s successes over the last year in connecting the digital and physical worlds to make fleets safer, more efficient and more sustainable.
Ron Bisio, senior vice president of Trimble’s Transportation sector, highlighted the significant progress of Trimble’s Transportation Cloud and how connected workflows are being used by customers such as Dart, Tri-National and Crete to operate better, faster, safer and more efficiently.
Trimble closed on its $2 billion acquisition of Transporeon earlier this year.
“We’re managing trillions of assets and millions of dollars of freight. That’s an enormous amount of data Trimble is capable of leveraging,” said CEO Rob Painter during an executive roundtable following the opening remarks at Insight.
Looking at what’s possible in the future with all that data, he pointed out that Trimble was doing AI and machine learning long before the current hype about generative AI, although he did point out that generative AI is a new version of artificial intelligence. Trimble was one of the first companies to talk about the Internet of Things, he noted.
“Others are stepping on that wave, but we’ve been surfing this wave” for a long time, he said.
As an example, he said, driver-facing cameras can use AI and machine learning algorithms to determine when a driver is fatigued.
But Trimble's not stopping there.
Artificial Intelligence at Work
Michael Kornhauser, sector VP of Transportation, cited an ad he has seen recently where it started with, “AI took my job,” but followed that with “…. To the next level.”
“I think it gets our engineers excited to work on that kind of stuff, so it’s certainly something we’re embracing,” he said.
For example, the company is using artificial intelligence to analyze satellite images to improve its mapping/navigation products. Traditionally, he said, mapping gets you to the address, but not necessarily to the exact driveway or road the driver needs to use.
“We’re using machine learning to identify driveways and private road networks within these facilities where it can make a big difference in how the truck enters the facility," Kornhauser said. "We’re using it to make those locations where commercial vehicles need to go much more precise.”
Another example is using machine learning to identify intersections that may initially have been designated as too sharp for a truck to make a turn, but algorithms can identify intersections that are built so a truck can make that turn. “Using machine learning, we don’t eliminate intersections” from the routes it maps.
Expect generative AI, like that used by ChatGPT and similar offerings, to make its way gradually into Trimble products, as well. For instance, “I’ve seen where we’re using it to search our help guides in a more human-recognizable way” than the typical keyword search, Kornhauser said.
Advancing Tech One Step at a Time
Trimble execs cautioned, however, about using AI or other tech just because they can. The important thing is for the company to pay attention to what customers want.
“Where we are right now, we still need human interaction,” Kornhauser said. “We have to be careful not to make the decisions for the fleet, and give them the ability, the opportunities to deal with exceptions. But managing them without any human interaction is still kind of early.”
For instance, eventually we may have the ability for dispatch to be entirely automated, he said. “But I think our products and many the industry isn’t ready for that. It solves a problem for the future maybe, but not the problems they’re dealing with today.”
Another example in the mapping and routing arena would be automatic re-routing of trucks based on real-time weather and traffic information.
“We have found that it may seem from the outside that would be what customers want, but at the moment they just want that information there. I believe our customers still want that manual step in there.”
He offered an example of a customer that had 11 trucks in a snow event. They could see that 10 were stopped, but one was still running, so it gave the customer the opportunity to call that driver and let them know they didn’t want them driving in dangerous conditions, even if the load was late.
“From a systems perspective, it can be done,” he said. “But that’s not what the customers are asking us for. But obviously where that’s going is to remove the human action from that.”
Trimble sees a similar stepwise approach in predictive maintenance, said Bisio.
“We’re coming up with a single source of truth on maintenance activities, and that’s going to be really, really important for future predictive maintenance,” he explained.
Part of the reason for that is that another challenge with AI is the old IT saying of “garbage in, garbage out,” said Painter.
“The data quality matters enormously, and that’s why we work so hard in our world to make sure the data flows across that supply chain. That is easy to say — and hard to do.”
So what do customers want from Trimble’s technology and solutions?
Painter cited the theme of this year’s conference, “Driving Connection.”
For instance, it’s important to connect the carriers and the shippers, something the Transporeon acquisition will help Trimble do, as Transporeon’s business is more shipper-focused, complementing Trimble’s more carrier-focused offerings.
“We see many of our industry customers asking us what we can do for them to connect their work,” he said.
Another example he cites comes from Brazil, which has some of the largest farms in the world.
“They produce crops cheaper than we do, but their logistics operations are multiple factors higher than ours to get it to the port and out of the country.” Trimble has a transportation logistics business in Brazil that’s helping to address that challenge.
Another example he cited was construction.
“We know that 80% of projects are late and 40% are over budget,” he said. Having the visibility afforded by technology makes a difference. For instance, “think about the asphalt,” which has a short time frame to be applied after it arrives at the jobsite. “You need to know when that’s going to show up so you can put that down [on the road].”
Kornhauser pointed out that not only does the system need to know where a vehicle is and that it is empty, but it also needs to match up with the order coming into the transportation management system.
“Truly connected solutions across that entire chain of pieces a trucking company needs to run their business," he said. "Not just having direct database connections; we need real time connectivity, where those assets are, what shipments coming up or opportunities you have.”
Kornhauser said part of that is not only having Trimble solutions connect better between themselves, but also connecting to other solutions in the industry, whether customers have all Trimble products or just one Trimble piece and five from other providers.
“Our TMS solutions needs to connect with all the mobility/telematics providers, and our telematics/mobility solution needs to connect to other TMS in industry.”
Asked how fleets that are overwhelmed by the vast amount of data available and not sure where to start, Painter said, “I’m a believer in starting by asking the ‘why.’ What problems are you trying to solve, what opportunities are you trying to create? In absence of that, you can be without a rudder.”
Fleets can do a self-assessment looking at things such as their P&L, talking to customers, benchmarking themselves against the industry.
“Where’s your vision, where are you going?” he said. “By starting there, we understand that vision, we work backward from the end game.”
Updated 9/26/2023 to correct the spelling of Trimble CEO Rob Painter's last name.