The past few years have seen tremendous advancements in mobile technologies. These technologies increasingly are being applied to waste and recycling trucks by fleet managers who seek to leverage their capabilities to gain more visibility into their operations to run safer, greener and more responsive fleets. We call them “smart trucks.”

Smart trucks are vehicles outfitted with onboard computing (OBC) solutions to provide unprecedented real-time information to drivers and managers about a truck’s load weight, route status, service completion, vehicular telemetry, driver activities and much more. These OBC systems typically feature hardware and software to monitor and manage a wide range of inputs from a vehicle’s onboard systems, including cameras, scales, radio-frequency identification (RFID) readers, tire pressure and fuel. As a result, managers can get an immediate bird’s eye view into every truck, every driver and every route in their fleets—every single day.

WHAT MAKES A SMART TRUCK?

Smart trucks typically include hardware and software that work together to link the truck, driver and back office together in real time.

First and foremost, a mobile onboard computer is needed. These typically are smart display devices that are installed in the cab of a collection vehicle. The latest touch-screen smart displays can communicate bilaterally between a driver and dispatch easily and intuitively. They typically provide a single point of interface for the driver, truck, back office and all communications and allow for real-time video and audio functionality. Flexible interfaces are designed to ensure easy interaction with the control system.

For comprehensive monitoring, fleet managers need eyes all around their fleet vehicles. New mobile DVR (digital video recording) solutions now are available specifically for waste collection environments and usually come with software designed for residential or commercial waste management activities. These can be used in conjunction with the back office and dispatch systems to record live digital video and all essential recycling fleet management activities to provide real-time imagery and recordings with the goal of optimizing safety and improving customer service.

Safety is generally the primary concern for recycling fleet managers. As safety best practices include drivers, trucks, routes and the general public, being able to monitor all of these areas from a single dashboard—in real time—is increasingly a priority.

Safety dashboards typically are Web portals that provide live video feed, archived video and picture views into all collection services activities. Recycling organizations benefit from a back office view into what’s going on for each route, truck and driver. With safety dashboards, fleet managers readily can track incidents, alarms, driver scoring, video streaming and playback. This enables them to spot costly and unsafe driver maneuvers, know how their vehicles are being handled, plot locations of alarm occurrences, access recorded incidents, determine which drivers generated alarms and where and replay selected vehicles, surroundings and drivers’ activities—all from one easy-to-manage interface.

Recycling fleet managers now also can benefit from more efficient route scheduling and real-time service quality monitoring. The latest route management technologies are Web portals that provide management tools for collection services, billing and customer service. These add unprecedented levels of support and insight to dispatch operations for industrial, residential and commercial waste/recycling collection services and for residential cart delivery and maintenance.

Together with real-time fleet tracking and turn-by-turn driver directions, route management systems now can take the guesswork out of managing routes to make sure that vehicles actually implement designated routes to minimize the distance, amount of fuel used and amount of time required to complete assignments. They manage route optimization, cart inventory, stop scheduling, customer and driver incidents and customer and driver activity from a single management system. The result is total visibility into route progress, greater driver accountability, better customer service and vastly improved fuel efficiencies.

BENEFITS TO FLEET MANAGERS

Key improvements that recycling fleet managers can expect from employing the latest smart truck technologies include:

Better measurement of recycling participation – Recycling program measurement is critical to municipal waste organizations. Smart display OBC solutions and route management systems will track every pickup in real time to measure participation rates and to accurately tally credits. Additionally, smart truck systems typically integrate with RFID readers for advanced tracking capabilities.

Improved customer service – Smart trucks will facilitate faster and more accurate responses to customer service issues. Smart displays and mobile DVRs typically have the ability to track and photograph any route or pickup issues, provide photographic evidence of services if required and send video recordings or live camera feeds to the back office—all in real time. They will further ensure real-time remote connectivity between the back office and each vehicle to facilitate prompt customer service follow-ups.

Ensure complete visibility and oversight – Managers need to have a complete view of all fleet, equipment and driver activity. Smart trucks ensure complete visibility from multiple vantage points around a truck and provide a single point of interface for communication among the driver, truck and back office. They further integrate multiple video and audio feeds in real time and ensure flexible and easy interfaces with the vehicle’s control system. It’s like having a supervisor in every truck.

Operate more efficiently – Smart trucks proactively track and monitor fleet activities in real time. They typically will feed real-time reporting solutions to evaluate overall operational efficiency for driver activity, driver performance, driver scoring, fuel consumption and fleet performance. Vehicle reports will monitor vehicle usage for accidents, alarms and fuel tax. Recycling managers can view all vehicles on a map to monitor bread crumb trails, alerts, excessive idling, hard braking and more.

Better track rolling carts and assets – A smart-truck-powered cart management system provides recycling organizations with the most advanced solution for automated garbage collection as well as for the management of individual carts and customers. Using RFID tags, each garbage can or cart can be associated with a specific customer address. Drivers quickly can verify cart specifics by scanning these tags with an onboard RFID reader or with a hand-held device. Inventory management capabilities can update backend databases in real time on service, replacement and repair requirements.

With added GPS capabilities, fleet operations personnel can have real-time visibility into truck location and activity, verify service accuracy and quickly identify carts that have been moved or stolen or that require servicing. Individual customer information—from damaged carts to insufficient cart capacity—is captured easily into a centralized database. This further ensures immediate and accurate information for any billing processes.

Improve The fleet safety record – Every year, an estimated 20 percent of fleet vehicles are involved in accidents. The reality is that most accidents are avoidable, and effective fleet safety management can reduce this risk significantly. An optimally safe fleet often can reduce accident frequency by half. To do so, recycling collection vehicles need to be smarter by integrating advanced technologies to collect, communicate and monitor important data regarding routes, drivers, customers and vehicle systems.

Smart trucks provide key capabilities to make it easier for fleet managers to implement and monitor safety initiatives by providing them with real-time visibility into driver activity and behavior. By understanding individuals’ driving habits, managers can better coach drivers on safer techniques and reward defensive driving behavior. Managers can set alarm criteria to alert drivers and managers when safe driving thresholds have been exceeded.

In the cab, smart displays improve safety by reducing driver distractions and by optimizing automation. Additionally, smart displays usually can integrate with up to eight truck-mounted cameras to enhance safety by giving a driver a clear view of potential obstacles.

Enable ‘greener’ fleets – Green fleets are focused on reducing fuel consumption, mileage and exhaust emissions and on driving more efficiently. Smart trucks help eliminate unnecessary emissions by improving fuel consumption management, reducing overall mileage and improving driver behavior.

Smart trucks with driver direction capabilities let managers optimize each truck’s routes to reduce time spent on the road and the number of engine hours per day. They further help reduce the amount of fuel the engine burns by using alarms to monitor and reduce idling, to identify aggressive driving patterns and vehicle maintenance problems and to collect electric control module (ECM) codes so that engines can be repaired before otherwise latent problems escalate.

Driver behavior is fundamental to fleet sustainability. Even the most fuel-efficient vehicles will perform poorly with an inefficient driver behind the wheel. Recycling fleet managers need the tools to monitor driver behavior to educate drivers on more emissions-friendly driving approaches. Smart trucks with fleet mapping and monitoring tools allow fleet managers to work more proactively with drivers to ensure and reinforce greener driving behavior.

Improve the driver experience – It stands to reason that reducing driver distractions is essential for fleet safety and for productivity. Smart trucks make bilateral communication between a driver and dispatch easy and intuitive and eliminate the need for cellphones or other mobile devices.

Recycling collection drivers have to be multitaskers, driving, emptying carts and containers, following routing instructions, interacting with dispatch, responding to customer service issues and more—mostly in real time. On a typical day, a waste collection driver has the potential to be distracted in hundreds of ways. Eliminating, or seriously reducing, the risk of distraction is of upmost importance for fleet managers. Virtually all of this risk can be eliminated easily or reduced radically with a smart truck.

The most important step in reducing accidents is automating as much of the driver’s job as possible. Smart trucks reduce driver distractions by streamlining the navigation and service process. They further track driver behavior and relay the information to management so unsafe driving practices can be addressed.

A touch-screen display allows for real-time video and audio functionality, and flexible interfaces ensure easy interaction with the control system. Advanced smart displays usually will feature touch screens that can be operated while wearing gloves; many are designed to be hands-free. They typically will ensure visibility even in harsh sunlight or snow glare. These smart displays usually are installed ergonomically in the cab to provide quick visual references for route or customer information.

This means no more paperwork and no more manual processes. Drivers now can focus on the road.

OPTIMIZING SAFETY – A CASE STUDY

The fleet operations of Dover, Ohio-based Kimble Recycling & Disposal illustrate how waste and recycling haulers can benefit from smart trucks.

Kimble is one of the largest independently owned refuse carriers in Ohio, and safety is a top priority for the company.

Kimble deployed the FleetMind FleetLink system so managers would have a clear view into driving activity to mitigate potentially unsafe driving habits and to respond more effectively to complaints from the public. All departments now have access to centralized fleet safety data for a completely transparent representation of the fleet’s safety performance. Using FleetLink Tracking features, Kimble managers can reconstruct a driver’s route on any given day, verify deviations or unscheduled side trips and view alarm criteria, such as exceeding the specified speed limit.

As a result, Kimble can now determine how its drivers are handling the company’s vehicles, monitor driver speed in relation to speed limits and plot alarm occurrences. Built-in cameras also provide added safety by giving drivers greater visibility when backing up.

Martin Demers is CEO of Montreal-based FleetMind, www.fleetmind.com.