Detroit (it still doesn’t sound quite right without the Diesel) has taken a bold step towards expanding its telematics capabilities, with the launch of a new division dubbed Detroit Connect (okay, now that has a ring to it). The company has taken its popular Virtual Technician remote diagnostics program, bundled it with its Visibility Fleet Software and will, beginning in January, offer both along with a trucking-specific tablet. This tablet is pretty cool. Developed by Zonar, it’s designed to be fun and easy for drivers to use, while adding some real value to fleets.
The Detroit Connect On-Board Tablet will come pre-loaded with four apps: Truck-specific navigation; two-way messaging; hours-of-service recording; and an inspection app. The first three do about what you’d expect, though unlike other systems, audio will play through the truck’s sound system, thanks to the complete integration offered at the factory. What really got my attention during a recent demonstration was the inspection app.
While in the truck, the tablet sits in a cradle on the dash. Most functions are grayed out while the truck’s moving, to reduce distraction as much as possible. But the tablet can be removed and becomes a work tool (it’s rugged, too, and can be used while wearing gloves or even when it’s a bit wet). The tablet offers a built-in flashlight, USB port, camera and RFID reader. This RFID reader is key, as it relates to pre-trip inspections. Fleets will be able to attach little RFID tags at key places on the truck to ensure proper pre-trip inspections are conducted. The driver scans each tag with the tablet to reveal a list of items in that area of the truck, which must be inspected.
The fleet manager will know how much time was spent at each station. Knowing he can’t just scan a tag and move on to the next one five seconds later, what’s a driver going to do? Stand there having a smoke, waiting till the required time has elapsed? Maybe. But he’s much more likely to inspect the items that are right there in front of him. Conducting a pre-trip inspection with this new tool has actually become, dare I say, ‘fun’? And perhaps coolest of all, if a defect is discovered, the driver can snap a photo and send it to the maintenance manager or to dispatch.
Detroit will begin offering the new tablet on Freightliner Cascadias in January, with other Daimler truck models to follow. It has an exclusive deal with Zonar and will be the only truck OEM offering the tablet with factory installation. It is expected Zonar at some point will begin offering the tablet as an all-makes retrofit. Pricing is yet to be determined, but will be competitive with other services that provide similar functions.
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