Humanizing the autonomous truck, and the future of data

Data and human brain

LinkeDrive CEO explains how data collection leads to more solutions today and greater promise for tomorrow

Since its founding, LinkeDrive has become synonymous with driver performance coaching. Its PedalCoach product has helped thousands of drivers achieve higher fuel efficiency and boost safety performance. 

The solution’s simple, keep it “in the green” approach allows drivers of all abilities to perform better by simply operating the vehicle in a way that keeps the PedalCoach gauge in the green display area. Fleets can use PedalCoach analytics to create incentives for drivers by removing factors that are not in the driver’s control, such as the truck type and model, to create an even playing field for all drivers.

“We help them think about their job and we make it fun because they can compete with other drivers,” Jeff Baer, founder and CEO, says.

It turns out, though, that PedalCoach is just the beginning of what can be accomplished with the data being collected. That has Baer thinking bigger thoughts for LinkeDrive.

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“Most telematics are embedded systems that take data from the CAN Bus and then throws a lot of that data away,” Baer explains, noting that LinkeDrive’s solution has always collected a lot more data than what is actually used. “We’ve always had all the data. We envision a world where rather than penalizing” users by not using that data, LinkeDrive would use that data to create solutions.

“There is so much data; our customers are not looking for more data, they are looking for their problems to be solved,” Baer notes. “We can ship five to six times as much data through Verizon or T-Mobile through the cloud at a smaller cost than embedded systems.”

Because of this, LinkeDrive is now exploring ways to use this data in more effective ways. For instance, Baer notes that some of the data that PedalCoach collects could be used to improve the vehicle spec’ing process. The data is also being used to help LinkeDrive customers solve other operational issues.

To illustrate his point, Baer brought up idling. While many fleet managers believe excessive idling is just a truck driver’s refusal to shut off the engine, there could be other causes that more data insight can expose. Baer notes, for instance, that a battery issue could cause idling issues, and that’s something that only analyzing data can identify.

There is so much data; our customers are not looking for more data, they are looking for their problems to be solved.
— Jeff Baer, founder and CEO, LinkeDrive

 “The people who have a little bit of data are making a little bit of money,” Baer says. “But if they opened up the fire hose, they would make a lot more.

“We get to know our customers very well and I’ve got a pretty sharp team and we’ve been able to answer a lot of their questions – and that’s not a product, it’s more consulting,” he adds. “But if we can solve their problems, maybe it becomes a product. Companies like us can speak both languages – drivers and fleets – and by answering their questions, we’ve developed products and are moving the industry forward.”

PedalCoach, it turns out, has been a gateway to a treasure trove of data that Baer believes will become the foundation for future applications, such as providing a human touch to autonomous vehicles. LinkeDrive was built on collecting data that has been used to identify best driving practices. It is that data that is needed to build properly functioning autonomous vehicles.

“We can inject the soul and experiences of professional drivers into the robots,” Baer says. “Machine learning models need seed data and we have that seed data. We’re going to be part of the fleet of supply chain solutions.

“For instance, the amount of time it takes for the driver to go from the brake to the gas pedal, we have that and can inject it into the soul of an [autonomous truck]. And 10 years from now, everything we’re doing will be part of the autonomous vehicle.”

Baer says that LinkeDrive has moved from a company that provided a solution – PedalCoach – to one that is “building a business based on driver performance management” through the collection of thousands of data points.

“Somebody has to do that finishing work; we have the data,” he says. “We can help every truck driver drive like the best driver in the world. And in autonomous trucks, we can help the autonomous truck drive like the best driver in the world.”

Until that point, though, PedalCoach data will keep collecting and LinkeDrive will continue to use it to solve problems for its customers – even if there isn’t a LinkeDrive product designed for that problem yet.