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Remote diagnostics, ELDs and the constant evolution of truck telematics

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Managing Editor of Fleet Equipment Magazine

Truck technology continues to evolve, progressing exponentially every day. As more and more data becomes available, fleets are getting better at reading it and using that data to reduce everything from repairs to accidents. And this is only the beginning.

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One important advancement that is just starting to make its mark is the recent Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s electronic logging devices (ELDs) mandate, which was finalized in December and requires drivers to switch from paper logs to ELDs. All drivers are mandated to comply by 2019.

For OEMs, this brings them to a crossroads of sorts: Do they provide their own ELDs for drivers to use, or do they rely on third party companies to provide them?

“I want Volvo Trucks to be the iPhone of the trucking industry—we need to be open for other applications depending on the needs of the businesses,” says Göran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North America. “We will focus on being the experts on the truck and the performance of the truck, and then for whatever kind of applications that may come in the future, we need to have an open mind to make sure that it works well with our features.”

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ELDs are just a small fraction of the telematics advances in trucking. Lately, remote diagnostics and predictive repair and maintenance technology has begun to emerge. This telematics software collects sophisticated diagnostic information related to vehicle performance and automatically sends data related to fault codes to dealers and fleet managers. Drivers and fleet managers may soon be living in a world in which the truck alerts them that something is about to break before it even happens. This could drastically reduce downtime and keep each truck out of the repair shop as much as possible.

How far into the future might this be?

“We are already seeing it,” answers Nyberg. “It’s a matter of the industry getting behind it. The culture in our industry is that [the truck makers] repair trucks when they break down, and customers repairs their truck when it is broken. We can tell the customer that, ‘Your alternator is about to go down, you’d better change it now’; but today, he would say, ‘Why? It’s not broken yet.’ We need educate ourselves and the industry on the value we can bring if we are allowed to be proactive in our approach.”

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Some OEMs have quickly paired up with diagnostics providers. Kenworth and Peterbilt, for example, both announced partnerships with PeopleNet in 2015—PeopleNet will pair its vehicle health monitoring system with Kenworth’s TruckTech+ and Peterbilt’s SmartLinq diagnostics systems.

Daimler continues to enhance its Detroit Connect Virtual Technician, announcing a new diagnostic portal to launch this year. For Volvo’s part, the OEM has its own system and communicates issues in real-time with 24/7 support, and is also working with Omnitracs to use their telematics hardware to supply information to support Omnitracs’ future fleet management offerings.

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The future is wide open in this and many other areas of telematics—and we’re only beginning to see the places it might lead.

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