Yes, we’re going back to the “truck as a rolling cell phone” analogy but bear with me, because it is the best way to explain how fleets will access truck data in the very near future. Consider this—the Android operating system spans many cellphone models from manufacturers like Motorola, Samsung, and Google. It’s the operating system that allows you to install the Netflix app or check your email with the Outlook app, without worrying if the app will work on your phone or not.
Enter Platform Science, the trucking technology company that began working with Daimler Truck North America (DTNA) to develop its Virtual Vehicle platform, which has now expanded its adoption to International Trucks, Peterbilt and Kenworth. Darrin Demchuk, vice president of strategy and corporate development, Platform Science, likened Virtual Vehicle to the Android operating system model that I cribbed above.
“The OEMs have introduced a lot of technology into their vehicles over the past decade, and we’ve partnered with them to help solve for the mixed make, model, year challenges that inevitably happen in any fleet,” he said. “The question we want to answer is: How do we introduce a technology platform that makes it seamless for the drivers in the fleet? That’s the overarching goal we have.”
ELDs are a good starting place to envision how Virtual Vehicle works in the real world. The ELD is accessed by a specific driver, but that data also dovetails into fleet-managed solutions like driver safety and operational efficiency performance. Today, you might have ELD devices from a third-party provider installed throughout your fleet via hardware installed on the vehicle, either integrated from the hardware on the truck or an aftermarket-installed device, and software stack. Virtual Vehicle allows for a more seamless alternative, where apps can integrate directly to the vehicle data they need through a Developer Software Development Kit, Demchuck noted.
The truck is the device. That’s the biggest difference that an operating platform like Platform Science’s Virtual Vehicle offers–you already have the hardware on your truck when it rolls off the factory floor. Virtual Vehicle is the software that’s layered on top of your truck’s technology such as its built-in telematics device.
“Until now when a big fleet purchased a truck, they immediately took it to an aftermarket installer and installed four or five other pieces of hardware; paid for three other data plans—it’s getting out of hand,” said Anil Khanna, director of product for the Connectivity Services Group at Daimler Truck North America. “At DTNA, we see an opportunity for improvement. For example, if a camera can come from us, factory installed, we can consolidate that data and have it come from the trucks’ telematics box. Then we can partner with Platform Science and that’s how the entire industry gets serviced. That’s our vision.”
It’s a vision that is becoming clearer. Cameras, for instance, are already installed in Freightliner Cascadias that are outfitted with the Detroit Assurance advanced driver assistance system, and that video footage is available through the Bendix SafetyDirect portal. Khanna’s example would bring that video directly to fleets via the Platform Science Virtual Vehicle rather than integration through different suppliers.
“Our goal is to make it so that a fleet doesn’t have to be concerned with, ‘Do I have the right truck hardware to run my applications?’ That’s a pre-2007 mindset,” he said. “Before 2007, we all had feature phones, which were just a bag of features coupled with hardware. If you needed something better, you threw the phone away. Once the iPhone and then Android came out, they introduced the platform concept. Sure, you might upgrade your hardware every few years still, but most of the time it’s a software platform. You’re not concerned with whether the apps work with a new phone. They just do.”
Apps are offered, installed and managed with Virtual Vehicle on compatible vehicles. There’s nothing to install if they’re model year 2019 or newer from Daimler Truck North America. (International trucks with Virtual Vehicle will start to roll out this year; Peterbilt and Kenworth Virtual Vehicle trucks are slated for 2024.) ELD, efficiency monitoring, driver messaging and safety apps make up what Demchuk called a “minimum viable app bundle” for any fleet. From there app offerings spill into solutions like turn-by-turn directions, and driver wellness, coaching, and training. Streamlining driver log-ins to the devices is also possible, which allows for a single, fleet-managed sign-on so that the driver’s password security shores up potential risks like using “password” as a password.
All of these are accessed via an in-cab tablet that Platform Science installs in the truck.
“Strategically, we’ve made it so that the connection is also seamless to the driver–the Virtual Vehicle device is just connected to the truck and data starts streaming,” Demchuk said. “There’s no real benefit to the driver being aware of the connection method under the hood. We don’t want the driver experience to be dramatically different if the drivers share a vehicle or they have to switch vehicles. They need to be able to just grab a device, connect and go, and it feels the same no matter what they’re doing.”
Parsing out solutions and integrations is where the vision can get murky, but keep that Android operating system analogy in mind and remember that it’s early days for Virtual Vehicle. Consider the Detroit Connect portal that houses DTNA engine data. Virtual Vehicle wouldn’t replace things like the Detroit Connect portal. That would exist alongside the Virtual Vehicle platform. Though, Detroit Connect functionality could potentially become an app on Virtual Vehicle.
“Our solutions harmonize, they don’t displace each other,” Demchuk said, noting that even would-be competitors that offer telematics solutions, apps and a marketplace can be partners that bring solutions to the Virtual Vehicle platform. “Ultimately, the vehicle manufacturers always know their vehicles better than anyone else. They’re running the software stack to power the analytics and metrics that fleets need to maximize uptime and efficiency. The Platform Science Virtual Vehicle sits side by side with that as the application layer.”
It could also feed the trend of fleets creating their own custom apps, a practice that Platform Science is already supporting with a partnership like the one it has with Paper Transport. The for-hire truckload carrier and provider of brokerage services said the collaboration aims to bring Platform Science’s technology to Paper Transport’s entire fleet.
“What we are doing is becoming the golden source of truth,” Khanna added, “to provide Platform Science the data they need to host the applications for our end mutual customers. Daimler Truck was the first in the industry with this concept. We already have customers using this solution. If other OEMs are joining this, at the end of the day, it helps our customers.”
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