There’s a new development concerning engine technologies that fleets and owner/operators should be getting pretty amped up about: The ability to remotely update their engine parameters.

International was the first to announce impending availability of over-the-air programming, followed soon after by Detroit.

Essentially this will allow fleets to receive software calibration updates without taking their truck off the road and visiting the dealership – all they’ll need is a WiFi connection. Normally, these updates are required a couple times a year – that’s two less trips to the dealership. Doing this remotely should also clear up congestion at service bays and improve throughput at dealerships.

I caught up with Jess Sass, sr. v.p., North American truck sales and marketing with Navistar, to chat about this at the American Trucking Associations convention in Philly last week.

He said Navistar is looking to roll this out on N-series engines in the first quarter of 2016. It will also offer OTA programming on Cummins engines soon after. Before that happens, Jeff pointed out there must be adequate security in place to ensure hackers aren’t able to reprogram truck engines. Also, a 24/7/365 tech support center must be established so if gremlins appear during the programming update, someone’s available to provide a solution so that truck can immediately be redeployed into service. Both those will be in place before OTA programming goes live, he said.

Looking further down the road, there are some other practical applications for this capability. How about speed limiters? Drivers must be locked in mechanically to 105 km/h in Ontario and Quebec, but the speed limit’s higher in other North American jurisdictions. Eventually, the engine speed limiter setting could be updated remotely so drivers can drive faster in Texas, for instance, than they can (legally) in Ontario and Quebec.

And Jeff even floated this big idea out there: How about on a run to the West Coast that will see a truck travel through the prairies and then over the Rocky Mountains? Why not update the fuel maps in-transit so they’re optimally set up for each stretch of the trip?

“That way, you can optimize your fuel economy not just for that truck, but for that actual route,” he said, adding this capability won’t be immediately available. Still, heady stuff to think about.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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