Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series on the Internet of Transportation Things (IoTT). Part one showed how the IoTT is already in the electronics of modern trucks. This installment explores how fleet mobility is changing to more of a “plug and play” environment.
Keeping technology current is a challenge for any business, especially when new devices and applications are not compatible with the systems they already have in place.
During the past few years, companies that supply mobile fleet management systems have aligned with consumer trends in technology. What this means is that more devices and applications are able to connect, straightaway, to accelerate the speed of new technology coming into the industry.
Earlier this year, Rand McNally released an Android tablet that runs its own truck-navigation software and suite of mobile applications. It also assembled a dedicated team focused on integrating its platforms with sensors and other “things” its customers want to add to their trucks, says Dave Marsh, the company’s vice president of research and development.
“We have teams that can jump on that now,” he says. Rand McNally has another product, the HD 100, that uses any Android or Apple device for the display. This small, wallet-sized device plugs into the vehicle’s diagnostics port to synchronize the electronic logs and other software in its client app with the engine data. The HD 100 communicates to a display using a secure Wi-Fi connection and has an embedded cellular modem for long-range Internet connectivity.
With the growth of more consumer-friendly devices and applications, technology in the trucking industry is getting closer to “plug and play” functionality, but the gap is still wide. No in-cab platform offers the same experience as installing a new app on a PC by plugging a USB device or pairing a new device, like a Fitbit, with your smartphone using Bluetooth.
Companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple have the manpower to create thousands of “device drivers” to make seamless integration possible, says Mike McQuade, chief technology officer of Zonar Systems. As more fleets adopt Android platforms he expects some of these issues will go away. Android already has a number of built-in device drivers for tablets and smartphones to talk with peripheral devices through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, he says.
Jeff Champa, senior director of product management for Omnitracs agrees, but says there is more to consider than plug and play functionality for enterprise applications.
“The application ecosystem may be limited when it comes to apps that integrate with our product solutions. We would want to make sure that any integrated apps work well, provide value and have a positive user experience. This is not too different from what Apple does as they require all apps to go through a certification process,” he says.
McQuade expects to see more industry suppliers doing what Zonar has done — offer an industrial-strength tablet with a custom Android operating system that allows its customers to control the application ecosystem on the device. The Zonar 2020 Mobile Tablet runs its own proprietary applications like electronic logging and vehicle inspections as well as customized user and third-party applications.
PeopleNet plans to release an Android option for the display portion of its fleet mobility platform. This would enable drivers to take the display with them outside of the cab and access the same apps like electronic logs and messaging, using a Wi-Fi connection.
The cornerstone of its platform is the PeopleNet Mobile Gateway (PMG), says Mark Botticelli, chief technology officer. The PMG is designed to share information with any type of display including drivers’ smartphones. Drivers will be able to access most of the same apps, like messaging and performance scorecards, using any device. “The big focus is on making a driver’s life easier,” he says.
The mobile hotspot
In the consumer world, multiple devices can connect to the Internet through a single access point – typically a smartphone. Ideally, every device on a tractor and trailer could connect to the Internet through this Wi-Fi hotspot to consolidate the costs of having separate data plans for their trailer tracking, mobile computing, video event recorders, and more.
Some suppliers may not want to allow open access to their wireless network to protect their profit margins. Others are in favor.
Rand McNally is field testing its HD 100 to function as a mobile hotspot to allow third party apps on the device, such as barcode scanning and proof-of-delivery, to use a single data plan, Marsh says.
Telogis has its telematics devices installed at the factory by a number of truck manufacturers: Volvo, Mack, General Motors, Isuzu and more. Its software-as-a-service mobile platform is compatible with smartphones and tablets which run its suite of applications that include commercial navigation, compliance and route optimization.
Its telematics device functions as a mobile hotspot to communicate with third-party sensors on the vehicle through a secure Wi-Fi connection, says Kelly Frey, vice president of product marketing. Reefer temperature sensors are one of several possibilities; Telogis can pick up data streams through its Wi-Fi hotspot from the reefer units of Thermo King and Carrier.
“Telogis has always been built with the notion of connecting with other systems for sharing data,” he says.
It is possible that drivers or hackers could use a hotspot in a vehicle to connect to the Internet. This carries the risk of introducing a virus into the system. The same is true when mobile platforms connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots to browse the Web or transfer mission-critical information to the office.
CarrierWeb has decided to stick with a more traditional cellular connection between the vehicle and its servers in the cloud.
“The systems we’ve got now are relatively safe to external risks,” he says. With the emergence of Android platforms, R. Fenton-May, chairman of CarrierWeb, says it is critical to ensure that third party apps do not interfere with mission-critical data.
“What if you are in middle of doing something and an app decides it needs to update? It could shut the system down,” he says. “It has all got be controlled.”
Stay tuned for part 3 (tomorrow) when CCJ looks at the Internet of Transportation Things and the future of connected trucks.