Black boxes have been added to truck cabins and now it’s time to integrate the functionality into a single system, truck development is at a tipping point, in electronics terms. Diesel News talks to one of the suppliers of these systems, Directed Technologies.
As the pace of development of electronics continues to increase many truck cabins are becoming crowded with little black boxes. In the next stage of development of telematics and safety electronics the proliferation of black boxes is set to decrease as all of the functions become part of a single platform.
Telematics and electronics in trucks have come a long way in the last 20 years. Over that time, the electronic system throughout the entire trucks has become digital. Trucks now use a CANbus throughout the vehicle to power and control everything from tail lights, to engine mapping to refrigerated trailer temperature. Add to this, the fact that most of this data is also being streamed back to base at a steady rate so operators and customers can see what the truck is doing and how it is performing.
We don’t actually have a name for the units which are being placed in new trucks today. Originally, it was the radio and then it was the entertainment system with CD player and then it became a navigation system as well. At this point it was called an AVN, audio-visual navigation. Now it is becoming so much more than what was essentially a double DIN-sized black box in the middle of the dashboard. On the new Hino trucks the unit is being called the multimedia hub. This may stick, it may not.
Diesel talked about this topic with one of the suppliers of this latest generation of black boxes, Directed Technologies. The company is one of several looking to fit electronic platforms into trucks, which can be fitted to the truck before sale and then be loaded with customised application software, after sale to a particular customer. Directed already supply such a system to Hino and Mercedes Benz and a similar system is on offer in Isuzu and coming on stream in other brands.
The basic concept is a double-DIN unit in the cabin which will run the usual stuff like radio, bluetooth phone connection, navigation, and reversing cameras, but will also include much more. The basic system runs on the Android platform used in many smart phones.
One of the fundamental parts of these new systems is that they are simply an operating system onto which you can load applications. However, it will not be possible to download apps from anywhere. Instead there will be a curated app store where vehicle specific apps can be developed and certified as suitable by the supplier of the black box involved.
“If we don’t curate the apps in the system then you will get people watching Netflix while driving along and using Google Maps and hitting bridges,” says Brent Stafford, Directed Technologies Executive Director. “We need to make sure we’re getting the safest systems out there. If it is not curated, you will get people trying to press small buttons while driving along, which is unacceptable. The environment in which you control the apps with things like voice commands needs to be carefully controlled.”
This opens up a much wider usage of electronics in the truck cabin. With truck development is at a tipping point, it will be possible to develop and load up a dispatching app or an account invoicing app, if an owner-driver wants to run their entire business from the cabin of the truck. One recent request was for an app to be used to control the power take-off (PTO), for example.
With the addition of an electronic driver tag it is possible to fully customise the user experience of the blackbox to the individual driver and also allow their records and preferences to move from truck to truck. The system will be able to interact with the driver and with the other truck systems. When approaching a delivery point the system could automatically alert the customer to the vehicle’s arrival for example. All of the training and inductions required by the driver for any particular task can be included and displayed.
Another area of functionality which will further extend the capabilities of these kinds of systems will be sensors which can be placed in different parts of the truck and connected to the CANbus. This could mean temperature sensors in the load space, load sensors on the suspension, loading dock sensors, air freight ULD sensors and any other sensor which can be thrown at the freight task.
It would also be possible to develop an app for a freight forwarding service and contractors who could bid for a job live on the seven inch screen in the cabin. The system will be able to connect to the Wi-Fi at the truck’s baser or a customer’s facility. It can also connect via a sim card in the truck or be tethered to the driver’s phone.
“We wanted to make a system that could breathe with the requirements of the market,” says Mark Whitmore, Directed Technologies Head of Business Development. “The transport fleet sector has so many different individual requirements. A flexible system like this enables the truck manufacturer to offer a system which can be tailored exactly to the needs of the customer.
“There’s such a profound change coming through, as people decide to digitise their business. We were thinking about how we could create a system in-vehicle where we could plug into that new thinking, in a way that maybe hadn’t been thought of before. The multimedia hub we are fitting in the Hino range has been designed as that.”
Truck Development is at a Tipping Point
The possibilities for the future are endless. It would be possible for a drive to finish a day’s work and use a system like this to access Netflix to watch the latest episode of their favourite TV serial. Then the system could log onto Uber Eats and get some food delivered to the truck.
At the moment, digital assistants like Siri or Alexa are not available, but they cannot be far away, truck development is at a tipping point. Voice to text and text to voice software is developing fast in the current electronic climate.
Larger fleets already have very sophisticated backend and business systems and do not need another sophisticated telematics in the truck which replicates what they already have. More important to them would be using system to monitor everything in the truck and send all of the data required down a pipe into the existing business systems. In the opposite direction the data flow could include work instructions, training etc.
“For safety packages these kinds of systems may leave the fleet manager more exposed,” says Brent. “So, it will not be a matter of the system giving the performance data to the fleet manager. It will be the system recording that it has identified a safety issue and then it has communicated this to the driver. It has closed the loop, as it has offered a relevant training package, the training has been done by the driver. It won’t even tell that to the fleet manager because the procedure has taken place. If the driver doesn’t do the training package or continues to do the same thing, only then does the system inform the fleet manager of the issue.”