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From Freight 2025: “On Connected Trucks and Trailers”

This commentary is an excerpt from Freight 2025. To download the free ebook, click here.

William Ellis is Managing Director of Phillips Connected Technologies.

One of the largest trends in technology today is connecting machines directly, that is to say—without humans in between. This is what IoT is all about and its happening widely in the Heavy-Duty Trucking Industry. As integrated circuit technology continues to advance in accordance to Moore’s Law (Gordon Moore of Intel fame forecasting in 1965 that computing would dramatically increase in power, and decrease in relative cost, at an exponential and predicted pace), the sensor chips that facilitate machine connectivity have become very cheap. This is driving huge value in the rapid development of “smart” truck and trailer connected systems.

The wide acceptance of sensor technology was originally adopted in the automotive industry and quickly migrated into the commercial vehicle tractor space. The next stage of its progression on commercial vehicles will connect the tractor power unit with the trailer unit. Looking ahead, as smart trailer components continue to be introduced by the supplier community, having a solid way of getting those smart components to communicate ultimately with the driver, dispatch and maintenance teams is going to be critical. As the trend for trucks and trailers to become more intelligent develops, communicating component condition in real-time will become paramount to operating commercial vehicles.

The first wave of sensor information coming from the trailer that will be available to the driver in the cab and back to the Fleet Operators through telematics will be “passive” component status information. A great example of this is real-time tire pressure data coming from the trailer. Additional passive information will be light out status and brake stroke information. ABS fault codes and status will be readily transparent also. Following these features will come “active” capabilities such as automatic tire inflation system remote controls and monitoring. All of the active and passive information is being collected with the objective of improving the operating costs of very expensive transportation assets. This will lead the industry into the “predictive maintenance phase” and is right around the corner.

Revolution and evolution are often hard words to differentiate. The autonomous “revolution” that has captivated the imaginations of many, will likely rather evolve. But to be certain, it is coming. The first iteration that has recently emerged is semi- autonomous piloting. This has already started with truck platooning and is projected to develop at a pace that may surprise naysayers.

Additionally, a connected CV platform will offer an immediate positive impact on transportation and supply chain management efficiencies. Value becomes instantly created when the connected trailer is able to broadcast the status of its “mobile warehouse” in real time. Many companies like Uber Freight and similar business models are quickly capitalizing on this enabled technology. In fact, the wide adoption of Uber freight models is imminent. The days where LTL carriers are moving trailers that are at 60% load capacity across the country are numbered. Backhaul will become a much easier challenge to manage. In the end, the consumer is going to be the real winner as freight will be delivered faster, cheaper, and more reliably than ever before.

A truly connected semi-trailer enables the potential for blockchain technology to blossom. Transportation software companies and commercial vehicle telematics providers are developing products that will fully integrate with and will eventually implement blockchain technology for the purpose of providing substantial value to Fleet Operators in the spot-haul market. Readily available ultrasonic sensor technology can be coupled with real-time GVWR status in order to transmit available cargo haul capacity to an open transportation lane exchange, for example. In the emerging market of “on-demand” hauling, practical issues like cargo manifests, chain of custody, driver payments and dynamic pricing all come into play. Today’s logistics requirements, especially in the last mile, will require a disruptive force like blockchain technology to create a whole new world in freight efficiency.

The Future Promises Disruption

Businesses solely involved in moving freight from point to point or hub to hub will be challenged by single-unit owner operators with cargo utilization software tools and much lower operating costs. Brick and mortar retail sales will be replaced in large part by online sales with immediate deliveries from local “last mile” vehicles. Commercial vehicles will be intelligent and have the ability to self-diagnose their conditions in real-time, and before components go bad, they’ll be automatically reordered using the highest rated parts and replaced in a fraction of the time it takes to perform the repairs today. Fuel stations will be replaced by fast recharging stations, and trucks will be significantly easier to repair and maintain by their owners.

Connected vehicles with implemented blockchain technology will significantly improve overall product performance, OTR transportation services and ultimately be reflected in improving customer reviews. The transportation status of both durable and non-durable goods will be transparent and readily available for simplifying the decision-making process, which will also change the way businesses market themselves. Brand loyalty will give way to product performance; and product failures will be immediately broadcasted via social media, forcing manufacturers to invest heavily in quality programs that will reduce the risk poor reception.

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