Four large rooms full of cubicles join at the center of SmartDrive’s 25,000 sq.-foot office in San Diego’s Sorrento Valley neighborhood like the wings of a butterfly. Employees call this central area the “truckstop.”
This is no ordinary meeting area or break room. Anyone that passes by to grab a cup of coffee or snack can see that what they do in their cubicles ends up in the adjoining Configuration Room, and from there, goes into trucks all over the nation to increase safety and save lives.
The Configuration Room is visible through large glass windows. In here, racks are filled with SmartDrive devices that will soon be installed in vehicles. These recording devices and integration hubs are tested for quality and provisioned for specific customers before being shipped out.
SmartDrive has devices installed in refuse haulers, Class 8 tractors, taxicabs and many other types of vehicles, even rail. The technology is designed and configured to factor the size, weight, load, routes, and other characteristics of vehicles and fleets to detect risk. It also captures information from various sensors, electronic control units (ECUs) and third party safety systems to detect risky driving behaviors.
When it does, in the form of a driver making a U-turn, speeding, swerving, or any other number of things, the event data — including a video — is sent to servers in the cloud immediately and to fleet management for review.
SmartDrive is currently shipping between 50 and 100 of these recording devices from its Configuration Room each day. Developments are now underway to increase its capacity to between 250 and 500 units per day, says Wendy Wyatt, vice president of client services.
SmartDrive has been in business for approximately eight years, but much of its growth has come during the past two. This year, the company has grown by 90 percent and expects to double again in 2015 and beyond.
Its employees come from a diverse background. It has experts in data analytics, computer science, digital content and other high-growth technologies. They are all focused on creating a big data risk management platform for the transportation industry.
“Every industry on the planet has been impacted by video and data. It’s a transformational capability,” says Steve Mitgang, chief executive officer of SmartDrive. “We are starting the big wave of getting value out of data.”
Turning data into action
Transportation companies already have more data than they know what to do with, explains Mitgang. The purpose of big data platforms like SmartDrive is to provide their fleet managers with optimal recommendations, such as an e-mail alert that specifies what needs to be done right now to prevent the next accident.
“Yes, we have cameras, but we want to be the video and ECU data company that wants to use data to transform the efficiency of fleets. If you think of it that way, you actually do things really different,” he explains. “You have to be good at understanding a huge volume, variety and velocity of data. We understand it in real time and give you recommendations and optimizations.”
Insights gained from the system go beyond safety to fuel, maintenance, workers compensation and worker compliance, he says. “Those things are worth multiple points of profit margin.”
Some of the SmartDrive units leaving its office right now are going to Cypress Truck Lines, a flatbed carrier based in Jacksonville, Fla., that operates 500 power units in the eastern half of the United States. The company began outfitting its fleet in September following a six-month testing and evaluation period.
Prior to using SmartDrive, the company was relying on critical event data from its PeopleNet telematics system. The system reported how fast the driver was moving at the time of a sudden deceleration or “hard braking” incident along with other details. The data in the report was not as conclusive as video.
“We felt like we could take it to the next level,” said Thad Penland, vice president of Cypress Truck Lines. Cypress Truck Lines was first introduced to video-based driver risk management systems by an insurance company. This video below is a recent example of how Cypress used the SmartDrive system to avoid a potential lawsuit and exonerate one of its drivers.
Cypress began testing two systems from DriveCam and SmartDrive. Its reasons for ultimately choosing SmartDrive were to have a longer length and more immediate access to video clips as well as the more robust driver risk management tools of the website, he says.
As part of the rollout, the company is putting cameras in all trucks with new drivers to “get a good look” at who they’ve hired. Within weeks of implementation, the company has seen its SmartDrive safety scores improve by 57 percent with reductions in speeding and distracted driving by 58 percent and 48 percent respectively.
Another company that is ordering SmartDrive technology is Kimrad Transport, and its sister company, Bulk Crude Transport, based in Amarillo, Texas. The two companies operate a combined fleet of 270 tractors that power a fleet of cargo tank trailers for transporting crude oil, chemicals, asphalt, fertilizers, propane and dry bulk commodities in west Texas and surrounding states.
The decision to install SmartDrive started in May, 2011, after one of its drivers was involved in an accident. “The minute that transpired I had lawyers coming at me,” says Brad Pohlmeier, the owner of the two companies.
Kimrad began to install SmartDrive in January, 2012. The roll out phase was a little bumpy, he said, as it takes time to know how to best coach the drivers and work with the data.
The company now has about 160 trucks fitted with cameras and plans to outfit the entire fleet as quickly as possible. “We are putting it in everything. It’s crazy – drivers are now asking for them in the trucks. The great thing is it covers them as much as me.”
In the last three years, the company has seen its miles increase and accident frequency decline. Pohlmeier is planning to install rear-facing cameras behind the cab and on trailers that integrate with SmartDrive to capture additional incidents and unsafe practices on video. With this initiative, the company will be able to document and protect itself and its drivers during the loading and unloading process.
“There are lots of opportunities for drivers to get hurt and make mistakes,” says Pohlmeier. He credits SmartDrive for helping the company grow as a result of strong safety program. In November, Bulk Crude Transport acquired the crude oil division of Alan Ritchey, Inc., furthering the presence of equipment in Oklahoma and Texas.
“This also brought on more employees and drivers and allows for the opportunity to add more folks to the safety culture of our companies,” he said. “The SmartDrive cameras are a key part of making that happen.”
In case you missed it, click here to view a photo gallery of CCJ’s visit with SmartDrive at its corporate office in San Diego.