India Called, I Answered

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Bucket-list item ticked: I finally got to India. In fact I’ve just returned from spending two weeks in that astonishing country, where I couldn’t keep up with anything that was going on here in the world of trucking, so this edition of my report will borrow heavily from work my colleagues have been doing in the last while.

India… I don’t really know where to start in describing the place, and those of you who’ve been there — or hail from there — will understand exactly what I mean. It’s a huge, chaotic country, teeming with life. Wildly colorful, full of contrasts, it defies simple description. But this isn’t a travel column so I’ll just cut to the bits that might interest you.

Much as I wanted to, I wasn’t able to look into Indian trucking. I was there for my eldest daughter’s wedding, followed by a few days of touring for 50 or so of us in the wedding party. The Taj Mahal, etc. I simply had no time.

At one highway fuel station where we stopped for a bathroom break I saw a typical, somewhat crude Ashok-Leyland straight truck parked nearby and went over to have a closer look. As I snapped a few pics the angry-looking driver came over and, presumably in Hindi, told me to bugger off. I think. I obliged him and that was pretty much the full extent of my connection to Indian trucking.

But I had lots of contact with Indian traffic, which is simply crazy, especially in Delhi where cars and single-pot motorbikes and bicycles and rickshaws engage in what sometimes looks like a game (trucks aren’t allowed in the city except at night). They rush about, routinely turning two lanes into five, while incessantly — and I do mean incessantly — beeping their little horns to warn others that they’ve going for that gap come hell or high water. They drive mere inches apart yet they don’t whack one another. I saw very little evidence of sideswipe incidents, which seemed miraculous given the aggression on display.

It was almost ballet. When the car to your left shifts right because he got squeezed out of his ‘lane’ for some reason — which could well be because he faced somebody going the wrong way — you shift right too. It’s all so automatic, seemingly choreographed. Yet there are no discernible rules. Nor any road rage to speak of.

At one point, on a four-lane highway bound for Jaipur, our tour bus was following another vehicle — closely, like 10 ft behind him at 70 or 80 km/h. That vehicle  abruptly lurched to the right and we quickly saw why — our driver was suddenly confronted by a van going the wrong way, straight toward us. So we lurched right too and I let out a quiet chuckle, smiling at the insanity of it.

Noticing my reaction, our driver smiled himself and told me, “This is India, sir. You need a good horn; you need good brakes; and you need good luck.”

Summed it up perfectly.

COMING BACK DOWN TO EARTH, I was pleased a little while ago to see that Groupe Robert has equipped its 1300 trucks with ISAAC Instruments‘ telemetry and telematics system.

 Always aiming to invest in state-of-the-art equipment to improve road safety and reduce its environmental footprint, Groupe Robert chose local innovation. ISAAC’s made-in-Quebec telematics tools are very popular in that province and, in my humble estimation, deserve much broader acceptance. The company is indeed spreading out.

“We opted for the ISAAC InControl solution because it allows us to increase our operational efficiency. Our objective is to optimize fuel economy and road safety through the real-time coaching of drivers.” said Michel Robert, president and CEO of Groupe Robert. “In addition, we want to improve the environment of our drivers by providing them with a powerful tablet that increases efficiency and allows them to focus on what they are passionate about, the road.”

The integration of ISAAC’s system and Groupe Robert’s enterprise software using the former’s APIs (application programming interfaces), allows presenting single-screen driver work flows. As there is no need to switch screens when the driver enters activities, the risk of oversights and errors is said to be greatly reduced.

 “To remain competitive in the transportation industry, business leaders must take advantage of Big Data and Business Intelligence to gather and consolidate information, and make better decisions.” says Jacques DeLarochelli√®re, president of ISAAC Instruments.

 Its automated telemetry transforms complex data into meaningful indicators. With the continuous monitoring of both driver and truck performance, informed operational decisions are possible. ISAAC’s integrated mobile communication technology provides real-time connectivity between drivers and company personnel, to optimize operations and maximize profits.


NOW HERE’S A PROBLEM ADDRESSED… Penske Truck Leasing has announced the formation of an onboard technology consulting group within its operations.

 The consulting group was formed as an additional service to help Penske’s customers address the growing number of technology choices, as well as answer questions fleet operators have about selecting, evaluating, and using onboard systems.

 “Onboard fleet technology systems and options are changing rapidly,” said Art Vallely, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Penske Truck Leasing. “Many fleet operators simply cannot keep up with the rate of change. Our goal in creating this expert team is to provide customers with an objective, fact-based view of the various onboard technologies such as telematics, ELDs, in-cab cameras, and other emerging technologies going forward.”

 “We have in-depth and road-tested experience with all of the major onboard technology service providers,” said Vallely.

 I applaud this move heartily because there’s an insanely broad variety of telematics options out there, and even I can’t keep up with what’s on offer — and I spend my days reading about such things.


STILL WITH PENSKE LEASING, AND going back to the subject of lighting (I’m still getting e-mails about truck headlamps, will write about it again soon) the company recently announced it will make Truck-Lite custom LED headlights its standard spec on the Freightliner Cascadia tractors it offers for full-service lease.

 “These headlights provide exceptional nighttime visibility as compared to other headlights that we have tested,” said Art Vallely, Penske’s executive vice president of operations. “We believe that these LED headlights provide the driver with enhanced safety through greater reaction time and reduced driver fatigue. The driver acceptance by our customers has been overwhelmingly positive.”

 Last November, Penske announced that 5000 of the 2012 and 2013 semi-tractors currently within its truck rental fleet would be retrofitted with these LED lamps, and that they would be the core standard spec for all the tractors in its truck rental fleet.

 The Truck-Lite LED headlamps were initially developed for military use and are said to offer increased durability, visibility, and safety.

 Truck-Lite says its LED headlamps offer improved driver vision through its more natural light spectrum, leading to improved object recognition at night and increased daytime visibility. The LED beam pattern also reduces eye-strain for drivers, the company claims, and reduces harsh headlight glare to oncoming traffic. There’s also a significant reduction in amperage draw on the vehicle’s electrical system, freeing up power for other uses and resulting in a 50-times longer lighting system life than conventional halogen technology.

 AUTONOMOUS TRUCKS… NOT QUITE YET. The technology needed to create autonomous vehicles continues to move forward, but it could still be quite awhile before self-driving vehicles become an active part of the trucking industry.

“I think one of the big issues is the Hollywood glamour of autonomous vehicles compared to the reality we are in,” says Thomas Balzer, president and CEO of the Ohio Trucking Association. “We’re really in the infancy of this thing.”

Many people don’t realize the work and research behind each simulated road test or staged delivery, he said during a panel discussion at the Truckload Carriers Association’s annual convention. “Every time you are using Google Maps… they’re collecting that data to map this, but we’re still a long ways away from that Hollywood reality.”

Still, there is no mistaking the advances that have been realized.

“The [building blocks] are derived and developed from safety systems and driver assistance systems that we have. I think it’s important to understand the levels of autonomous systems we already have on the road,” said Kary Schaefer, general manager of marketing and strategy for Daimler Trucks North America.

The legal framework to allow such vehicles on the road is also being prepared in Washington, said Mike Cammisa, vice president of safety and connectivity of the American Trucking Associations (ATA). But even that will take time.

“Were used to the federal government regulating the equipment and right now it’s a little bit early for people to know how to regulate automation,” he said, noting how individual states are concerned about the prospect of fleets of automated trucks.

The discussion shouldn’t focus on getting rid of the driver, Schaefer said. “I think the focus for the industry is not how you remove the driver, or how you get a driverless vehicle, but how do you move goods from point A to point B as safely, efficiently, and reliably as possible.”

She believes the automotive industry will lead the charge as technologies become more advanced. It’s about more than developing vehicles or other transportation-related equipment, she added. It’s part of the race for artificial intelligence.

“How do you emulate decision-making through a machine? And that’s what everybody is chasing,” Schaefer said. 

Cammisa acknowledged that while autonomous technology advances, many companies recognize drivers as more than just navigators.

“At ATA, we always talk about how the role of drivers may change, but we see drivers still quite involved in the trucking industry for the foreseeable future,” Cammisa said. It’s why the association avoids using terms like “driverless” or “unmanned vehicles” and instead uses terms like “automated” vehicles and technologies. At the end of the day, carriers will choose the technologies that make the most sense for their businesses.

“The driver has a lot of different activities that he or she takes care of through the course of the day and those things aren’t going to go away,” Cammisa said.

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to

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