It's not a truck; it's really a hub for the Internet of Things (IoT). Having extensive experience in long distance trucking and dedicated transportation software implementations I see growing gaps in technologies that drive competitiveness. I know what you're thinking; the major players have telematics solutions, but what the future holds is beyond telematics and we will explore what Machine to Machine (M2M) and the IoT mean to the truck of the future.

The benefits of M2M and IoT have a diminished value to long distance trucking since we have longer elapsed times between interactions outside of the truck (loading/unloading). Where M2M and IoT present major cost savings and competitive advantage is in the Utilities sector, Service industry, and last mile delivery – all those "other" trucks and vans you see on the road.The challenge to the widespread adoption of the IoT and M2M has been cost. In margin sensitive businesses the cost of edge devices, the cost of powering those devices and the cost of the bandwidth to transmit that data is enough to stall the deployment of a M2M infrastructure. Yet with a future thinking strategy, M2M and IoT are achievable at lower costs.

The fundamental building block of the truck of the future is full IP (Internet protocol) connectivity, high speed cellular internet makes the truck becomes another node on the corporate network. As an IP connected node the truck will also become a collector of data from M2M terminals or edge devices that don't rely on GSM communication. The Finance Department will approve of turning your truck into a mobile hotspot as it eliminates multiple points of wireless data – Phone, Tablet, air cards, and dedicated handhelds all shift to one data plan and those devices flip into WiFi mode.

With an IP enabled truck, more options are available to create an M2M or IoT infrastructure. These options simplify development, and deployment costs are reduced as rollout time frames get compressed. One of these options is the move to mobile consumer devices, the same tablets that run your CRM or inventory management system in the field or warehouse can now be quickly deployed in your trucks.

Your IP enabled truck, loaded with mobile consumer electronics allows you to take advantage of technology that has not been used effectively by business due to lack of vision. Take for example Bluetooth Low End Extension first published in 2004 and commercialized in 2006 by Nokia, Bluetooth LE is being successfully introduced by Apple as iBeacons. iBeacons work with any Bluetooth 4.0 compatible device. Bluetooth LE beacons (BLEB's) have an advantage over Edge devices in that they are very cheap and have self-contained power that can last for about 2 years. Here are some alternate use cases for BLE beacons (BLEB's).

  • Why buy expensive GSM based asset tracking tags? Affix a BLEB to trailers, chippers, compressors, chainsaws, etc. When the asset is attached or loaded into the truck the assets sends a signal to the tablet that then checks out the device in the asset management system.
  • Why retrofit trucks with door open sensors? Put a BLEB on your driver and every time they enter and exit the truck the tablet can record the activity.
  • You no longer need to use GPS to geo-fence a location, stick a BLEB on the main gate. You can even increase the "resolution" of your geo-fencing; put a BLEB in a wiring closet, loading dock, transformer, any location where you may need to know "where is my technician /driver?".

Another "dud" technology that never made a consumer impact, but that can make a huge impact on the truck of the future is Near Field Communication (NFC). Tracking in-truck inventory is a chore, and relies on the compliance of the technician "checking out" material. Yes, with a mobile phone or tablet the technician could scan a bar code. But barcodes have problems; one, a damaged bar code needs to be manually entered – not going to happen. Secondly, the act of focusing and scanning a bar code with a mobile camera takes 5-10 seconds – too long! NFC tags solve the issue; it takes a one second tap to register an NFC tag. NFC tags can be programmed with both your internal SKU and the manufacturer part numbers; it can even be programmed with a URL (web link) that displays installation instructions or technical data for the part. You can tag bins – the technician needs 5, 90o ¾" copper elbows, 5 taps on the bin or the NFC tag can prompt the device to pop up a keypad for the tech to enter the quantity. NFC tags are cheap enough that high value items can be individually tagged for tighter inventory control.

All this tag tapping feeds directly into inventory management and creates an accurate bill of materials for the accurate invoicing of jobs. Restocking trucks is no longer a labor intensive problem and dispatch can be assured that the truck is stocked with the correct parts for the jobs assigned.

I mentioned trucks as data collectors a couple of paragraphs ago, because evolving standards are bringing changes to the M2M/IoT communication landscape. One of the fundamental underpinnings of M2M is that the collected data is transmitted to remote computers that use the data. Today most of that communication is via land lines or via wireless cellular signal. As M2M and the IoT mature the bandwidth used by machines will outstrip that used by humans.

In December 2012, the Weightless data transmission standard, using the white space In TV signals was proposed for UK and U.S. frequencies. Weightless solves bandwidth issues, but poses some limitations in terms of distance. Weightless also solves the edge device issue since devices are low cost, low power battery/solar so they can operate autonomously for several years. Weightless is configuration in a star with a powered and internet connected base station serving thousands of devices in a 10 km (just over 6 miles) radius. Weightless favors areas that are geographically compact with high population densities, like the U.K., but in large, sparsely populated areas the truck fleet can act as the collector for the edge devices in the areas that they patrol.

The truck of the future is more than telematics; it will become a vital node on the corporate network. The use of consumer mobile devices will allow forward thinking companies to leverage existing IT investments to gain competitive advantage and reduce costs. With both strategic and tactical capabilities CapTech can help you make the truck of the future, a reality today.