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ELD data and artificial intelligence create a new era of driver efficiency

ELDs and artificial intelligence have increased the number of opportunities for drivers by allowing for solutions that offer load matching and more. (Photo credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Freight matching apps are quickly becoming must-have tools for owner-operators and small fleets looking for loads or to fill backhaul gaps. That wouldn’t be possible, though, if not for advancements in technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), which allows for identification of available drivers based on their available driving hours and preferences.

A perfect storm of conditions, though, is pushing driver efficiency and app-based freight matching to new levels. The combination of AI, a shortage of drivers, hours of service and more has made it possible for companies to jump in with solutions that solve more than just a singular problem – they solve the management problems created by the competing priorities of shippers, drivers and fleets.

BigRoad Freight, a Fleet Complete company, was the first to bring to market a product that combined these capabilities that others are now trying to copy.

“The best shot at moving a shipment is to have access to as many available drivers as possible,” stated Chris Atkinson, who leads the team responsible for the data and algorithm behind BigRoad Freight. “Previously, if drivers were on the road or not currently looking at a load board, there was no way to reach them, or identify if they were available.”

While many drivers have bemoaned the mandatory use of electronic logging devices (ELDs), the inclusion of ELDs into operations has opened up new opportunities for efficiency. Tapping into the power of the data, BigRoad Freight launched a load-matching solution for its ELD in 2017 that identified drivers with the hours available to move a load and then suggested loads that matched the driver’s availability. The capability was included for free to any driver using the BigRoad ELD.

“Over the next couple of years, ELDs and a smartphone-enabled driver base that has connected all drivers to the internet is going to make trucking more efficient and transparent,” Atkinson said. “Now, you can offer shippers the transparency they want that they previously had to go to the larger carriers to get.”

“Over the next couple of years, ELDs and a smartphone-enabled driver base that has connected all drivers to the internet is going to make trucking more efficient and transparent. Now, you can offer shippers the transparency they want that they previously had to go to the larger carriers to get.”

Chris Atkinson

Atkinson said he has seen company drivers turn to running their own trucks because of tools like this, which cuts down on time spent searching traditional load boards.

“If you can democratize that piece, that makes the market a bit more equal, provided the drivers have the tools to work with these larger shippers, and a technology partner that can help them do that,” he added.

ELDs lead to better load matching

When BigRoad Freight added the load matching platform, it was among the first uses of ELD data to generate a benefit for drivers. The BigRoad Mobile app sends drivers push notifications with recommended loads. Drivers can view load details, including the payout, and choose to accept or reject loads from within the app.

The in-app load matching system uses hours-of-service data and GPS location to identify a driver’s available hours and location and funnels loads that can be picked up and/or delivered within that time-frame. The app, when utilized by the drivers, presents loads that are available currently, but also those available in the days and weeks ahead, allowing drivers the flexibility to easily see what opportunities exist for them.

One of the keys to success is that brokers and shippers participate, providing the freight to these drivers. BigRoad has partnered with a number of these stakeholders to ensure drivers have access to freight, and brokers and shippers access to available capacity – the key word being available.

“If a broker is able to post shipments to BigRoad Freight, they’re going to find a driver quickly,” Atkinson said. “It makes things faster and more accurate. Brokers are spending a tremendous amount of time trying to find drivers to cover their shipments.”

It also cuts down on the time drivers are spending as well, and that time is further being optimized thanks to AI.

Drivers can input specific attributes into their profile, things like length of haul, equipment type or region preferences and home city, to create a personal profile. Using this information, the app looks for loads that not only fit within a driver’s available hours, but also loads that fit their preferences. Once identified, the top load suggestions are sent to the driver, who can choose one or continue searching for other opportunities.

Finding available drivers

“It’s not just that you are sending out a load to a bunch of drivers, it’s that you are sending out a relevant load to a bunch of drivers that could potentially cover it right now,” Atkinson said.

Brokers and shippers see benefits as well, because there are minimal phone calls needed, if at all, and loads are snapped up quicker by drivers because they fit into that driver’s preferred hauling criteria.

And just this spring, BigRoad Freight added another enhancement that is likely to further improve overall efficiency. Fleets, for the first time, are now able to tap into the AI-power of the BigRoad ELD and app.

“This is opening the floodgates for us because previously you had to be very careful who you were letting use this [to avoid sending loads to company drivers under dispatch],” Atkinson said.

With this new fleet enhancement, dispatchers are able to tap into the database of available BigRoad Freight loads and select loads that fill gaps in their operations. Now, if they have a load going from Chicago to Detroit, they don’t need to man the phones looking for a load coming back from Detroit, they can simply log in and see what is available. Once selected, they can send that load to the driver using their normal procedures.

“The most important thing to us is adding as much value to the driver as we can and we’re going to add more and more services to equip them with what they need to do their jobs well over the road,” Atkinson said. “Were it not for that [ELD] and the availability of this data, it would be more difficult to do these things and this is what is changing the industry right now.”

Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]