For investors in technology, an old adage is to follow the engineers, because the engineers follow the money.
Following that rule today will likely lead you to California where, thanks primarily to Silicon Valley, more than 60,000 engineers are toiling away. But what may come as a surprise is that it also leads to Michigan. Despite a population that’s a fraction of California’s and a distinctly non-Silicon Valley industrial ethos, Michigan has almost the same number of engineers.
Credit a lot of those engineering jobs to the rebound in the auto and truck industry. Assembly lines that ground to a halt in the 2008 market crash have ramped back up. But innovation is a big part of the story too. Vehicle manufacturer are spending more than $100 billion annually on research and development—nearly four times the R&D investment of aerospace companies.
Many of those engineers are developing ways for cars and trucks to shed much of their oil and grease-laden past and embrace the new world of the Internet of Things (IoT).
Equipping the more than one billion cars and trucks on the road with IoT capabilities is a huge market opportunity—and it’s already well underway. Cars and trucks that can process data and adapt to driving conditions in real time are already on the market. The long-off prospect of a fully self-driven “autonomous” car and truck—long the stuff of science fiction— has captured the public’s imagination and also stirred primal fears.
But the transformation is going to be unfolding for years, if not decades. Vehicles have lots of moving parts. The manufacturers are quite siloed. Reliability is a huge issue. Designs need to get locked down years in advance of going into production. And there remain big questions about what consumers really want.
But for an advance glimpse of how it all might unfold—and some ‘rules of the road’ for how solution providers can take advantage of the opportunity—take a close look at trucks and how a company like Vnomics Corp of Pittsford, NY is evolving in the world of IoT.
The fleets of huge tractor trailers that you see on the highway are a relatively small part of today’s transportation environment (just under 13% percent of vehicles on the road. Yet they haul over 70% of US freight (by weight.) As a result, fleet operators with a bottom line interest in safe, efficient operations, have been among the first to embrace telematics and other IoT solutions such as those offered by Vnomics.
Founded in 2008, Vnomics got its start designing solutions to help the armed forces predict when parts in military vehicles might break down. Vnomics then expanded its focus from the equipment side of things to the driver’s seat with solutions such as In-Cab Advisor®, which looks for wasteful driving behaviors among truck drivers, such as non-optimal shifting, hard acceleration, speeding, and idling. The solution uses an audible tone to “coach” the driver and keeps track with a driver scorecard. According to David Chauncey, president of Vnomics, the solution has been a hit with fleet owners by delivering up to 17% in fuel savings. And while drivers might have been expected to resist the coaching, exactly the opposite occurs: fleet drivers compete with each other on performance.
Now, with the growing interest in IoT, Vnomics is taking advantage of the opportunity to expand its reach. Having moved from solutions that focus on monitoring parts and drivers, Vnomics is now looking at solutions that take a holistic view of overall vehicle performance—factoring in variables such as the driver and engine performance—and then providing more in-depth coaching, still in real time, to optimize performance.
“Since 2007, vehicle manufacturers have improved the fuel efficiency capabilities of the trucks,” said Chauncey. “We are providing solutions that give the drivers and the fleet operations the tools to take advantage of these capabilities through real-time feedback and analytics.”
The experience of Vnomics suggests a few parameters for how solution providers focused on vehicle IoT solutions should look at the market:
Big Opportunities in Small Improvements: While driverless cars and trucks fire up fantasies and fears, they are a long way off. The opportunities are in iterative improvements. That’s what you are seeing now from Detroit in solutions that help drivers with lane changing and parking. That’s the route that Vnomics has followed in first focusing on driver coaching and now looking at ways to optimize vehicle performance.
Connectivity is the Key: The big opportunity is less in vehicles that are driverless and more in vehicles that are connected—to each other and to the transportation grid (e.g., traffic lights and roadside sensors.) According to Chauncey, this is where IoT in automotive is headed and trucks are likely to get there first: trucks that can use electronics to travel close together in convoys, moving at a uniform speed, save fuel from reduced acceleration and air resistance. Synchronizing trucks with traffic lights—part of “smart city” IoT projects—can help improve safety and traffic flow, while providing learnings that will inevitably impact how these technologies are used in cars.
Keep it Simple: Fleet-based software, such as what’s available from Vnomics, can collect a wide range of data that trucking companies can use improve efficiencies and profitability, R&D, inventory, customer service and more. But the key to the success of any IoT solution is simplicity. “The owners and the drivers have made it clear they don’t want to be overwhelmed,” said Chauncey. “They want information that’s relevant in the moment and useable. A lot of our work goes into find and delivering the information that will really make a difference.”
Compute Power: Cars and trucks will be filled with scores of sensors, cameras, radar and vision sensing technologies, global positioning systems, and more. All of that means lots of compute power at the edge—on the vehicle itself—able to handle the full set of connectivity, security and reliability requirements. Intel has estimated that 1GB of data per second will need to be processed in a vehicle’s real-time operating system, and that data will need to be analyzed fast enough to allow the vehicle to react to changes in less than a second. As it develops its next generation solutions, Vnomics is working closely with Intel on processor designs that can be adapted to the unique requirements of on-vehicle performance.
The rules of the road are clearly changing and IoT is a big part of the story. You are already seeing the evidence in the critical world of trucking—and what’s happening there points the way to wide range of opportunities.
To learn more about Vnomics, visit vnomicscorp.com. For whitepapers, videos, blog posts and much more detailing how cars are being reshaped by Intel IoT technology, visit http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/automotive/automotive-overview.html