By: Rajesh Rudraradhya, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Lytx Inc.
As fleets move into 2021, agility will become an important skill, for both organizations and manager-leaders. Those who can quickly adapt will win. This article presents 10 technology trends that likely will make the biggest impact on the ability of transportation, logistics, and service organizations to rapidly assess changing environments and quickly evolve their playbooks to meet new challenges.
In 2020, the world got a glimpse into the world of transportation, logistics, and service organizations – inner workings of the global infrastructure that, until the pandemic, many had taken for granted. As large swaths of the workforce went into lockdown, news coverage showed fleets stepping up to ensure steady supplies of food, medicines, and essential goods and services. Ordinary people took an interest in distribution trucks – if only to seek an edge in securing some toilet paper.
Undoubtedly, the popular interest will dissipate. But the significance of this industry will not. If anything, the events of 2020 will likely ratchet up the demands placed on this sector as never before. Consumers increasingly expect same-day fulfillment for just about everything. Companies are adjusting orders on a dime, and they want real-time updates from providers. These market forces have been developing over the years, but the shock of 2020 has accelerated the timeline and made them more urgent. Delivering on these expectations will require an evolution of the technologies that support fleets. This brings us to a question that I am now hearing a lot in my role as chief technology officer of the world’s largest video telematics company:
How will fleet technologies evolve in 2021?
Although most CTOs would be tempted to tick off a list of futuristic technologies, I tend to approach this from another angle. To understand where technology is going, it’s helpful to dig into the catalysts driving markets today.
This year, fleets have no shortage of catalysts, many of them originating from the cascading events of 2020 that triggered profound shifts in the market that will be felt for years to come. There’s no doubt the pandemic set off an avalanche of challenges for fleets, with sudden and massive swings in demand for goods and services as people’s habits and priorities transformed overnight. Some shifts will prove temporary. Others may stick.
With change being the only constant this year, agility will be key. The market will place a priority on solutions that can help fleets more rapidly assess changing environments and quickly evolve their playbooks to meet new challenges. As a result, technologies will evolve to help fleets be more flexible and agile. That is the short answer.
My long answer, listed below in the form of 10 predictions for fleet technologies in 2021 and beyond, attempts to go into more detail on the challenges – and potential solutions – for this critical sector of our economy.
1. Silos within fleet operations will be broken down.
Silos, whether related to data or technologies, cause businesses to be slower and less efficient. The magic of data happens when you combine information across silos to uncover opportunities to be more productive, earn more revenue, or provide better service. Connecting those silos of information with unifying technologies will be critical to an organization’s ability to quickly see the picture, connect the dots, and make the necessary pivot. That means fleets of all sizes will increasingly demand all-in-one platforms that can unite disparate functionalities into one dashboard, one bill, and one way to understand and manage what happens in their fleets.
2. Flexibility and agility will be critical.
As 2020 has taught us, business priorities can change on a dime. Knowing what’s happening within a fleet at a moment’s notice is important. But so is the ability to quickly take action. Organizations will require that technologies have the built-in flexibility to keep up. That means technologies will evolve to allow fleets to rapidly reconfigure or scale as needed to respond to volatile market shifts.
3. Businesses will accelerate their adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine vision (MV)
Managers can’t be everywhere at once. But technology will continue to evolve in ways that give decision-makers more visibility into more areas of their operations – simultaneously. Two critical pieces of that capability are artificial intelligence and machine vision. Combined, these technologies, which we at Lytx like to call MV+AI, will become essential to fleets, providing an “easy button” for multiple aspects of fleet operations. One example of this exists today with our distracted-driving algorithm, which can detect and deter smoking, eating, or the use of handheld devices in real time – without the need for direct manager intervention.
We’ve just scratched the surface of what machine vision and artificial intelligence can do. Optimizations for utilization, fuel, and other resources will become predictive and real time rather than static. Repairs and maintenance will be faster and more targeted as systems become capable of anticipating and detecting engine problems before drivers notice them. As machine vision gets better at identifying objects and facial expressions, we can apply AI to determine, for example, whether a driver is impaired or driving under the influence of alcohol, by checking pupil dilation. These techniques will continue to improve, machines will learn faster, and AI will become more precise at delivering value.
As technology starts to take on more scenarios, there is understandable anxiety about jobs. To be sure, technology will change what people do, but there will always be a need for humans. Drivers will become more like airplane pilots are today – overseeing the functioning of highly complex equipment and using the AI as a co-pilot. Operations and service managers, dispatchers, mechanics, technicians, and safety managers will be free from certain mundane tasks, allowing them to focus on higher-impact work that will create more value in the ecosystem.
4. Video will be the new GPS.
From quality control and service verification to route optimization and real-time resource allocation, video is set to transform fleets in the same way it has already revolutionized driver safety and exoneration. Like GPS, video will add a rich layer of intelligence to multiple aspects of fleet operations, giving managers new levels of understanding and allowing them to make better decisions faster.
5. Sensors will continue to proliferate.
The Internet of Things, or IOT, is poised to reshape fleets in profound ways. The number of sensors available, both by default in commercial vehicles and in after-market solutions, is growing tremendously – as are their capabilities. These sensors are not only helping companies manage their vehicles, but they are also now giving fleets the ability to monitor goods being transported, across the products’ lifecycles.
Sensors can now be deployed for nearly anything that fleets need to learn more about, such as cargo temperature, humidity, pressure, location, and speed. One real-world example is the need to track the constant temperature of vaccines and other temperature-sensitive medicines as they travel across the supply chain to thousands of clinics around the world. The types of sensors deployed will also expand to include more sophisticated technologies such as lidar, radar, video and more.
The proliferation of sensors will vastly increase the amount of data generated – and put a premium on technologies that can corral multiple data sources (see prediction No. 1 on silos) to surface meaningful insights. The ability to fuse collections of sensors and leverage them to do more than just the sum of their parts will help managers take quick, decisive action – providing business with a true competitive edge in the years ahead.
6. Data dominance will help determine winning telematics technologies.
What distinguishes useful algorithms that can save lives or predict the future is data. As fleet technologies become increasingly reliant on AI for their smarts, data soars in importance. Algorithms are only as good as the data you feed them. Feed them dubious data and you wind up with things like recipes for Basic Clam Frosting or worse.
Creating successful algorithms is like launching a rocket into space. You need a huge engine and a lot of fuel. If you have a large engine and a tiny amount of fuel, you won’t make it to orbit. If you have a tiny engine and a ton of fuel, you can’t even lift off. The analogy for deep learning, one of the key processes in creating AI, is that the rocket engine is the deep learning models and the fuel is the huge amounts of data we can feed these algorithms. For fleets, producing reliable, useful algorithms requires comprehensive datasets that capture as many of the scenarios that drivers encounter in real life as possible. That calls for billions of miles of commercial driving data across vehicle types, traffic scenarios, weather, population densities, and road conditions.
When you add machine vision and artificial intelligence to the mix, data can be a source of revenue generation. In the sanitation sector, for example, the ability to automatically detect overflowing waste bins can lead to extra pickup service. Data can also lead to machine vision algorithms that can identify low-hanging branches that need to be trimmed from power lines. In other words, it’s possible to train algorithms with high-quality video telematics data to help businesses identify market needs and opportunities.
7. Better connectivity will improve everything.
Mobile connectivity has been a game-changer, and continued improvements both in 4G and 5G will help us to push decision-making closer to the field using cloud-computing resources. When you decouple the decision-making from the hardware, fleets don’t have to keep upgrading hardware but can keep receiving new software innovations that improve performance. Continued enhancements in 4G capacity and the eventual availability of coast-to-coast 5G will help improve the quality of video and streaming, facilitate large bursts of data that could further allow innovations based on the data coming back, and facilitate V2X communication.
8. Autonomous vehicle technologies will continue to change the way we think about fleet management.
While it’s true that fully autonomous Level 5 vehicles are still a ways from being mainstream, many of the technologies developed for self-driving vehicles have already made their way to commercial fleets. In the near future, we will see individual technologies give way to the development of ecosystems around autonomous vehicles, according to Susan Beardslee, principal analyst at ABI Research. Already, we’re seeing nascent inroads in this area, including TuSimple’s Autonomous Freight Network, which combines an ecosystem of Level 4 autonomous trucks, digitally mapped routes, dedicated terminals, and a monitoring system to track it all. ABI projects that penetration of Level 4 class 8 tractor trailer vehicles will grow from 1.4 percent in 2024 to 30 percent by 2030, less than 10 years from now. The flow of advances will continue, and perhaps accelerate thanks to OEMs, in the next few years, further transforming the way we all approach fleet management.
9. Platforms will take center stage while hardware will assume a supporting role.
Emerging from 2020, the ability to quickly assess a changing situation and nimbly adjust will be critical. To do this, organizations are increasingly looking to integrate their fleet technologies to help them better understand the entirety of their operations, not just bits and pieces that exist in silos. Platforms help to unite systems silos, providing businesses with visibility to more comprehensive areas of their operations in less time. And if they’re built using open specifications, platforms also give organizations the flexibility to add applications and configure solutions to adapt to emerging market demands.
In this scenario, hardware will assume more of a supporting role, acting as sensors, screens, data collectors, or control modules – like hands and feet carrying out the work set out by managers who are informed by intelligent software and empowered to make decisions. Don’t get me wrong – hardware will still be a critical component. But because replacing hardware is especially costly for fleets, the focus will be on ensuring that any equipment installed in vehicles will be “future-proof,” meaning it will be robust enough to be able to support innovations for multiple years.
10. Shared mobility will become a viable option for commercial fleets.
The concept of shared mobility has already upended passenger transit. It now has the potential to transform commercial delivery, providing flexible goods movement, dynamic supply chain management, as well as more efficient allocation of shared resources, such as cargo capacity.
What makes shared mobility possible is the platform ecosystem I’d touched on in the previous prediction. Platforms are useful because they not only help organizations connect internal technologies, but they also allow businesses to tap into external resources and applications while ensuring that the technologies can be integrated.
Technology for its own sake will not survive in 2021. The market dynamics borne from last year’s seismic shifts demand that technology be more than a checklist of shiny features. Rather, technologies that truly move the needle in helping fleets become more agile, resourceful, and adaptable will thrive in the months and years ahead.
Rajesh Rudraradhya is Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Lytx Inc., the world’s leading provider of machine vision and artificial intelligence-powered video telematics, analytics, safety, and productivity solutions for fleets. Rajesh has more than 20 years of technology innovation leadership experience, spanning connected devices, mobile and cloud platforms, developing product and technology strategy, and driving execution on a global scale. Prior to joining Lytx in 2020, Rajesh was the CTO at Snapdeal, the third-largest e-commerce company in India. He also served as CTO of Hike Messenger and as Head of Wearables and Internet-of-Things at Motorola/Google.