Probably the best known name in this area is Microlise, which boasts customers such as Eddie Stobart, Maritime Transport and Suttons Group. However, it also works with far smaller fleets using identically the same approach, and the results are said to be equally good.
“We have just over 20 parameters, ranging from harsh braking, through to cruise control, idling, and a number of others,” says Neil Selby, senior business transformation manager. “Then we have a grading system from A through to G, behind which are points scored by driver behaviour.” Think about the energy efficiency diagram found on electrical goods, in other words.
When a customer adopts the Microlise system, a trial period is agreed during which information is gathered about how its vehicles are being driven. “We then put that into a friendly format to allow the customer and us to understand which parameters are the most relevant,” Selby explains. “We’re then able to set those grades in a fair and achievable way.” This could vary between depots, if the work they do or the vehicles they use are very different, say. Or it could be company wide, to allow mass comparison.
“Fuel consumption is, obviously, a key business driver, but to me this is more about reducing accidents,” says Paul Jurevicius, business development director. “It’s about understanding and improving those grades, and then hopefully MPG will naturally improve with them. But actually, it’s about safety.
Information is taken directly from the vehicle’s CAN-Bus, and fed through Microlise’s telematics unit. “We then have what we call the vehicle personality – a driver could jump from a DAF XF to a Scania, and each one of those vehicles will have different over-revving and green bands,” Selby tells us. “The beauty of our system is that, whatever the vehicle, you’re getting the correct characteristics, which we set up at the on-boarding stage of implementation.” Microlise’s 2022 driver of the year was Marek Mackiewicz of Great Bear.
PLAYING THE SYSTEM
When it comes to drivers ‘playing’ the system – especially when a monetary bonus is at stake – things have taken a big step forward. “There are a number of things we’ve seen in the past where people have tried to falsify their results,” Selby concedes. “So we’ve introduced parameters such as “cruise control without pedal” now, to try and understand that. But ultimately,” he continues, “it’s about working with the drivers and the company to make sure what’s implemented is fair and equitable to everybody.”
Teletrac Navman is another familiar name in this area and, like most telematics systems, it has evolved over the years. From starting with purely accelerometer-based scoring, it moved to an interactive app, then eventually to include audible alerts giving drivers live feedback. Now, however, it has integrated camera technology to give context.
“Before, if I had to brake because somebody pulled in front of me, I would get penalised for that as a driver,” Barney Goffer, UK product manager points out. “Our new technology allows us to put that into the real world and recognise it as good behaviour.” The aim is to build trust and faith in the system with drivers, who he admits sometimes don’t agree with the methods being used for the scoring.
The original scoring framework is still present, using an algorithm based on 11 different vehicle classes to calculate results. But now alerts about events having occurred – prioritised by associated risk – are sent to fleet managers, who can view the video and flag false positives. “The system then uses machine learning to establish what good versus bad looks like, based on how you coach and train it,” Goffer adds.
This last bit is key. Very few fleet or transport managers have time to be viewing reams of footage every day, but a concerted effort to do this at the beginning of implementation will mean they reap rewards further down the line. “We do already separate scores and events into ‘severe’, ‘moderate’ and ‘good’,” Goffer states. “So the stuff you really need to look at is on the screen in front of you the next time you log in.”
Given the current shortage of drivers, retention is increasingly a consideration. With that in mind, feedback has been positive so far. “It’s a challenge because of where we started with driver scoring, so gaining trust in the technology with drivers is crucial,” Goffer concedes. “But the fact you’ve got this capability to reward people and gamify the experience, there are a lot of people who like that.” In an industry desperate to attract more youth, as well as improve efficiency, this kind of approach may well be the way forward.
Another company offering video-enabled telematics is Birmingham-based camera specialist Centrad. Its larger customers are all in the logistics sector – such as DHL and WH Malcolm. But it also has a lot of experience with buses and coaches, not least because MD Geoff Cross used to operate over 30 of them across the city. “That’s our unique edge,” technology director (and Geoff’s father) Steve Cross says. “He’s found out the hard way what he needs to do to improve driver safety.”
One difference between the two is the use of driver-facing cameras. “Our equipment is centred around a mobile video recorder, which these days is a Linux computer,” Cross says. “So it’s also connected to sensors, and then there are multiple cameras around the vehicle.” The usual harsh braking and acceleration, over-revving and idle times are captured, and tied to external video to exonerate drivers when they happen for good reason.
POINT OF DIFFERENCE
But where this system differs from the others is in its use of facial recognition to pick up undesirable or unsafe behaviours. “We can capture things like the use of mobile phones and driver distraction,” Cross explains. “So, for instance, if a driver is always looking away from the road, or if his eyes start to drop due to fatigue. Eating at the wheel is another problem we often see.”
The parameters for the basic telematics elements are set by the customer, having been advised and given a basic framework by the Centrad team. This part of the system is where fuel efficiency is considered. But the main motto here is that safety is everything. “It’s important in logistics, but even more important when you’ve got 50 people on the vehicle,” Cross points out, “as is passenger comfort. On a service bus, if the driver brakes too sharply while there’s an 80-year-old still walking down the gangway, that can lead to life-changing injuries,” he adds. “We’ve seen it happen.”
Passenger-transporting drivers have had driver-facing cameras as standard for well over 10 years now, not least for their own protection. Facial recognition and AI, however, are far younger innovations. “We’ve been working with it in the field for over three years now, though,” Cross concludes. “So it’s definitely proven technology. As long as the system has been implemented fairly and properly, drivers in general have been very receptive.”