An almost-human voice

PeopleNet ( announced an upgrade to its eDriver Logs electronic onboard recording (EOBR) tool, a stand-alone, Internet-based driver access portal. Drivers can login to plan a day based on available hours of service, review historical electronic logbook data and report dock hours or training periods. This functionality also gives fleet managers the ability to better account for time drivers spend outside their trucks, the company says.

Qualcomm ( expects its T2 Untethered TrailerTRACS asset management system to be available this spring in configurations for flatbed trailers and containers. New features include a low-profile antenna that can be mounted externally on van trailers and flatbed trailers, a self-contained solar-powered battery option for containers and enhanced mobile coverage throughout North America.

TMW Systems ( unveiled DriverSeat, a Web-based solution for deploying customized driver web portals to improve driver retention. With the application, carriers can tailor services specifically for each driver – for example, view past and pending pay information and loads, and submit requests for time off. The product is scheduled for May release.

Innovative Computing Corp. ( is introducing a Convertible User Interface option to give its FleetRx Maintenance Module and Innovative Enterprise Software customers the ability to toggle between a new graphical user interface (GUI) and Innovative’s text-based interface for its IBM iSeries platform.

SkyBitz ( and TravelCenters of America (TA) announced an agreement that TA’s locations nationwide will sell and replace batteries for SkyBitz trailer-tracking units.

ALK Technologies ( released PC*Miler|FuelTax 11, the latest version of its fuel tax reporting software for motor carriers and private fleets.

Maddocks Systems Inc. ( said its TruckMate for Windows (TM4Win) enterprise software was selected by Salina, Utah-based Barney Trucking Inc., a 200-truck dry bulk carrier.

No matter how much you try to automate customer communications through flashy e-commerce tools such as electronic data interchange (EDI), websites and e-mail, you can’t expect to wean all customers away from the telephone.

Person-to-person contact may be the most inefficient way to handle routine communications, such as shipment updates. But in reality, for many customers the telephone remains their only option, leading carriers to explore and invest in new technology to handle their call volume more efficiently.

Estenson Logistics (ELC) recently implemented a low-cost interactive voice response (IVR) system that it says has paid big dividends. ELC – a 300-truck carrier based in Tempe, Ariz. – provides dedicated transportation services from distribution centers to retail outlets. Toward the end of 2004, ELC was receiving a large volume of calls from individual stores of its largest customer – a major retailer of home improvement products – inquiring about delivery times of their loads.

The phone calls consumed dispatchers’ time, as each call required them to look up the information in their software system and then communicate it to the individual store.

Although ELC used electronic data interchange (EDI) to update its shipment status automatically with the customer, many retail centers did not have the right computer systems to obtain that information – or access to the Internet to use ELC’s website to trace their shipments online.

During this time, Jeff Schuler, ELC’s director of information technology, began researching a technology called VoiceXML. The technology uses the data structuring format XML to send data to a processor that converts it to synthesized voice for two-way interaction with the customer through the phone. “We began investigating this as an option for providing data to our customers without impacting our dispatchers,” Schuler says.

Schuler researched a company called Voxeo and obtained a free developer account for its VoiceXML system. Within a few hours, he created a PHP-based Web service that fed data from ELC’s Web server to Voxeo’s servers; that data was specified by each caller’s request. Instead of using VoiceXML, Schuler used the less costly CallXML – similar to VoiceXML, but customers use their phone’s keypad to make selections instead of their voice, Schuler says.

After a few hours of programming, Schuler says ELC’s customers were able to dial an 800 number, enter their store number (a unique 4-digit ID) and receive real-time delivery information, including pickup (PO) numbers, through a synthesized voice.

“Within a month of rolling out this system, we were receiving over 2,000 calls a month via the 800 number,” Schuler says. The calls, which previously would have gone to dispatchers, soon increased to more than 3,000 a month. “For a mid-size carrier, this was a tremendous volume of communication that was being moved from our dispatchers to our automated system,” he says.

Voxeo’s pricing was such that even at 3,000 calls a month, ELC never hit the maximum usage for its account – the lowest level account available. The end result, Schuler says, is that ELC paid slightly more per call than it would have at the higher levels; but even so, the cost per call was under 10 cents. In the end, the system was so successful that ELC’s largest customer created its own 800 number to provide the tracking service to all its retail stores nationwide.

“We still use this for customers who call in for delivery times to this day,” Schuler says. “It’s a very simple, cost-effective system that was a cinch to set up and maintain.”

Because the project was a simple PHP Web service, Schuler also was able to easily create a WAP (Wireless Application Protocol)-enabled interface for people with Internet-capable phones. In other words, customers could use cell phones to track shipment status.

“A lot of our customers don’t have Internet access, and a lot only have green screens, but most everybody has a cell phone,” Schuler says. “Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a big difference.”

Majority stake in Tripmaster sold
Tripmaster Corp. ( said a majority stake in the company has been acquired by Control Instruments Group Ltd. of South Africa (, which designs and manufactures the Fleet Manager (FM) line of onboard computers sold under the Siemens VDO FM brand. Together, CI and Tripmaster have a combined user base of 250,000 onboard computers and telematics units in more than 40 countries.

Richard Geib, former majority owner of Tripmaster, remains a minority investor of the company and will continue as president and chief executive officer. Tripmaster will continue to sell and support its products in North America from its headquarters in Arlington, Texas.

Wal-Mart chooses GE’s telematics solution for trailers
Wal-Mart Stores selected the Trailer Fleet Services division of GE Equipment Services to supply Wal-Mart with GE’s VeriWise Asset Intelligence untethered trailer-tracking technology for its fleet of 46,000 over-the-road trailers. Wal-Mart, which also leases trailers from the GE unit, will take advantage of two recent enhancements to VeriWise capabilities – an interior-mounted cargo sensor and a solar trickle charging system to further extend battery life.

The solar-charging capability in VeriWise supports Wal-Mart’s 10-year battery life requirement, says Tim Yatsko, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president for transportation. Yatsko noted that adding trailer-tracking capability gives Wal-Mart greater supply chain visibility, and that GE’s technology platform appears flexible enough to support the company’s present and future plans for using telematics data. Wal-Mart will be GE’s largest trailer telematics customer once installation of VeriWise is completed this year.