Connected and Truckin’
Think that this connected vision is still a vision of the future? Think again. There are already pockets of advanced connectivity hidden away within our society that are doing incredible things with what is available to them now.
Truckstop.net and Sprint have rolled out WiFi service to more than 3,000 truck stops across the United States.4 There are more than 4.5 million truckers in the United States, and approximately half of them are avid laptop users. Surprised? Don’t be. Laptops deliver many benefits to both truckers and the companies they work for, some of which are not immediately obvious.
"A trucker’s cab is his mobile office," explains Alan Meiusi, COO of Truckstop.net, "and as such, they should be able to access the services that they would regularly enjoy as if they were back at headquarters or at home. Enabling them to do more out on the road allows them more time with their families when at home instead of paperwork and business arrangements. It is more than having truckers surf Web sites and send e-mail. It is an integral part of running their business."
Meiusi goes on to explain that truckers use e-mail for order and delivery confirmation, and they use the Web to post available truck capacity or inventory. They also search the Web for freight opportunities and use wireless/GPS for remote check-in and tracking. A typical tractor trailer is an asset worth more than $100,000, excluding cargo. Add insurance and the driver’s salary and the value of that asset triples. There is great interest on the part of the trucking companies to track the asset, maximize usage, and ensure the safety and health of both the tractor and the driver.
WiFi access at rest stops is today being used to upload engine and equipment information automatically back to the operations center. In the future, trucking operations centers will be able to track an individual truck’s braking performance, engine efficiency, mileage, and other details. This will greatly increase the safety and reduce the cost of maintaining the vehicle. As importantly, with wireless access, new trip itineraries can be easily downloaded that take into consideration weather, roadwork, and any shift in customer requirements and delivery information.
Some trucking companies distribute training videos and material directly over the Internet to wireless trucker hotspots. Drivers who are required to complete some number of safety-training hours each year can now take those courses from the comfort of their cabs—off road, we hope. By law, drivers are required to be off the road for a set number of hours per day to allow for rest. Tracking the truck in a WiFi hotspot enables the company to prove compliance while at the same time allowing the trucker to be more efficient and catch up on electronic paperwork, training, maintenance instructions, and so forth.
Truckers benefit from and enjoy being connected as well. Being a segment of society that lives largely away from home, WiFi spots give them a sense of community with fellow truckers and open another communication channel with family members. Truckers now rely on e-mail to keep in close touch with their families and can do so at rest stops during normal off hours. Many truckers carry digital cameras and upload pictures of their travels to family members as well as pictures of cargo and receipts back to the operations center. For independent truckers, WiFi connectivity enables them to schedule trips, better optimize loads, and be more accessible to customers during trips. Truckers have also discovered that, by using Voice over IP (VoIP; the technology that allows telephone communication over the Internet) they can place a call to anywhere for free and avoid costly cell phone roaming charges.
So, here is an industry segment that on the surface seems mundane and low tech, but that has not only adopted data connectivity, it now requires it for reasons ranging from increased efficiency to regulated tracking of loads across interstate and international borders. The WiFi technology that allows a large trucking firm’s operations center to run its business better is the same technology that allows its employees more comfort and happiness away from home. Large and small firms alike can leverage its values; it is easily within the economic reach of all involved. In the future, we will see tie-ins with more data sources that, for example, could allow a trucker’s onboard system to check live road-condition data as reported by nearby truckers and public roadwork databases, access a customer’s loading dock status in real time, and so on (from among the many yet-to-be-thought-of data sources).