For the longest time, video was a sort of stay-at-home technology, used to record weddings, baby's first step and summer vacations at the beach. Even interactive video-so cool, so popular-has also been much more about playing games than doing a job. Today, however, video seems to be coming of age. The proof? Video is getting right into truck cabs and going to work. Now that is getting serious.

“We are absolutely committed to delivery of video in the truck cab,” says Brian McLaughlin, exec. vp-marketing, product and sales for PeopleNet Communications Corp. “Fleets today want to send custom videos to drivers; they want to deliver training and safety messages; they want to provide entertainment and use video for driver recruiting and retention. Our new BLU enhanced display platform is fully video-capable and we are very aggressively heading in that direction.”

TRAINING & MORE

One of the first in-cab video services PeopleNet plans to offer is driver training. “We have signed a Letter of Intent with Instructional Technologies, Inc. (ITI) to deliver in-cab training to our BLU customers,” says McLaughlin, “and work is well under way.”

ITI has been delivering interactive video training to drivers since 2000, but pushing it out to the truck cab takes training to a new level, according to Bruce Weiss, executive vp of business development for ITI. “We're entering a whole new age,” Weiss says. “Trucking is finally able to join the airline industry in providing onboard computers and collecting vital operational data, and this provides an enormous opportunity to track a host of factors that can make commercial driving much safer and more profitable.

“These systems can become a double-edged sword, however,” he continues. “If a carrier has access to driver performance data, then it has to be committed to acting on that data; it has to close the loop. First collect the data; second intelligently interpret the data; and finally retrain the driver immediately and very specifically for that at-risk behavior if retraining is indicated. The great thing about this new in-cab communications revolution is that we are able to provide that targeted training almost immediately, right in the driver's own truck cab.

“It is not as simple as it sounds, though,” Weiss adds. “For example, if a driver has seven hard-braking incidents in a single shift, a manager might jump to the conclusion that the driver needs retraining in space management. But what if the hard braking all occurred in the thirteenth hour of driving? That might suggest fatigue or even that the driver was falling asleep and abruptly waking. Maybe there were mechanical problems. All factors have to be assessed before any intelligent decision can be made about the problem and any appropriate remediation or solution. Our corporate background at ITI is in NASA and pilot training. We can write the algorithms to make the data intelligent and actionable.”

According to Weiss, ITI has also signed Letters of Intent with other companies, including DriverTech and Geologic Solutions. With DriverTech, ITI expects to be delivering in-cab training for U.S. Xpress in 2007 and work is also in process with GeoLogic.

“We are working with ITI now to make training for drivers available right in the truck cab over our new MobileMax fleet management system,” says GeoLogic president and CEO, John Lewis. “Training, even very sophisticated training, is really the low-hanging fruit when it comes to in-cab video, though. Fleets want much greater connectivity with their workers. It is very difficult to develop a corporate culture, for instance, with people you don't see very often. In-cab video can help fleets show drivers how they want the company to be perceived.”

In fact, video is virtually wrapping itself around the truck and driver, according to Scott Lemon, DriverTech vp. “We see video being deployed in three ways today,” Lemon says. “We have a number of fleet customers who are putting video cameras around the exterior of the vehicle to enhance visibility and safety and then integrating those camera views right into our DriverTech unit on the dash.

“Video can also be used to proactively deliver on-going remedial training more efficiently and cost-effectively than ever before,” he adds. “In the case of the ITI training programs, for example, all the content resides right on our system. Updates can be downloaded wirelessly anytime. The third benefit of video in the cab is that it permits fleets to extend the personal touches that other employees routinely receive out to the driver, as well. Those so-called little things like anniversary congratulations and holiday greetings, for instance, can help a driver feel more connected.”

“Video is a business tool and a social tool,” says Michael Carpentier, co-CEO and founder of Big Truck TV with partner Geoff Clendenning. As a business tool, it can be designed and adapted to meet business goals, such as delivering training, providing information to customers, holding meetings and helping create a corporate culture.”

“On the social side, I can definitely see how video could be used to bring home into the truck cab,” adds Clendenning. “It can be used to engage drivers in new ways that build driver loyalty and improve retention. Drivers could take courses in things they enjoy. They could take extended education classes and work toward a degree or a new job within the fleet. We are all video creatures; video engages us so more fully than other media.”

QUALITY OF LIFE

It is this ability to involve and engage people that makes video so appealing to many truck fleet owners. “Fleets care about their drivers' quality of life,” says Norm Ells, vp and general manager transportation and logistics for Qualcomm. “Video is definitely of interest to us, in part because it can help fleets offer their drivers a better quality of life on the road. It can help create a sense of community and provide entertainment besides serving as a business tool for things like training. Of course, you do have to balance factors like safety and the drivers' need for rest while on the road; video has to be managed and used appropriately.

“Video, like audio communications, can help make information more personal,” Ellis adds. “I believe there is an opportunity for us to leverage our network capabilities to allow drivers to extract additional value, to make connecting in a pretty isolated lifestyle easier.”

“What is really exciting is just the sheer speed, the velocity, with which these opportunities are presenting themselves,” observes GeoLogic's John Lewis. “Ten years ago, there were companies like us saying, ‘Well, we could do this or that….’ Now, the ideas are coming from the industry. Fleets are asking us ‘How could we do this?’ That presents great opportunities to the technology providers.”

Video: the can-do list

Video is not new. Using it to share information with drivers while they are on the road, however, is a new application for this “mature” media, and it may enable you to accomplish things you did not think were possible before. Here is a short checklist by way of illustration. Sure, some of the items on this list could be shared in a print newsletter, email message or conference call, but video enthusiasts argue that seeing is believing — that video makes communications more personal, immediate, relevant and involving. See if you agree:

  1. Include drivers in company-wide meetings as they occur to make sure they have the same timely access to business information as other employees.
  2. Personally pass along daily safety tips or emergency alerts from the fleet safety director.
  3. Deliver on-going and remedial training to drivers, without having to wait until they can come to a terminal or other training facility.
  4. Enable drivers to virtually participate in important family events by watching them on the road — the school play, the soccer game, and so on.
  5. Create a sense of community for drivers even while they are on the road with video-capable social networks that enable them to communicate with the home office and with one another.
  6. Help to build and maintain the culture you want for your company by using video to communicate core values, recognize and reward best behaviors.
  7. Provide drivers with access to entertainment or information/training about the leisure activities they enjoy.
  8. Offer “previews” of services available on the route ahead, including new travel center facilities, meal specials, rest areas, motels with truck parking, etc. If you chose, permit featured service suppliers to also offer “e-coupons” to drivers.
  9. Create a career advancement program for qualified drivers interested in other jobs within your company by offering self-paced general and job-specific training courses that can be completed while they are on the road.
  10. Take recruiting to a new level by enabling selected drivers to share videos about your fleet with prospective drivers they meet.

Here's looking at you

People talk about watching video, but video technology can also be deployed to watch people and objects, too. In October 2007, ABI Research released a new study on camera-based safety systems for vehicles. According to the study, the industry is moving toward an all-around-the-vehicle camera view that may eventually be paired with automatic error correction systems. Camera-based driver monitoring and occupant detection systems are also developing to help address safety and security needs.

San Diego-based DriveCam, Inc., for example, uses a video event recorder mounted on the windshield behind the rear view mirror to capture the sights and sounds inside and outside the vehicle. Usually the unit does not save what it records. However, exceptional events such as hard braking, swerving or a collision, cause the recorder to save the video captured in the seconds before and after the triggering event. That video record can be analyzed and used for driver coaching to improve behavior and help to reduce risk.

Is this new use for video gaining industry acceptance? According to a September release from DriveCam, sales have grown more than 800% over the past three years.