Connected Trucks – are they really connected?

Connected Trucks have been available in Europe for nearly a decade, and it will be accurate to say that they will soon be the majority of vehicles on the road.

Despite apparent benefits for operators after their introduction, we believe that the potential of connectivity has not yet been fully realised. Moreover, significant developments are constrained by some of the reasons we will explore in this article.

Furthermore, we would claim that the technology is still in its infancy with many of the promised benefits yet to be delivered; not only as an enabler of autonomous capabilities but also as a tool to improve safety, reduce environmental impact and boost operational efficiencies.

Connected trucks are commonly defined by their ability to communicate to the external world via the internet. This definition, however, ignores their most powerful capability; the ‘datification’ of actions, interactions, location, status, usage and performance.

Connected trucks are also connected internally through a local network of components, devices and sensors that produce immense amounts of data

The availability of such data has facilitated the growth of advanced vehicle and fleet management systems and the democratisation of tools previously only available to larger operators. Connectivity has given them the ability to make better-informed decisions as well as by advancing their operational performance and safety.

Due to connectivity, vehicles communicate with drivers in a more advanced way. For instance, the vehicle dashboard (traditionally the principal way the truck communicated information to the driver) has now been augmented. Drivers can access present and historical data in their portable devices.

Using their phone, drivers can learn from their past performances, check on vehicle status and even perform on demand upgrades to optimise the vehicle engine for specific operations.

For OEMs, the availability of vast amounts of data is supporting product R&D; For example, predictive analytics are being used to determine when a specific part should be changed before a failure occurs; thus minimising vehicle downtime. Equally, aggregated performance data can inform future customers about precise vehicle specs to optimise their application/

In real time, vehicles can access aggregated historical information based on their geographical location to determine the best driving combinations to improve fuel performance.

Thanks to connectivity, predictive maintenance and over-the-air vehicle upgrades are helping workshops to create operational efficiencies through more accurate planning and capacity management — customers, on the other hand, are seeing improvements in vehicle uptime.

All the above put in evidence the impact that connectivity has had on the way vehicles are being purchased, operated and maintained. However, what we have seen so far is only the ‘datification’ and consequent evolution of well-established relationships amongst OEMs, workshops, operators and drivers.

Connected Trucks are yet to fulfil their potential as the key actor is the transport eco-system

That, we believe, represents a ‘closed circuit’ that limits the definition of connectivity and reduces it to a dimension dictated by tradition in contrast to the vision o an expansive, inclusive, and disruptive trend.

Many essential aspects of the intended long term vision are still unresolved:

  • What has then happened to connectivity in a broader sense?
  • What about connected vehicles as intelligent machines that are part of a sophisticated yet smart and interconnected transport and mobility system?
  • What about a place where all players exchange value through data or otherwise with a more significant objective in mind?
  • Why are trucks not yet connected to other vehicles to improve safety? Why are they not connected to smart roads to reduce traffic and improve productivity?
  • Why are not they connected to any other agents such as regulators, service stations, tyre companies, and others that would make the system smarter, more efficient and less environmentally impactful?

Some argue that more regulation is required to make our roads safe, that there are risks associated with going online such as cyber attacks and that improved communication infrastructures are needed such as 5G. Perhaps all those arguments are valid; resolving those issues should be a priority to unleash the connected vehicle revolution.

However, we believe that the reasonable unwillingness of the various incumbents to share data – especially proprietary vehicle data- is slowing down progress and limiting the possibilities of connectivity.

Data has a competitive and arguably a monetary value too. To individual organisations, this value is more critical today than the benefits of a future collective goal.

The impact of this protectionist approach can be observed today; there are multiple fleet management and telematics solutions that put in evidence the inefficiencies of the system.

Their similarity in purpose and functionality reflect a somehow irrational desire to re-invent the wheel and the unwillingness to share and integrate. For operators, those solutions appear incomplete, fragmented and short of delivering their full potential; especially for those operators with multi-brand fleets, complex ancillary equipment and more sophisticated operational demands.

OEMs unfortunately still hold the key to unlock many of these issues since they own the biggest and more important ‘data mine’. Admittedly, they are slowly opening up their libraries to external entities but still in a limited way.

Furthermore, the imminent threat created by emerging third-party platforms has urged OEMs to respond with their own (e.g. RIO, Volvo Connect) as a way to increase openness, support the development of advanced tools, and allow the acceleration of progress through the creation of network effects.

Multiple OEM platforms, however, do not resolve the challenge that is the seamless integration of multi-brand information in one place. Moreover, attracting various agents with no apparent loyalty to any OEM will be crucial for them to creating value-added interactions in their platforms.

Unfortunately, in the world of platforms, there is usually a winner that takes it all. When it comes to connectivity in the greater sense, we do not believe that this will be achieved from a non-independent entity.

A large scale optimisation of the system to deliver on the real benefits of connectivity to society might require an independent platform in which vehicles will be just another participant rather than the ‘lead character.’

Perhaps governments will play a more active role to lead or facilitate initiatives to bootstrap such a platform.

Perhaps incentives and even regulation are required to establish a co-opetition model to knock down the existing barriers against progress or to clarify the future benefits of such a framework.

For now, however, the need for agreement on standards and the creation of a mega platform that will connect vehicles, infrastructure, service providers and any other incumbents is perhaps a dream.

In summary, this is a dream that can become a reality with some modest effort but with much willingness to cooperate, co-create and especially to share the rewards.

 

 

by Gerardo Montoya, Managing Director – Automotive & Mobility Division, White Space Strategy