Jack Roberts

Jack Untitled 1A wireless revolution

Freightliner’s Virtual Technician offers drivers peace of mind

A driver is on the road making good time, when suddenly a dashboard warning light flashes. A guessing game ensues: What exactly is the problem? How serious is it? Should you pull off the road immediately? Where is the nearest dealer or repair shop? Do they have the necessary parts in stock? How long will the repair take? Does dispatch need to send another tractor to repower this load and get it on its way?

Freightliner is about to lower the stress levels of fleets faced with this all-too-familiar situation. In the words of Brian Cota, vice president of sales, the company’s new Virtual Technician wireless maintenance monitoring system is a 3,000-mile cable connecting a troubled truck to a host of specialized Freightliner technicians, parts specialists and dealers who start working the maintenance problem immediately to expedite the repair process and ensure minimal service interruption.

All parties are kept in the repair loop.

Virtual Technician is an exclusive feature on Detroit Diesel DD13, DD15 and DD16 diesel engine-powered trucks and tractors. Freightliner will be offering the service free for two years on all new trucks equipped with those engines and as a subscription-based service with varying option packages after that time period is up.

Virtual Technician links the engine’s maintenance data telemetry with the vehicle’s GPS system. If a problem is detected, the driver is warned via a dashboard light, and at the same time, an e-mail is sent to the driver’s dispatcher, alerting the fleet. Meanwhile, a Freightliner technician at the company’s Customer Support Center is alerted and assesses the problem.

The first stage is simply to determine the situation’s seriousness: Within 10 minutes, the driver and the fleet should know if the issue warrants a green, yellow or red classification. If the problem isn’t serious and can wait until the truck returns to its base for service, a green warning is issued. If the problem demands timely attention – perhaps at the next repair shop or dealership – a yellow code is issued. A red classification code means the vehicle needs to be taken out of service immediately before critical damage occurs within the drivetrain.

But Virtual Technician doesn’t stop there. The Freightliner maintenance specialist continues to analyze the information transmitted from the truck – including a performance log file of diagnostic codes for a snapshot of what is going on in the vehicle. Pulling this information together, the technician quickly can inform the driver and the fleet as to the problem, as well as a recommended course of action for timely repair work; this includes using the truck’s GPS system to locate nearby dealerships or repair shops.

Virtual Technician also can query parts inventory data at area dealerships to determine if they have parts in stock to repair the issue. At this point, a second e-mail is sent out to the fleet dispatcher from Freightliner with all the information concerning the problem, repair shop or dealership options and contact information for those locations so the dispatcher can schedule the repair.

Virtual Technician soon will be able to give fleets fuel tax data, hours-of-service management and idle time reports, as well as anti-theft-geofencing capabilities and driver performance reports. “Eventually, we’ll be able to transmit ECM upgrades to vehicles on the road – functions that we currently have to physically plug a laptop into the truck’s ECM to do today,” Cota says.

Freightliner says Virtual Technician offers fleets a whole new level of detail when it comes to wireless maintenance – and there’s no doubt the capabilities it offers will be game-changers for fleets willing to adopt this new technology.

JACK ROBERTS is Executive Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. E-mail jroberts@ccjmagazine.com or call (205) 248-1358.