Over the past few decades, the vehicles that we drive have become much more intelligent. The use of on-board computer, sensors and controllers which makes up a smart vehicle have led to many of the advancements that we have seen in the transportation space. Vehicles are now producing more power using smaller engines, all while reducing emissions.
However, the transportation sector is a large and competitive landscape, both for the manufacturers of equipment, as well as for those who operate them. They are constantly looking for ways to reduce costs, to simplify maintenance schedules and to offer better service to customers to grow their business.
IoT builds upon the incredible volume of data that a vehicle produces and makes it both more accessible as well as more actionable. Manufacturers can learn more about their vehicle to make adjustments and improvements, while fleet operators can better predict a failure before it happens.
What components are in a Smart Vehicle?
For the most part, the vehicle leaves the assembly line with much of the capability that is required to gather data for an IoT solution. Each sensor, module and control system is able to report its status via an on-board connector, such as the ODBII connector on most passenger vehicles. The first addition to enable communication is to be able to take the data that is produced and bring it into your IoT application.
In some cases, vehicle manufacturers have installed cellular components that allow this data to be sent without the need for a cellular gateway to be added. In most cases, a cellular gateway connects to the vehicles diagnostic port to gather data. In some cases, a user/manufacturer may wish to gather other data, such as the opening of a door or the temperature of a storage area. In those scenarios, sensors are used to provide that data in real-time.
As you can imagine, a vehicle produces a ton of data that may not have a lot of value, at least in real-time. A sensor that alerts its status once per second will give 3600 “I’m OK” messages per hour, which may not be of value for a technician. They are instead looking immediately for exceptions and then to look at historical data showing trends over time. This is where the cellular gateway can help. They can be set up to send certain alerts in real-time and then the vehicle can upload its entire update over a Wi-Fi connection when it is back at the depot.
On its face, this data may not be in a format that is useful for a technician or engineer. This is where the applications can help. They will allow for easy to view, useable information, such as the location of their vehicles and if one were to have an accident. The final step involves taking the vast amounts of information from the vehicle to allow for predictions of possible issues.
Imagine a sensor is reporting a temperature level that is just slightly above average, but still in a normal range. This data may be ignored by a technician as a one-time event. However, if the combination of hours’ worth of readings show a very slight uptick pattern, and this is a situation that often predicts failure, the technician may pull the device out of service for a few minutes to make an adjustment. This may save a costly and timely repair from having to be done.
This same trend information will also be of value when it comes to the procurement of a smart vehicle. Trends may indicate that the estimated repair cost for a particular vehicle was not as planned and it may also show that a vehicle may not need to be replaced as often as predicted.
Governments around the world are constantly looking for ways to increase ridership and reduce costs. Sensors and other IoT products are helping all manners of public transport to operate more efficiently while offering a wider range of services to customers.
City buses and trains
One of the biggest ways that a city can improve both its carbon footprint as well as to help reduce traffic congestion is to maximize the use of public transit. However, many are on the fence as to the use of transit, so it is up to cities to find ways to increase the ridership. One of the ways to do this is to make it more convenient, sometimes through the use of “NextBus” alerts. As they sound, they use a combination of GPS location from the bus as well as monitoring traffic patterns to determine accurately when the next bus may arrive. A user would use a free app on their phone to receive the alert, avoiding spending extra time waiting at the stop.
The next way involves entertainment and alerts. Many cities have used local television and newspapers as ways to alert the public to changes such as traffic closures, new by-laws or other announcements. With the decline in popularity for traditional local media, many are using screens on and around buses to alert such news. At the same time, those screens are becoming mobile advertisements on wheels. Smart video systems are using the bus’ GPS location as triggers to send off local ads for businesses in the area.
The final but most used use of smart vehicle technology in a bus is through the use of on-board Wi-Fi. High-speed cellular routers on-board the vehicle can securely offer free Wi-Fi access to riders. In some cases, transit companies are using the availability of free Wi-Fi as a way to increase monthly pass purchases.
In areas where major cities are relatively close together, it is often easier and less expensive to use the train between cities. As a way to better compete with airlines, trains are increasing their use of IoT to entice riders to take the train. The first is via the offering of high-speed Wi-Fi connectivity onboard the train. Like buses, the train operator uses high-speed cellular gateways to offer reliable and secure access for their passenger to access the network.
In many cases, IoT solutions for a smart vehicle also play a strong role in keeping the trains and the track in working order. Sensors are widely deployed on the track network to detect the presence of issues such as snow, accidents and animals. They are also used to detect possible heat buildup on the underside of the train, which is a common cause of train derailments. Finally, on-person GPS locators are being used for personnel making repairs on the track, to alert passing trains of their presence.
The final issue is one that many wish we did not have to have a solution for and that is Train Control. In the event of a health issue, reckless driving or a terrorist attack, train operators are required to be able to control their trains remotely and bring them to a safe stop. This is done using a combination of cellular, landline and satellite networks to ensure that trains are always communicating with their dispatchers.
While autonomous cars (smart vehicles) have not seen wide adoption on city streets, they are being used in some controlled areas to operate train and bus shuttles. This is common in many airports and on large university campuses. The vehicles use a massive number of sensors, cameras and connectivity to relay their status in real-time as well as to feed the data to their Intelligence systems.
The result is a vehicle which tends to operate very smoothly and efficiently. In some cases, the vehicles may operate completely on their own, while in others they may have a human monitoring their progress remotely.
In first response, speed and accuracy are paramount. Sensor technology is being used to connect responders to people quicker and with more information to act on.
While many agencies have been monitoring their equipment in the field, they didn’t monitor their most important asset, their people. While the responder was able to use their radio for communication, there was no ability to receive data if they were attacked, nor was there any way to see if they were in medical distress.
On-person biometric clothing is not new, as it has been used by the military and by elite athletes to track the status of the wearer. It has now started to become more common for first responders. During the first wearing (usually in the form of an undershirt), the system gathers a baseline reading as to perspiration, temperature, heart rate and other factors for the responder, to understand their normal status. If one of the variables were to exceed a threshold, an alert could be sent. This would help to better predict a possible heart attack as well as to identify a stressful situation, in the event that the responder was unable to communicate.
For decades, First Responders have used radio technology to communicate with dispatchers. That same network was often used to transmit text-based information for dispatch, but it was limited in its ability due to its slow speed. For the past 20 years, agencies have been using public cellular networks to improve on the capability of these systems.
The public networks accessed by the smart vehicle allow for much faster communication with a lower level of latency (or delay). This has allowed for remote downloading of information such as pictures, blueprints and video clips.
One of the biggest initial concerns for First Responders to migrate towards using Public Cellular networks for communication was the availability during a crisis. Whether it be a major accident, natural disaster or attack, it is common for cellular networks to become overly congested and this posed a legitimate concern for many agencies. Although it was a rare occurrence, governments were always in search of a way to prioritize their traffic across cellular networks.
This led to the development of many initiatives to do so, most notably, FirstNet in the US. By providing a dedicated network for First responders, they received the best of both worlds. They were able to use the high-speed offered by today’s cellular networks, while ensuring they would have access during times of crisis. In some areas, access to these networks is limited to Fire, EMS and Police, while others have included response teams from Utilities, city crews and more.
Priority access to traffic lights
While First Responders may receive priority in traffic through the use of their emergency lights, this does not mean they are not likely to be in an accident. The most dangerous situation occurs when an emergency vehicle must cross through an intersection during a red light, often resulting in a “T-Bone” accident, which are among the most deadly. An easier way would be to ensure that the responder’s vehicles had access to a green light at each intersection.
Some advanced systems do that, at least for the most part. They will sense the upcoming arrival of a First responder vehicle that is in Emergency Mode and will quickly change the lights to maximize the amount of green lights that the Responder would see on their way to a call. This would both speed up their response time, as well as reduce the chance of a high-speed collision.
Fleets have leveraged GPS Tracking since the mid 1990's so they have been early adopters of additional technology to track, monitor and maintain equipment and people.
Electronic Data Logging (ELD)
Like many occupations, drivers are limited to the amount of hours they are allowed to spend without taking a break from the wheel. Traditionally, this was always recorded in a manual method. This opened up areas of possible abuse as well as required a lot of clerical time and effort to keep on top of. To simplify, many jurisdictions have implemented ELD, or Electronic Logging Device, as a mandatory part of any long-haul vehicle.
The device connects directly to the Electronic Control Module of the vehicle to record, track and manage the number of hours that a vehicle has been driven by a driver. This feature of the smart vehicle improves the overall safety for all on the road while reducing the amount of clerical work to ensure compliance.
Cold chain tracking
Many items have very particular requirements during their transport. Items such as frozen and perishable foods, as well as certain medications may be required to be stored at a particular temperature range during transportation. Any variance from those conditions may result in spoilage, or worse, cause the user to become ill. Cold Chain tracking allows for the temperature of shipments to be tracked and easily verified at all times.
Temperature sensors are often placed on-board the skid of items at the time that they are packed. The temperature gauge will report any variances during the trip. In some cases, the temperature sensor may be placed in the container area of the transport vehicle as well.
Many items that are received by a warehouse will arrive on a skid that is the property of the manufacturer of the item. In most cases, the receiver is required to return the skid after the items are unloaded, otherwise they may be charged a significant fee. This often leads to a lot of lost productivity and time when a worker has to look for that particular skid. The use of on-board tracking has helped to improve this situation.
First, Network beacons are placed around the facility to be able to track the skids. A receiver is then placed onto each skid and the identifying number is recorded. If a skid becomes lost, an alert can be sent to locate the skid, as well as to have the receiver beep/flash. The same technology can also be used to track key tools and other pieces of equipment. If the device/skid with the receiver is removed from the site, an alert can be sent.
The evolution of ruggedized IoT equipment has paved the way for tracking, measuring, and monitoring making for the heavy equipment smart vehicle.
Similar to cars and trucks, heavy equipment machinery has a large number of on-board sensors and computing devices to manage many aspects of its operation. These sensors product a lot of data, data that can often be used to predict a possible failure or issue. The first step is to retrieve this data and to move it up to your IoT application. This is usually done through the use of a cellular gateway that connects to the diagnostic port of the vehicle, but it may also be done using a cellular connection that the manufacturer of the device installed.
Once the data has been sent to your IoT application, a number of key decisions can be made. As an example, the system can decide what data may require an immediate alert (such as an impending overheating of an engine) and what data may be stored so that it can be used to generate usage reports. In some cases, the cellular devices on-board will also make such decisions, which may limit the cellular data cost for the solution, which is often a factor.
New ways to bill
While companies may use more elaborate billing methods for large trucks and diggers, many less expensive devices used per day billing. This was because the cost of cellular connectivity and recording devices was too expensive for some of the lower cost equipment, such as generators or lifts. With the reduction in cost for IoT solutions, companies are beginning to deploy them in lower cost items, which often introduces new and creative ways to bill customers.
Companies are now able to bill for things such as usage, the intensity of usage on the motor, the number of times something was lifted or any variation of those items. This allows companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors in what has always been a very competitive industry.
In some cases, suppliers and renters of heavy equipment will offer in-field services to increase revenue and the usability of their fleet. This may include response to any failures, moving around equipment between sites or even the supply of diesel fuel. While this provided the opportunity to increase revenue for the rental company, they often found that they wasted some of the profits on site visits that may not have needed to have been done. The use of IoT solutions has helped to fix these issues.
The IoT solution can first provide insight as to the operation of the device in real-time. If a device were to overheat, they could be alerted and help prevent a large failure. If a device were to fail, in some cases the repair can be done over the air by accessing the device’s computer, reducing the need for excessive downtime and costly on-site visits. This same thinking can go into monitoring the fuel level of particular tanks. Instead of estimating the usage of fuel, which may lead to unnecessary visits or devices running out of fuel, the rental company can better schedule their on-site visits. This reduces cost, increases sales and improves customer satisfaction.
Sensors are used while marine and air vehicles are used in a number of ways for maintenance, monitoring, and passenger comfort.
Real-time luggage tracking
While many airlines used barcode tracking to enter the receipt of luggage into their system, this didn’t prevent the frequent loss of passenger bags. One of the reasons was that the location could only be updated by the scanning of the bag and it could not be located in real-time. The use of active luggage tags has and will help to reduce the chances of bags being lost.
Instead of relying on an employee to scan the luggage to alert its presence, the reader in the area would actively search for luggage tags to communicate with. When the tag is located, the system would automatically be updated. An alert could then be sent in real-time if a bag were to be in an area that it was not supposed to be, lowering down the chance of a bag going onto a plane and flying away.
Improved Maintenance Scheduling
The amount of moving parts on an airplane is staggering. Many of these parts need to be maintained, whether it means being replaced, lubricated or aligned. While airline maintenance departments do a tremendous job in keeping track of the maintenance of each plane, they can’t know everything. They may not be alerted that a plane has gone further than expected and they definitely cannot know if a key part may be not functioning as designed. They rely on a schedule and to be alerted by the on-board crew.
Real-time on-board solutions allow for alerts to be sent to technicians as they are happening. This will help them to reduce the amount of clerical work for maintaining the planes, as well as to speed up repairs when they happened. Finally, the historical data gathered by the systems allow for both the manufacturers to spot a potential failure point as well for the finance teams at the airlines to better understand the costs of maintaining their fleet.
Sensor monitoring for boat storage
In many parts of the world, boats are not capable of being used during the cold season and are stored. In some cases, they may be stored in facilities. During this time, the conditions of the facility can be controlled, as well as the access. However, during times when the boat may be in use and is in the water, there is often little monitoring that is done to see if the boat is in operational conditions.
During boat storage, sensors are used to monitor things such as the temperature, the presence of water and any excessive vibration (such as during a storm). This helps to alert to any issues as they are occurring. Those same solutions often use motion sensors, which can detect unwanted presence on the boat, preventing vandalism or theft.