The benefits, and risks, of connected trucks

by James Menzies

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — A fully connected truck will eventually streamline repairs and become an active member of the maintenance department.

“A truck will tell the maintenance manager what is wrong with it,” predicted Jason Krajewski, director of connectivity with Daimler Trucks North America. “It will say ‘I’ve already diagnosed myself, here’s what needs to be done. I can be here at this time, these are the parts I need and I can have the parts organization have them available at that time.’”

Krajewski was speaking as part of a panel on exploiting data at the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Summit April 18. But he also acknowledged more work needs to be done before connectivity achieves that level of assistance.

“We’re not there yet. But our trucks are more connected than ever,” Krajewski said.

With connectivity, comes challenges. Security concerns are top among them.

“The instant you put a wireless connectivity point on your vehicles, you are introducing attack vectors,” Krajewski admitted. However, he said there is also much more attention being paid to emerging security risks. One of the more frightening of which would be a ransomware attack against a fleet of vehicles, where perpetrators deactivate trucks until a payment is received. However, Krajewski said most telematics platforms are not susceptible to such an attack.

“Most of the technologies that are used now for telematics wouldn’t readily lend themselves to that type of attack,” he said. “But the CAN bus is vulnerable. With the wrong tie-in, you could in theory flood the brake system with a denial of service attack and have the brakes lock up. Without resetting everything on the vehicle, you may not be able to get the truck started again. I have not heard of that happening.”

Trucks are still running on old CAN-based architecture that are susceptible to attacks.

“We, as OEMs, are starting to take a more proactive role in building firewalling systems, encryption schemes in how we are allowing people to interact with our vehicles,” Krajewski said.

“We have to start looking at security from a whole other level,” agreed Ric Bedard, president and founder of Cetaris.

Another challenge for fleets operating better connected vehicles, is effectively managing the data they produce. Bedard said about 95% of the data coming off the trucks is “noise” that can overwhelm the fleet manager.

“We have to help fleets understand what is actionable data, and what is noise,” he said, adding the number one complaint customers express is receiving too much data. “Today, the volume is overwhelming.”

And it will only become more so in the near-term.

“If you look at the single greatest change in our industry, it’s the number of sensors,” Bedard said. “It’s going to explode.”

Krajewski said OEMs are beginning to explore the possibility of channeling all the data generated by various systems on the truck through a single electronic control unit (ECU).

“It would make everyone’s life simpler,” he said. However, challenges remain, as some technology suppliers are protective of the data generated by their systems.

Bedard’s advice to fleet managers is to focus on the data they really require and can act upon.

Mike Jeffress, vice-president of maintenance for Maverick Transportation, agreed the amount of data being generated by today’s trucks and trailers can be overwhelming. But he also sees the value in that data.

“Historically, we managed our exceptions,” he said. “We’re trying to get from that exception-based management practice, to what is actionable data that supports what we need to be doing in real-time.”

Jim Pinder, maintenance manager for Erb Group, voiced some frustration at the increasing number of sensors being installed on today’s equipment, as well as some angst about an increase to come.

“The majority of time we are spending, is chasing those sensors,” he said. “Please don’t put more on. It’s eating up a lot of our maintenance budget.”
Krajewski said an increase in sensors is inevitable, but he also said the quality of those sensors should improve.

“We are going to put more sensors on there,” he admitted. “But we have to stay on top of the quality of our sensor providers. Sensors are very cheap and you can get them from all over the world. As OEMs, we have to be very cognizant of where we’re getting our sensors from and how reliable they are.”

Have your say

We won't publish or share your data