Otto's Autonomous Semi-Truck Joins Growing Connected Truck Market

A great deal of ink is spilled on autonomous vehicle technology, but it's not the only innovation that fleet managers might one day use to boost driver safety and throughput.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

This week, Olea announced a partnership with Flat Earth, a systems integrator that serves the industrial trucking market and sells modules using ultra-wideband pulse radar presence-detection technology supplied by Norwegian firm Novelda, to co-develop collision-avoidance technology for use on forklifts. The firms point out that according to OSHA, forklift accidents account for 35,000 serious workplace injuries each year in the United States.

Instrumenting drivers—or, at least, their uniforms—with sensors that track each driver's vital signs and forward that data to a cloud-based platform via a cellular network, could be another approach to improving safety in the trucking industry. As we reported this week, sensor maker Analog Devices is working with Microsoft and smart apparel maker Hexoskin to outfit athletes with vests that collect data regarding their movements, heart rate and respiration, and then send that information to coaches. But driver safety is one of the next applications that Analog Devices is considering for similar sensor-enabled apparel.

"Think of truck drivers going on long journeys," says Jason Lynch, Analog Devices' director of IoT strategy. Tracking each driver's movements and vital signs, he explains, could offer fleet managers some insight into that individual's health or level of fatigue.

In addition, Olea Sensor Networks has been evaluating the effectiveness of integrating its sensor module—which can also be used to track a person's heart rate and respiration—into vehicle seats in order to monitor drivers' health. A number of other vendors are providing trucking companies with systems that rely on a combination of heart-rate sensors and cameras that track eye movements, alerting drivers if they appear to be getting drowsy.

However, setting such potentially life-saving applications aside, connecting trucks to cyber-physical networks comes with a different kind of safety issue. As trucking industry magazine Trucks.Com reported this week, cybersecurity concerns are mounting in the long-haul trucking industry, as fleet managers adopt more technology, such as camera systems and fatigue-detection technology.

That, according to researchers, is because the telematics systems that connect trucks to networks tend to be insecure. An independent security researcher published a report last month that showed he was able to use the Shodan Internet of Things search engine to find thousands of telematics units that utilize a cellular modem to connect to the Internet, with a public IP addresses and no user authentication protocols, and "with administrative interfaces through a web panel or a telnet session."

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