Managing Large Fleets of Cars and Trucks is No Longer Like Herding Cats

Connectivity and sensor technology are making it easier for companies to manage fleets of vehicles and answer a few simple questions:

  • Are all the vehicles in working order?
  • Are they being used as efficiently as possible?
  • Where are they, exactly?  

No longer is managing a fleet of cars and trucks “like herding cats” because new innovations are allowing companies to take advantage of modern, forward-looking technologies.

At the forefront of the smart fleet movement is Inrix, which recently secured a significant influx of cash with an investment from Intel. Its services manage to connect entire fleets of cars, so that they can communicate almost like a flock of birds: each knows what the other is doing, and collaboratively they make decisions about what to do next.

Further, Inrix’s system can handle what’s called “inter-modal routing,” which is a way of figuring out the best route to get somewhere, and it uses data from all vehicles in a fleet to do that. Inrix’s data can also automatically figure out where to get gas, where to park, or where to find a recharging station, in the case of electric cars. 

In fact, these are the same types of systems that large cities use to run public transit.

But now the increasingly inexpensive hardware and smarter software mean that even a small fleet of cars can utilize the same system. Inrix is already in place in some cars from Toyota, Mercedes, Audi and BMW, and don’t be surprised if Inrix turns up in your next rental car!

There’s also a huge market in smart fleets for larger vehicles, especially trucks. On the front line of this revolution is UPS: though UPS’s trucks are still the familiar boxy brown, the internal gear systems are future-facing and totally new. Every operational element is now tracked: how much fuel is used per minute, how long it takes to get a signature, the amount of time it takes to get a package out of the truck. That may seem like small change, but for a company as big as UPS, each minute can literally mean millions of dollars.

A recent example: UPS doesn’t like its drivers going in reverse, for both safety and efficiency reasons. Sensors now monitor reverse motion, so operators can tell exactly how much they’re backing up. In fact, sensors are embedded everywhere from the tires to the storage area to the engines, which can help prevent breakdowns, as well. If a truck does break down, UPS can delve deep into the history of that particular vehicle to figure out where the weak points are. And sometimes it results in much smaller improvements as well. Now, thanks to all the data from these sensors, each truck is packed according to a computer’s algorithm to increase efficiency -- and it’s bumped up the amount of packages each truck can deliver by as much as 30%.