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How Are AI and the IoT Making Trucking Smarter?

March 3, 2022
By Emily Newton

Technology empowers the trucking industry to tackle today’s supply chain challenges in innovative ways. In particular, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are revolutionizing the sector. These technologies are helping companies operate more efficiently, keep drivers safe, and save money.

Smart Fleet Monitoring

IoT technology has advanced telematics to a whole new level over recent years. Telematics tech is great for monitoring vehicle performance, fuel, and maintenance needs. The IoT is taking it to the cutting-edge, bringing additional computational ability and connectivity to trucking.

Telematics and IoT

Telematics focuses on machine-to-machine connectivity while the IoT hones in on machine-to-anything connectivity. Trucking companies can combine the two to collect valuable real-time data from every niche of their fleets. This information can rapidly reveal insights about factors like vehicle availability, route status, and driver behaviors.

Additionally, since IoT enables computing directly from devices, fleet managers can quickly detect and respond to issues. For example, if the IoT sensors on a vehicle indicate a sudden performance fluctuation, the driver could be alerted immediately to stop for maintenance. This smart vehicle monitoring technology could save thousands of dollars on costly repairs.

IoT Analytics and Insights

IoT is helping trucking companies monitor big-picture data, such as industry trends and environmental impact. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, IoT devices were used to monitor trucking activity and emissions around the U.S. This revealed an impressive drop in emissions while the industry remained stable, which told analysts that Americans were still getting the goods they needed.

Collecting sustainability data is especially important for trucking companies today. This is becoming a top concern among the general public, many of whom worry about the environmental impact of certain sectors. Monitoring fleet emissions allows transportation businesses to reduce their carbon footprints.

AI-Powered Logistics

Few technologies can compete with AI when it comes to fleet management. Artificial intelligence can effortlessly streamline and optimize logistics in a fraction of the time traditional methods would take. There are numerous ways to accomplish this.

For example, most trucking companies are familiar with the complexity of route optimization. While it is easier on paper to simply plug in a starting and endpoint on a GPS, optimization ensures vehicles are actually taking the most efficient path possible. This saves time and money and may even lead to higher profits since more orders can fit into an optimized fleet. Even little things, such as planning a route to save a few minutes at refueling stops, can result in a ripple effect of benefits.

AI is fantastic for route optimization. This process is challenging to do manually since it considers over a dozen unique factors, from traffic delays to legal requirements. All these factors can be processed rapidly and accurately with AI.

AI can also help trucking companies improve their logistics and preparedness. Logistics simulation software can help fleet managers test new logistics ideas without disrupting real-world operations. AI simulations can also factor in things like weather incidents and national emergencies. This allows fleet managers to design strategies for coping with these kinds of unpredictable events.

Keeping Drivers Safe

IoT and AI are helping trucking companies improve the driver experience. These technologies offer numerous safety and performance benefits on the road. For example, drivers will appreciate the use of AI for route optimization as described above. They’ll get to drive more efficient routes and complete more orders while avoiding delays.

Fleet managers are also using IoT and telematics to ensure solo drivers stay safe on the job. One company uses a notification system powered by geofencing and GPS. It starts a timer when someone leaves their truck. An alert will be sent and a siren will activate if the driver does not check back in on time. This could be crucial in an emergency where someone otherwise might not be able to call for help.

Similarly, AI and IoT can be used to monitor traffic and weather conditions in real-time. A driver might not be able to see a storm coming in, but fleet managers can track vehicle position and weather patterns remotely through IoT devices. Trucks can even be equipped with cameras that stream live footage of road conditions back to fleet management. These devices let companies ensure drivers have the support they need when road conditions get bad.

Using IoT to track driver behavior is another effective way to improve road safety. Sensors can measure driving habits, such as speed and stopping distance. These metrics can reveal risky behavior before it causes a problem. This can also help improve the quality of life on the road. Drivers may not be stopping to take enough rest breaks or get adequate sleep. This downtime is crucial for good mental health, as well as awareness and preparedness on the road. 

Autonomous Trucking

Autonomous trucking may become a reality soon, though maybe not in the way many imagine. Driverless trucks are nearing market launch this year, at least for highway driving.

In December of 2021, TuSimple completed the first autonomous semi-truck drive on open public roads with zero human intervention in the cab. The driverless truck traveled down an 80-mile stretch of highway, closely monitored by the TuSimple team as well as police officers placed along the route. This test run is a critical step forward in self-driving trucking, hinting that major changes may be on the horizon in the industry.

Many assume those changes will result in a loss of jobs for truck drivers. Industry experts don’t think this is the case, though. In an interview with the Atlantic, Joe Rajkovacz, a Western States Trucking Association official, commented on the situation. “There are so many things a driver does … I just don’t believe that you’re ever going to see, at least in the world that’s imagined right now, this fully autonomous truck without anyone in it.”

Rajkovacz illustrated that a driver can perform a quick repair if a truck breaks down in a remote location. A fully driverless vehicle would be delayed for hours, waiting for a repair crew to perform the same fix. This is just one of many tasks drivers do besides steering their trucks from point A to point B.

Therefore, it is unlikely truck drivers will become obsolete due to AI-powered trucks. On the contrary, their jobs may become much more convenient. Drivers will be far better at navigating local roads than AI for the foreseeable future, so many people may shift to local routes where they could live at home year-round. Meanwhile, autonomous trucks will handle cross-country hauls with someone behind the wheel for the final miles.

Advancing Trucking Technology

The trucking industry is at the heart of the global supply chain. The sector is advancing by embracing cutting-edge technologies to thrive amid modern challenges. IoT and AI make fleets safer, more connected, and more efficient. Powerful AI algorithms are helping companies prepare for anything and build the future of driverless vehicle technology. These innovations will allow trucking to become the strongest link in the supply chain.

Emily Newton is a tech journalist. As Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, she regularly covers science and technology stories. Subscribe to Innovation & Tech Today to read more from Emily.

Author Bio: Emily Newton is a tech journalist. As Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, she regularly covers science and technology stories. Subscribe to Innovation & Tech Today to read more from Emily.

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