The Internet of Things is a term one hears more and more often. Like many buzzwords, it can have a less-than concrete definition, but it’s definitely a factor in trucking and will continue to be even more so.
“It is certainly a broad term,” says Vikas Jain, who when we spoke with him this summer was vice president of product management for Omnitracs and general manager of its FleetRisk Advisors subsidiary. “What I take away from it, is that it refers to the Internet of devices and systems that are very smart. A layer of intelligence has been added.”
Jain contrasts smart devices to what he calls dumb devices. “They do what they do and do it well, but it is within a closed system.” A dumb device focuses on its specific operation. But “by opening up those devices and connecting them to intelligence in the cloud, you have the ability to improve upon them.”
Mark Botticelli, chief technology officer at PeopleNet, explains that “in some ways, Internet of Things is a new name for things that have been around a long time.”
He defines a “thing” as typically being “a device containing a battery, sensors, microcontroller, and a radio transceiver (also known as a web gateway) to communicate data.”
When it comes to the transportation world, Botticelli refers to the Internet of Trucking Things, which would include any of the systems that collect information.
“Vehicle-generated data is on the rise,” he says. “More and more vehicle-centric data is generated by a growing number of sensors added to trucks to improve performance and diagnostics.” These would include systems such as tire-pressure monitoring, location/tracking systems, stability control, lane departure warning, collision-avoidance, remote diagnostics, and other safety systems.
Driver interactions generate additional data, for instance enhanced messaging, navigation, and re-routing.
While machine-to-machine communication has existed for decades and the Internet of Things has existed for about a decade, today, tablets and other devices have created additional gateways to the Internet. Increasingly, these devices are used by fleets as their in-cab gateways, so they can use device-neutral fleet management services — the “bring-your-own-device” model.
A recent example would be the partnership announced between Volvo Trucks and Telogis. Making use of the sensors and telematics hardware on the trucks, Volvo customers can subscribe to Telogis’ fleet management applications using whatever smart devices they choose.
Jain says that as truck OEMs become more involved, the concept will become more prevalent. His company is working with Navistar and Cummins and other OEMs “to connect, monitor, and, with permission from the fleet, help the OEMs give the best kind of service to their customers.”
The key is the layer of intelligence added to the data collected, which is where the fleet management software providers comes in.
“We take that data, interpret it and wrap software around it so we can provide our customers information on fuel tax reporting, driver utilization, tracking and planning, proof of delivery and other things,” Botticelli says.
Another trend driving the concept is the technology has become more affordable while at the same time offering greater capabilities. “Sensors and technology are evolving to the point they are cost-effective and fast enough,” Jain says. “What really is happening is that technology is allowing us to cost-effectively monitor more and more things.”