Changes to In-Cab Computing

In the years before smartphones and tablets, large sums were invested by the trucking industry to run various applications. Software pertaining to compliance, safety, and customer service was installed on heavy-duty, business-grade mobile computing systems. 

Consumer electronics were quickly evolving, but such devices still lacked the security, reliability, and durability essential in the trucking industry. However, a major change is now underway. Many fleet management systems are seeking to integrate in-cab platforms, tablets, and smartphones. Now, increasingly, the driver and the truck are connected to the office via cloud-based apps. 

CarrierWeb, Rand McNally, and Qualcomm are three companies that have announced intentions to add Android platforms to their existing enterprise hardware. This effort is directed at numerous small fleets that are wanting to add soon-to-be mandated inboard recorder technologies. Other companies are also making the move to "industrial-strength" handheld and/or Android-based systems. PeopleNet and Zonar Systems are two such enterprises.

Turnpike was an innovator in pursuing this hybrid approach. Xata acquired Turnpike in 2009. Then, Xata became XRS. Subsequently, the company indicated that it was going to a completely mobile platform. The XRS platform that is being released uses a relay device connected to a truck's databus. Bluetooth wireless sends data to Android tablets and smartphones. In turn, the mobile app sends operator and vehicle information right to the management dashboard. 

XRS does not charge for the relay device. Fleets do pay a monthly subscription charge to use the mobile application, which will initially operate on more than four dozen different mobile devices. The company's cloud-based approach indicates what the future holds in on-board computing for truckers.  

Allied Automotive Group will embrace the XRS platform via 7-inch Samsung Galaxy 2 enterprise-grade units communicating via a 4G LTE network. Allied will be among those in the first wave of fleets to go with the XRS system. Samsung's "Safe" group offers these and other devices that include added features and enhanced security. Tablets in cabs allow drivers to capture photos and acquire satellite imagery regarding destinations. They will also be able to offer other drivers status updates and better communicate with their dispatchers. Also, a newer version of XRS will connect drivers to one another through X Nation, a social media platform. Free-form messages, photos, and videos can be shared. “Efficiency, integration and rapid implementation were key priorities as we considered our first EOBR solution,” asserts Robert Ferrell, Allied's Executive VP of Fleet and Maintenance.

So, how can the use of such consumer-type mobile devices reduce costs? First, there may be a market among both company drivers and owner-operators willing to pay to track their own service hours, compliance, performance, and safety. This approach could give drivers the flexibility to change carriers without having to change computing systems at the same time. This approach to driver data-ownership would require fleet acceptance. 

Also, it is possible that EOBRs as well as fleet management systems may be free to drivers and fleets one day. If the data generated can be successfully sold for its market value, this business model may just work. For example, LinkedIn and Facebook offer their apps for free because they are able to monetize the data generated. Truck driver recruiters may also be willing to pay for performance statistics. Traffic businesses may also be willing buyers of generated data. 

The concept of the trucking industry not owning EOBR data and other information may seem very foreign at this stage. Nonetheless, trends in the consumer mobile realm suggest that such data may very well be shared and/or sold in the future.