Archive for Technology Insight

How it ends…not with a bang, nor a whimper…

Scientists speculate sometimes that an asteroid impact would be what it would take to throw us all back into the Stone Age. But no one ever imagines that the end of modernity could actually turn out to be something much less dire…

How it turned out was a coronal mass ejection.

With our power grids destroyed, modernity as we knew it came to an abrupt end. Lacking satellite communications, international travel, automated traffic systems, and mobile phones, we could do nothing but gather with our friends around the piano, singing by candlelight.

Instead of the Stone Age, we’d been thrown back into the Biedermeier.

“They all agreed that they could scarcely remember the time when ceaselessly checking their iPhones seemed so important.”

Testing the Limits

Testing-the-Limits

When you master a skill, it can appear simple, almost effortless—but that’s just an illusion. Mastery takes hard work and dedication. This week, Webtech Wireless salutes our very own firmware engineer, Alireza Nematollahi (Ali), who’s been pulling in the gold as national kayaking champion while working to ensure Webtech Wireless hardware products are put through tests of their own.

Ali Tests the Limits

Ali works on hardware engineering projects at Webtech Wireless, either involved with new deployments or redesigning existing products and processes for increased efficiency. “Currently, I’m redesigning the automated testing hardware to improve how we test our locators”, he says and then explains that locators were tested manually, but “due to complexity of the locators, they are not human testable in a timely manner. By automating the testing, it will be possible to test up to 24 locators simultaneously.”

My impression of a slow hands-on testing process replaced by a faceless machine is dashed by Ali’s description of the rigorous test procedures in automated testing. Automation is more than just hurrying up (although that certainly is one aim). Automated testing improves how Quality Assurance analyzes the test data through improved reporting, and by analyzing the reports, they can continuously improve testing.

“I Will Be Fast!”

Ali has won a dozen or so medals over the years competing as a flatwater kayaker, and he credits his success in part to having “the best coach ever”.  Six days a week, you can find Ali training, either on his own in the gym or on the water with Kamini Jain, a two-time Olympian. Her motto, “I will be fast!”, must be what inspires Ali to say things such as, “You can do whatever you want”, and “I can be successful at my job and I can be successful at my sport”.

Overcoming Adversity

Although he’s not a professional, Ali has competed and won against the best in the field. He won the men’s gold medal at the national finals in Regina and won gold in Seattle’s Ted Houk Regatta K4, but is still content to have placed seventh this year in Montreal. “Does it seem like a failure to only place seventh after winning gold”, I asked, but Ali’s answer is a case in point of what a winning attitude is all about. “It’s not a failure. Seventh is very good, and failure is what motivates me to do better”.

On adversity he says, “I don’t let myself get caught up in comparison with others or my earlier successes. Comparison will tear me apart from the inside. I’m always thinking about the next regatta and the next year.” Then he adds, “Failure motivates you to do better.”

It’s pretty clear from talking to Ali that his training has prepared him for all the tests that life can offer, both at work and on the water. Congratulations for being an inspiration.

Connecting the DoTs: How Good Intentions Can Pave the Way to DoT Fines

Connecting-the-DoTs

You were just pulled over for DoT violations. Then you were fined an exorbitant sum for failing to provide driver logs, which you didn’t even think you needed. You’re driving short haul. What happened?

A lot of small companies are not prepared until they get caught.

  • Your small service fleet grew—and now you’re a victim of your own success—your new truck exceeds the allowable weight limit.
  • Your vanpool picked up one extra passenger—you were just trying to help—and now you’ve exceeded the number of passengers you can take.
  • Your short haul truck had a record busy day—business is great—but now you’ve been fined for letting your truck overshoot its allowable 100 mile radius.
  • Your service fleet took on some LTL (less-than-load) business—to reduce costs and fully utilize the fleet—and now you’ve been fined for carrying hazardous materials.

While long haul drivers are not exempt in any way, short haul drivers have certain exemptions, and that’s where you could inadvertently drive into a trap. A simple change in your business (buying a new truck, or carrying different cargo) could bump you out of the zone of short haul exemption and into the zone of long haul obligation, leading to fines.

Short haul trucking is defined as driving within a defined small radius (usually about 100 air mile area) of the truck’s home terminal during the day and returning to the same terminal at night. While short haul drivers are usually exempt from the same DoT regulations (Hours of Service for example), changing business practices within a company can bring the same regulations as long haul into play—sometimes even intermittently.

When Do Companies Have To Maintain Driver Logs?

According to Michael Scott, Software Architect responsible for translating DoT regulations into software solutions at Webtech Wireless, “Maintaining paper driver logs is an onerous task. Every commercial driver must maintain driver logs, which involves recording each transition (starts, stops, on duty, off duty, and so forth).”

Consider the following:

  • Do I have vehicles that are over 10,000 lbs?
  • Am I attaching trailers to my trucks (or towing other vehicles that could push the combined weight over 10,000 lbs)?
  • Do I have vehicles that carry hazardous materials (such as chlorine)?
  • Am I driving vehicles designated for fewer passengers than I’m actually carrying (remember, the driver counts)?

Size Doesn’t Matter

Michael says, “It’s really about driver activities. Even if you’re driving a minivan and otherwise subject to short haul restrictions, if you start carrying hazardous materials, you’re required to maintain driver logs or risk being in violation of DoT regulations.”

Key switches to start maintaining driver logs:

  • You start carrying hazardous materials
  • Your distances increase
  • Your truck’s gross tonnage for commercial vehicles increases (over 10,000 lbs)
  • You want to increase passenger capacity in a vehicle (check DoT regulations for more details)
  • You attach a trailer that puts the gross vehicle weight over 10,000 lbs (or towing another vehicle producing the same overweight result). Note: When the trailer or truck that caused to overage in weight is disconnected, the driver no longer needs to maintain driver logs.

Read the Fine Print

Regulations differ between US DoT and Transport Canada, but the intent is the same: In the US you must be able to show driver logs for 7 days and in Canada for 14 days. If you’re found not to have driver logs, you may be fined up to $1,000 per day for each day missing.

If you’re in the US,

US DoT Requirement to Fill Out a Daily Log:

http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/administration/fmcsr/fmcsrruletext.aspx?reg=395.1

If you’re in Canada,

Canadian Definition of Commercial Vehicle:

http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2005-313/

Tracking a Movable Feast: How National Food Does It

National-Food_Home
Photo courtesy National Food Corporation

Based in Everett, Washington, National Food is an egg and egg products production and distribution company. To economize its egg delivery service, its transportation department also offers for hire truckload and LTL (less than load) transportation services of refrigerated and dry freight to other food companies throughout the Pacific Northwest.  “In doing this, often if not always, we transport a variety of products that are being delivered alongside our products”, said David Harbour, Transportation Projects Manager at National Food.

Because of this diversity of product that National Food transports, the temperature monitoring solution David’s team picked isn’t used as advertised. At Webtech Wireless, we promote temperature monitoring as a solution that enables fleet managers to know through real-time alerts if temperature thresholds in trucks and trailers are being reached. While this is valuable information for National Food, they’ve opted out of the real-time alerts and focused instead on the benefits of reporting.

How National Food does it

For National Food, it’s all about reporting. “We have less need to know what’s going on in real-time than to have the reporting capabilities after the fact”, said David. And after-the-fact reporting is how National Food saves thousands of dollars in otherwise lost revenue. A shipment can run around $40,000 to $50,000, and I can think of at least three instances where temperature reporting saved us a lot of money. If a client claims that a shipment was spoiled, we can produce reports that show it didn’t happen on our watch”, said David adding, “It saved our bacon.”

Looking Forward to the New WT2250

WT2250 by Webtech Wireless“We already have three WT2250 Locators installed and plan to upgrade 28 trucks with the WT2250s as well”, said David. He mentioned some of the new features he’s looking forward to having with the new WT2250 Locators. “The WT2250 Locator sends a temperature report with every record, so in addition to the GPS location information, I know what temperatures my reefer trucks are recording”, said David. He goes on to mention the rugged build of the new WT2250s, “The antenna is built in, so there’s no separate accessory and one less fail point”.

With configurable timed reporting intervals and detailed reports show temperature history and readings exceeding thresholds, David and National Food have much to look forward to as they continue to deliver eggs and other food products to their customers—efficiently and cost effectively.

National-Food_eggs

What Impact Does the Climate Action Plan have on the Transportation Sector?

What Impact Does the Climate Action Plan have on the Transportation Sector
Image courtesy White House blog

There isn’t a person in the transportation sector who doesn’t want to see a brighter future for his or her families and loved ones, but how much will the new US Climate Change Action Plan unveiled this month affect the livelihoods or workers in this sector?

In a speech delivered this month at Georgetown University, President Obama described his Climate Action Plan:

  • Reduce carbon emissions;
  • Prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change;
  • Lead international efforts to fight climate change and prepare for its impacts.

According to the Plan, “Heavy-duty vehicles are currently the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions within the transportation sector.”

21CentureTransportationSector
Image courtesy The President’s Climate Action Plan, 2013

Telematics for the Planet®

We can help you today achieve the twin goals of reduced emissions and increased savings, like we have for these customers:

Reduce Waste

Webtech Wireless Telematics for the Planet provides a way for you to structure vehicle certification around measurable parameters based on organizational targets or environmental standards. Working with agencies such as Cascade Sierra, the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach replaced many of their older drayage vehicles (renowned for their pollution) and, using our Quadrant solution to measure idling, dramatically reduced the amount of idle time. As of 2010, there was 50% less elemental carbon—an indicator of diesel particulate matter. Cascade Sierra Solutions uses US government loans and grants to help fleet managers improve their fleet performance.

Idling Controls – Lower idling times by up to 90%. Long-haul trucks can save $8,000 per truck per year (averaging 1,800 hours idling per year)

Improve Use

CalVans relies on some of its capital and operating funding from federal investment through grants. With Webtech Wireless reporting, CalVans is able to provide a cleaner alternative to commuter driving through vanpooling over single-car commuting.  Through Webtech Wireless MDTs, CalVans is able to provide detailed reports that show the distance traveled, time durations of rides, and the number of riders (one of the key metrics to show how much vanpools reduce single-occupant vehicles on municipal roadways).

Speed Limits – Reduce fuel use, saving you money, and CO2—and improve safety—by monitoring excessive speeds.

For the transportation sector, the future is clear: the key to growth is fuel efficiency. People want it; the government wants it; and (if the mounting evidence of climate change is taken as an indicator), the planet wants it too.

Don’t Gamble on Distracted Driving

By Joel Waithman

WEW-Booth

Walt Fischer and Nigel Maund man the new Webtech Wireless booth at NAFA 2013.

 

Last week, along with Nigel Maund, Walt Fischer and others from Webtech Wireless, I attended NAFA in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I’m sure it’s a fun place in the summer, but in April there wasn’t much to distract me from the trade show (except perhaps a visit to the roulette table).

While at the conference, I attended an excellent presentation called, “Breakthrough Technologies and Future Trends for Fleet Telematics”, which described how telematics is going to impact fleet management in the next few years. The format of the presentation was a panel of four telematics specialists (responsible for huge fleets such as ARI) and a moderator. They fielded about ten questions and spent about ten minutes answering each question, except for one: The big question on everyone’s mind was distracted driving. This topic consumed a whole hour of the presentation time with many people from both commercial and government fleets weighing in on different points. Questions included, “How can we solve it?”, “Are we invading the privacy of the driver?”, and “What applications are available?”

So, gambling may be a fine distraction in Atlantic City, but no one’s gambling on distracted driving. One commenter compared cell phone use while driving to gun ownership. After all, a vehicle is potentially as lethal to operate, so some form of regulation is needed to ensure people use it properly. But is it the responsibility of governments to enforce? Some government operators suggested that unions might resist (unless required to comply by government regulations) while others embraced the idea (particularly commercial operators who shoulder a great deal of responsibility regardless of whether cell phones are used for private or company purposes). Everyone was aware of the Coca-Cola settlement of last year that set a precedent across the board for companies to monitor their drivers’ cell phone habits more closely.

On a lighter note, this year AT&T set up a demo car on the trade show floor equipped to demonstrate the risks of distracted driving. To try it, we put on special goggles that simulated a driver’s view and then we were given a cell phone to type on while driving. The demo could measure our level of distraction using graphs that measured speed fluctuations as we texted. People who tried the simulation were surprised by how distracted they became.

Joel Waithman

Joel Waithman, Channel Partner Manager - Webtech Wireless

These experiences reminded me how critical our Webtech Wireless MDTs with hands-free voice are to preventing distracted driving. Even our auditory alert warnings (such as on the Accelerometer) to warn of excess speed, braking, and other erratic driving behavior ensure safety by keeping drivers focused on driving rather than texting. There are many ways to be distracted nowadays, but it’s in no one’s interest to gamble on road safety.

Avoiding a Bridge Too Low

ABridgeTooLow

Known as the “truck-decapitator”, a bridge in Durham, North Carolina found wider fame last fall when it was featured in an Atlantic Cities article on aging infrastructure. An accompanying video, ­“The Toughest Bridge in the World”, featured a montage of ill-fated trucks (set to music from the film Rocky) getting peeled like sardine cans as they career under the century-old railway bridge. To make matters worse, wilting commentary from amused readers specifically targeted the hapless truckers. There were also some helpful suggestions, but none thought to propose a GPS navigation system that could route truckers away from these kinds of dangerous roads.

Bridging the Knowledge Gap

Many small and independent trucking companies, in a misguided attempt to put cost savings ahead of other concerns, purchase off-the-shelf GPS navigation systems that don’t provide enough detail for truckers to avoid these disasters. They’re buying consumer GPS navigation systems designed primarily for cars where there is little concern about height clearances and other routing conditions needed by commercial truckers.

The situation is serious enough that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is now distributing visor cards to truck drivers warning them that consumer-oriented GPS navigation devices pose life-threatening risks to truck drivers. FMCSA also faulted trucking operators with ineffective driver training and therefore advised operators to get their drivers trained on industry-standard commercial grade GPS navigation systems.

Truck-Specific GPS Navigation

In a complementary article in Overdrive (March 11, 2013), U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer stated that trucks using inappropriate GPS systems, which don’t support routing around “low bridges, hazmat routes and other information relevant to truckers”, are the chief cause of bridge strikes.

FMCSA Recommends

Michael Scott, Software Engineer at Webtech Wireless says, “We have chosen to integrate our MDT 3100s with a truck-specific GPS navigation solution that supports the kind of truck routing the FMCSA wants truck drivers to use”. He’s referring with our partnership with ALK Technologies to enhance our Quadrant® In-Cab solution by adding ALK CoPilot® In-Cab navigation.  Michael went on to point out that while we meet all the requirements the FMCSA recommended for “safe use of GPS navigation systems”, drivers still need to be alert to road signage. “No GPS navigation system absolves drivers from responsibility on safe routes”.

By selecting a GPS navigation system intended for use by professional truck and bus drivers, ensuring drivers are properly trained in its use, and remaining alert to changing conditions, you can expect to navigate safely to your destination.

Measuring Safety and Efficiency

–By Chuck Lane, Solution Engineer, Webtech Wireless

Chuck Lane is a solution engineer with Webtech Wireless who lives in central Florida. He contributes blog posts focusing on technical solutions in the field. Below he describes one solution we’ve developed to help Tampa Electric improve its safety and efficiency of work crews.


Co-Location Report – Where Are Our Supervisors?

When we approached Tampa Electric in 2011 about the need for a GPS fleet tracking system, we found the words “safety” and “efficiency” were of utmost importance. Tampa Electric was interested in how the system would help them to operate more safely and increase overall efficiency of their vehicle fleet relating to customer service. As the two companies sorted through the business requirements and what possible Webtech Wireless features may be of interest to Tampa Electric, the issue of the need for a Co-Location report came up.

A Co-Location report shows how much time a supervisor spends supervising a service crew. Tampa Electric was convinced that a supervisor’s time should be spent in the field supervising work crews rather than in the office. Tampa Electric maintains that this will increase the safety of the crew as well as efficiency.

How does the Co-Location report improve safety and efficiency?

Safety – Much of the work Tampa Electric crews do is dangerous work. There is the persistent risk of workers getting injured or kill through falls from hydro poles or electrocution. Having the supervisor on site reduces these risks. Tampa Electric wanted to know where its supervisors were. As with GPS-based speeding data, behavior changes if people know they’re “being watched”. Visibility increases compliance.

Efficiency – Tampa Electric uses its fleet GPS tracking in a number of ways to improve efficiency. For example, knowing when vehicles enter and exit geofence areas ensures drivers and supervisors are working together towards a common goal.

Overcoming Challenges

A number of issues needed to be overcome in order to get the report to work properly. The situation where a vehicle is parked on or near a parking lot boundary (night time off duty area) had to be compensated for due to the fact that GPS “jump” readings sometimes occur. The fact that the lead and supervisor vehicles could move at any time creating the need for the creation of new geofence boundaries and calculations was also a concern that must be accommodated.

Several design sessions were held and Tampa Electric input was captured. A rollout of GPS/AVL units to the Tampa Electric fleet was started with the expectation that the Co-Location report would be available in the near future. A report release was made available several months later. The design and functioning of the report went through several changes, particularly overcoming the challenge of parking lot boundaries mentioned above as well as remedying GPS data, which required some trial and error adjustments. When these were addressed by Webtech Wireless engineers, the new report was released.

At this point it is probably good to point out how the report works and some of the challenges that had to be overcome in order to get the report to produce good information:

How it works…

A worksite is defined by the location of a “lead vehicle”. The lead vehicle must be stopped (ignition off or idle) for more than five minutes before a worksite is created (configurable). Worksites extend a configurable radius from the lead vehicle (default: 200 feet).

Special Geofences can be created to ensure that the lead vehicles do not create worksites when parked in company depots or other common locations. The worksite is a dynamic landmark, meaning it does not appear on the map, is not visible in Landmark reports, and is deleted when the lead vehicle moves on.

Co-Location Admin

The Report…

The report is grouped by supervisor vehicle. For each supervisor, the information is grouped by lead vehicle and by day. Information includes time range, lead truck location by address, total time in range of lead vehicle, number of visits, and percentage of time in range of lead vehicle.

Co-Location Vehicle Name
Daily totals for each supervisor are easy to view!
Co-Location Daily totals

Measuring Success

Although there were challenges, Tampa Electric stood by the solution as report modifications were made to produce a report that was reliable and could be distributed to Tampa Electric supervisors with confidence of accurate results.

Currently, Tampa Electric is using this report and distributing among supervisors for review. The original goals of increased safety and efficiency have been met. The Tampa Electric supervisors are aware that their actual time in contact with their work crews is now being measured.

Business Intelligence from Intelligent Communities

Business Intelligence from Intelligent Communities

You need to have some forbearance for municipalities that raced to keep up with demand for web-based communication systems suitable to desktop computers only to watch their constituents abandon fixed computers in favor of mobile devices, particularly smartphones. While the trend toward increased mobile device usage by constituents is only speeding up, the core theme (beyond the flip flops in technology) continues to be toward citizen-driven real-time communications.

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
—Stephen Hawking

Municipalities are now embracing new technologies (such as smartphone apps) not just to keep up with their constituents, but as a means to making their services readily available and scalable to people’s diverse needs. For example, municipalities must respond to a pro-active population that takes for granted the ability to see details about snow plow route completion, traffic congestion, parking restrictions and emergency situation alerts. Constituents want to live in intelligent communities. But what makes a community intelligent?

Citizen-Centered Services

Martin Duggan, vice president of market strategy at IBM, recently described in The Atlantic how public-sector departments must depart from the old service-delivery models and become more collaborative with their constituents. He stresses that “Today there is a shift toward citizen-centered services…” which in effect is saying communication has left push mode (government) and entered pull mode (citizen) as never before.

In Drawing Intelligence from Data, I described how business owners are becoming overwhelmed with the amount of data that’s now being collected—93% of CEOs believe they are losing opportunities from a lack of tools to handle this data. While constituents demand information at ever-increasing rates—and in real-time—organizations and businesses must make sense of it all.

One of our customers, Ville de Québec, sought to make sense of it all by tying the data it gathered from its snow plows using Webtech Wireless’ InterFleet solution to how it communicated with its constituents. It had large amounts of information it could use to inform constituents via an interactive web map and provide real-time locations of the city’s snow plows. For this, and other intelligent initiatives, Ville de Québec was nominated as an intelligent community.

What’s next for communities with data on their hands? Could past seasons of weather data be layered to forecast upcoming budgets for salt requirements on city roads? What are municipalities doing to become intelligent communities with business intelligence?

Know Where You Stand

While Webtech Wireless’ Customer Care supports two main communication tracks (email and a Customer Care website), it’s the latter track that is winning over our customers. The reason? The Customer Care website is designed expressly with the customer in mind.

“From the point of view of the Technical Support Team, it doesn’t matter if customers email or use the Customer Care website”, says Andrew Hwang, Technical Support Lead, “because we have our own internal process that ensures we track customers however they contact us. But to our customers, the Customer Care website gives them much more visibility into the status of their technical requests than sending us an email.”

And that’s the beauty of the Customer Care website. Customers have extensive visibility, or as Andrew puts it, “they know where they stand”.

Having a single place for communication is ideal for trucking fleets that may not have extensive enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to integrate internal and external information across their organization. In plain language, that means it is better than relying on email, and as everybody knows, email gets lost, is tied to individual users, and if not continuously culled, becomes overwhelming.

Customer Care Portal Ticket

Customers who have technical issues can log in, create a new ticket, search and view the status of tickets (even for tickets submitted by other employees at the same company), view the history of closed tickets, and even attach documents (such as PDF and Excel files) to tickets.

Just as Webtech Wireless excels at providing visibility to fleet management—from finding trucks on the road to business intelligence drawn from data gathered by GPS fleet tracking—customers can expect the same level of visibility when getting technical support.

If you’re not already signed up with the Customer Care Website, what’s stopping you? Visit http://www.webtechwireless.com/en/contact/ and sign up today!