TORONTO, Ont. — Necessity is said to be the mother of invention. In that spirit, several trucking-focused technical innovations are already being updated and repurposed because of Covid-19. Here are five examples:
1. Truck telematics benchmarking the ‘new normal’
The ability to track vehicle positions is not exactly new, but the
underlying telematics data is offering insights into the way the supply chain
is responding to the economic realities of a pandemic.
Geotab, inspired by Johns Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center, has developed a Commercial Transportation Recovery Dashboard that shows how trucking activity has begun to recover in recent weeks.
The collected data offers a benchmark that shippers and carriers can use
to see how their business experience compares to macroeconomic trends, says Mike
Branch, Geotab’s vice-president – data and analytics.
It’s about answering a pressing question: “What is the new normal?”
The answers to that question continues to evolve. Since hitting rock
bottom during Easter Weekend, Canada’s trucking activity has been recovering
more quickly that the U.S. and Mexico, Branch says. Some sectors are also recovering
more quickly than others. Construction, for example, was one of the first to show
an uptick in activity.
He expects the ongoing recovery to elevate the importance of data for
fleet managers. Measurements such as equipment utilization rates could help to
inform decisions about whether to sell off certain vehicles or shift assets to other
Comparing internal telematics data to the broader benchmarks could require
some fleets to adopt a different approach, though.
“Some of these companies haven’t invested in telematics, or haven’t been
using it to the extent it could be,” Branch says. “Our fleet data [often] gets
stuck in fleets.”
2. Driver-facing cameras detecting face masks
Masks have been identified as one of the tools to help limit the spread
of Covid-19. Depending on the jurisdiction, drivers have no choice but to wear such
personal protective equipment. The masks are mandated everywhere from specific
customer facilities to border crossings.
Eyesight Technologies has updated its driver monitoring system to detect the use of such facemasks – adding to features that detect whether drivers are holding cigarettes or cellphones when they should have hands on the wheel, or track eye and head motion to detect drowsy or distracted driving.
“It started even before [the Covid-19] outbreak because we serve also
the Asian market,” says Eyesight Technologies’ vice-president – product Tal
Krzypow, referring to work on the mask-detecting features.
“There is really a plethora of possibilities.”
– Tal Krzypow, Eyesight Technologies
There are admittedly some challenges that emerge. When identifying that
a driver is wearing a mask, the mask itself can block a system’s facial
recognition capabilities. It’s a matter of prioritizing needs.
Camera-based driver monitoring systems may be closer to reality than some North American truck drivers believe. The European Union has identified an array of new safety technologies that will become mandatory as of 2022, Krzypow says as an example. Cars, vans, trucks and buses will need to come with features that warn about driver drowsiness and distraction, along with data recorders that serve as a black box after an accident.
“There is really a plethora of possibilities,” he adds, referring to the
way camera-based systems could potentially track driver mood or onset of a
3. Tracking driver activity for contract tracing
When cases of Covid-19 are identified, public health officials
immediately set out to identify anyone who may have been exposed to the virus.
Hensall District Cooperative’s fleet managers are prepared to use existing
tracking data to get a head start on any contact tracing, even before test
results are confirmed.
“Everyone has to communicate so we don’t miss a step,” said driver
and vehicle safety manager Jed Haines, during a recent webinar on digital tools
adopted by the fleet. “We believe there is only so much the local health
authorities and so on can do because everyone forgets a little portion of their
“Testing and contact tracing are going to be critical to fending
off a second wave,” added Fleetmetrica CEO Ward Warkentin.
Concepts explored for the general public have included things like
cellphone apps that would use Bluetooth signals to detect if you had come close
to someone who later reports a case of Covid-19.
“Trucking is in an excellent position to use your onboard
recorders, or ELDs, or telematics,” Warkentin said.
The added advantage is that the fleet data is already collected
independently of personal details about a truck driver or a reported illness,
so there’s no potential for a privacy breach, he said.
4. Geofencing to support social distancing
Geofencing is often used to tell when trucks arrive at a
particular location, helping to refine estimated arrival times, and even steer
drivers to particular dock doors when they are finally clear.
Researchers at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario are working
with Conestoga Cold Storage to develop a mobile app that will use geofencing to
help maintain physical distancing measures.
“By using GPS or cellular data, the system can track drivers to
understand when their trucks are within the appropriate range, then issue door
assignments to drivers through a mobile check-in process, eliminating the need
for them to enter the building,” said researcher Russell Foubert.
The team had actually been working on the project since January
2020, although the pandemic created a new sense of urgency for the prototype.
“If we can eliminate the need for truck drivers to park in our
yards and enter our offices to do paperwork, we can reduce the risk to workers
while also making our operations more efficient,” said Gavin Sargeant,
vice-president of Conestoga Cold Storage.
5. A checklist to develop a Covid-19 safety plan
Work Safe BC has unveiled a mobile app to help businesses develop a Covid-19 Safety Plan, guiding users through a six-step process to outline policies, guidelines and procedures to keep workers healthy and safe.
Steps involve assessing the risks at your workplace, implementing
protocols to reduce the risks, developing policies to manage the workplace, developing
communication plans and training, monitoring the workplace and updating plans
as necessary, and assessing and addressing the risks from resuming operations.
The app is available for iOS and Android,
while the Covid-19 Safety Plan is also available as a fillable PDF that can be
downloaded and saved with workplace details.
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