Friday, May 22, 2015

Volvo buys into truck platooning

Little more than a week after Daimler introduced its Freightliner autonomous truck using Las Vegas as a backdrop and the Hoover Dam as a movie screen, Volvo Trucks treated invited guests, including this fortunate reporter, to a celebration of the Volvo Ocean Race in Newport, R. I. Volvo took the occasion to update its invited dealers, employees, and media reps on company news.

With the last echoes of the Daimler event still in our ears, I didn’t expect to hear much from Volvo about autonomous trucks. Sure enough the only significant mention came from Susan Alt, senior vice president, public affairs for Volvo, who in answer to a question at the presentation said that as far as general highway use was concerned, “We won’t see autonomous trucks in our lifetime.”

Of course, that’s just one opinion. And it doesn’t mean Volvo is out of the highway technology race by any means. On the contrary, they may simply have bet on another horse. Just one week before Daimler’s Hoover Dam uber-spectacle, Volvo announced it had invested in a U.S. company called Peleton Technology. Based 1.2 miles and 6 minutes from Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Peleton is in the freshly hatched industry of truck platooning.

Peleton has technology, both hardware and software, that enables trucks to platoon along highways, one behind the other close enough to cut air drag on all – even the lead truck – and save fuel. It’s all about smart algorithms and wireless communication.

Taking a big step beyond adaptive cruise and collision mitigation, Peleton connects truck systems wirelessly. If one driver hits the brakes, brakes on the following trucks will engage also. If a car tries to cut between two platooning trucks, the trailing truck will automatically drop back and allow the car in.

There’s a lot of sophisticated stuff going on here, so sophisticated in fact, that using the Peleton system trucks can join or leave a platoon in motion, on the highway. The company envisions a national control center accessible to all Peleton-equipped trucks and platoons at all times over the Internet.

So when I had the opportunity at a Volvo breakfast last week, I asked Volvo Trucks North America President Göran Nyberg about the Volvo-Peleton relationship. Nyberg had been quoted in a Volvo release saying “We look forward to working with Peleton as they work on a platooning solution.” This was apparently more than a hands-off, money-only investment.

Why had Volvo invested in advanced technology for quick, ad-hoc creation of platoons? Wasn’t that capability ahead of what was needed? Would small fleets and owner-operators even want to take part? Wouldn’t the big fleets simply assemble platoons of their own?

Volvo very much appreciated that element of the technology, Nyberg said after breakfast. In fact, he noted, it will be exactly those major fleets that will cooperate with each other in forming appropriate, fuel-saving platoons. But then our brief conversation was over.

It took me a moment, but then the idea coalesced.

Of course it will be big fleets. Who else will be able to invest in the equipment? Who else has so many trucks on the road heading in so many directions?

But those companies won’t necessarily assemble the platoons. Individual drivers will, using that ad-hoc system. They’ll do it in the most practical way – as trucks already on the road, ready on a moment’s notice to join a platoon. No waiting to assemble, no delays. Peleton’s control center will enable it. Peleton-equipped trucks will simply join and leave platoons as they roll.

Since there will be a real driver steering (not reading a newspaper or telemarketing) in each truck, platooning could happen sooner than autonomous trucking. And I have to guess that those platoons will likely feature not just one, but a mix of fleet names – big fleet names.

A potential downside: Peleton says their platooning system will be available to small fleets and owner-operators, but that will not prevent big fleets from agreements with each other to lock out other, probably smaller players from individual platoons. The benefits of platooning, then, could accrue almost exclusively to the big fleets that rarely miss an opportunity to make things difficult for small truckers.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A charitable mind

In March, TravelCenters of America named its 2015 “Citizen Drivers” – an honor bestowed on five professionals who now have truck stops named after them. And that is why this week, the TA in Commerce City, Colo., became the Rick Ash Travel Center. The TA is named after an owner-operator from Lakewood, Colo., who possesses the integrity, the experience, the leadership ability and all of the values TA was looking for in their honorees.

I know Rick to be a tireless advocate for professional truck drivers who aside from his job as an owner-operator, maintains a constant backlog of projects that is somehow, someway making trucking a better place to live and work. For one thing, he’s a walking idea machine. He has great ideas and when it comes to getting them done, he is Mr. Follow Through.

He’s chairman of the Trucking Solutions Group, a small but focused group of professional truckers. I’m in contact with him frequently as he is an OOIDA member and serves on the Board with me at the St. Christopher Fund. Currently, we are working on a TSG project to bring a mobile mammogram mobile unit to the Great American Trucking Show, Aug. 27-29, 2015, in Dallas.

Every time I see Rick, he’s either doing a health walk, coordinating a blood donation project, helping OOIDA staff pack boxes for Truckers for Troops, or speaking to a convention about how to eat healthy on the road. And that’s not just talk. Several years ago he dropped more than 50 pounds and has kept fit by practicing good eating habits and exercising.

Kudos to TravelCenters of America for choosing Rick Ash for a 2015 Citizen Driver Award. Congratulations to you as well, Rick. Keep on being a cool guy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Naming a bridge after Mr. Hockey is a class move

The powers that be did a good thing when they chose to name the soon-to-be-built International Trade Crossing after Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. From now on, it has been declared, the world shall refer to the new bridge that will connect Detroit, Mich., with Windsor, Ontario, as the “Gordie Howe International Bridge.”
Two thumbs up, or should we say, two elbows up.

Howe has meant so much to the Detroit-Windsor region since he broke into the National Hockey League as an 18-year old in 1946.

His mindboggling 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, which lasted through 1971, are unparalleled, highlighted by four Stanley Cups, six scoring titles, and six league MVP titles.

Howe’s draw came from well beyond the Motor City and Windsor on the Canadian side. Born in a Canadian prairie town, Howe’s playing style and legacy have transcended the game and are without borders.

It’s only fitting that this stalwart of a player, this game changer and perennial all-star – always high on the “best ever” lists that people like to argue about – has his name attached to a gargantuan, state-of-the-art structure that will further unite two countries in the name of progress and mobility.

Howe was an all-around player, one of the first to package up everything we now expect from today’s NHL players – strength, toughness and fearlessness with grace, awareness and scoring touch.

He was extremely charitable with his time and philanthropy off the ice, but when he laced up the skates, there was simply no other player in NHL history who intimidated other players both physically and on the scoreboard. While officially placing in the top-10 in scoring for 21 consecutive seasons, Howe was also the most feared man on the ice. He’s even been called the dirtiest player of all time by some of his peers.

Superstars on other teams were forced to change their own playing styles to deal with him. Top scorers and tough guys alike would spend entire shifts looking over their shoulders if Howe was around. His elbows were legendary. Make one mistake, one wrong turn, and boom. Lights out.

In addition to his abilities and longevity, Howe’s most valuable trait has always been his will, his determination. Whatever his team needed, or whatever the moment called for, Howe was the one you wanted out there.

Only a few players in history have had as much influence over the game. Think about it. Howe is really only in a league of three, playing right wing with Wayne Gretzky at center ice and Bobby Orr on defense. Not lost in the lore is that Gretzky donned his trademark No. 99 in honor of Howe’ No. 9. Even those guys, along with many of the game’s greats, call Gordie Howe “Mr. Hockey” and show him the utmost respect.

Legend has it that in his prime, Howe would receive fan mail simply addressed: “Mr. Hockey, Detroit, USA.” And the Post Office would deliver it to him.

But one of the coolest things about Howe was that after his NHL days were done, he spent virtually no time in retirement before signing with the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association. The offer was a great one because it put Gordie on the ice alongside his sons Mark and Marty. They were a family powerhouse, and “Father Time” himself notched 100 points that year at the age of 46.

The WHA merger with the NHL in 1979 gave Howe one more season at the highest level before he would retire as a Hartford Whaler. At age 51, Gordie Howe played all 80 games of the grueling professional season and played in the all-star game. The game that year was held in Detroit, so you can imagine the ovation when No. 9 took the ice. And again when he stole the puck, passed it and recorded an assist.

I remember his final swan song as a player very well. Of all things it happened 17 years after his 1980 retirement. The Detroit Vipers of the IHL decided to sign Gordie Howe to a contract in 1997 and get him on the ice for a single game – actually just a shift – so that at age 70, he could be the only player in history to play professional hockey in six different decades. When his time came, he left the bench, skated around, and went back. He didn’t score or lower the boom on anyone, but it will forever be notched in the history books.

Mr. Hockey is 87 now, and his health has not been the best in recent years. He had a series of strokes a few months ago, but was up and moving not long after. Some say it was because of the stem-cell treatment he had, but no doubt his determination has played a part.

His family posts occasional updates on his website, but no one can predict with any certainty whether Howe will be the one to cut the ribbon on his namesake bridge when the time comes.

Someone said that he does not do well with bed rest, that he’s always getting up and moving around. It’s tough to keep that spirit down.

Oh, and look out for those elbows.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Arkansas trucker reunited with four-legged ‘co-pilot’ after lengthy medical emergency

Here’s one from the “Feel Good” file, compliments of Fox 4 Kansas City, about how a trucker and his faithful four-legged companion reunited after a serious medical emergency.

Driver Chris Price, who hauls for Con-way Freight, usually doesn’t go anywhere without his co-pilot, Coco, who has been riding in Price’s cab ever since she was a pup. The two are on the road to their Home-20 once again thanks to the efforts of a local animal shelter and the generous donations of volunteers.

Price had a medical emergency in Kansas City that required him to be admitted to North Kansas City Hospital for three weeks. In April, he collapsed at a Flying J truck stop on Interstate 435 and Front Street, and was rushed to the hospital. Doctors there diagnosed him with a staph infection that had entered his bloodstream, necessitating a lengthy stay in the hospital.

According to the news report, Price was more concerned for the welfare of Coco, who ended up at the KC Pet Project, a no-kill shelter in Kansas City, Mo. The only problem with that arrangement was the shelter couldn’t keep Coco for more than 10 days, not nearly long enough for Price to get healthy enough to be discharged.

One of the shelter’s partners, a local animal boarding facility, agreed to keep Coco for as long as necessary, at a reduced rate. The group posted on Facebook soliciting donations to help offset the costs, a message that was shared nearly 1,000 times.

On Friday, Price and Coco got to ride in an ambulance together back home to Arkansas, after social workers in North Kansas City found an ambulance that was willing to let a dog ride along with a patient.

You can see the full report from Fox 4 below: 

Friday, May 15, 2015

California woman files invasion of privacy suit against ex-employer over tracking app

A California woman lost not one but two jobs as a result of disabling a GPS app that tracked her movements 24 hours a day. Now, she’s suing the employer who mandated she install and keep the app active, even when she wasn’t working, for invasion of privacy, Labor Code violations and wrongful termination.

The plaintiff, Myrna Arias, of Kern County, Calif., is suing Intermex Wire Transfer LLC, a Florida company that does business in California and specializes in money remittance services to Latin America. She’s seeking damages in excess of $500,000.

According to a copy of the suit, which was posted on Ars Technica, a technology news and information website, on May 11, Arias went to work for Intermex in February 2014, while also continuing to work for her previous employer.

The suit states that Arias was fired shortly after uninstalling the job-management app, Xora, which is a Cloud-based software used by service companies to schedule and dispatch field service employees, according to the company’s website.

Arias and other Intermex employees were instructed to download the app to their smartphones. The app contains a GPS function, which tracks the exact location of the person possessing the smartphone. The lawsuit states that when Arias and other co-workers asked whether the company would be monitoring their movements while off duty, Intermex Vice President for Regional Sales John Stubits allegedly admitted as such and “bragged that he knew how fast (Arias) was driving at specific moments ever since she had installed the app on her phone,” according to the suit.

Arias’ complaint said that while she had “no problem” with the app’s GPS function during work hours, she objected to being monitored during her non-work hours and complained that the app was really an invasion of her privacy, likening it to a prisoner’s ankle bracelet. Intermex employees were reportedly required to keep their phones on at all times in order to answer calls from clients.

Within weeks of deleting the app, Arias was not only fired from Intermex, but her suit alleges that the company also played a role in getting her fired from her second job as well.

Here’s hoping the state court does the right thing and protects workers’ privacy when they’re not on company time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

From the vault: Trucker’s 1973 account of being ‘blinded’ by a UFO

It’s not Throwback Thursday yet, but The Southeast Missourian in Cape Girardeau is tossing it way back in their archives with a story about a trucker’s close encounter with a UFO.

In a blog post on Wednesday, the newspaper republished in its entirety an Oct. 4, 1973, account of truck driver Eddie Webb’s brush with a flying saucer, which he says left him temporarily blinded.

Webb spoke with two Missourian reporters, recounting for them a tale of an unidentified flying object that hovered above his truck on Interstate 55. According to the report, the object, which looks not unlike a piece of Candy Corn, hovered over the interstate for two to three minutes, with lights flashing brightly.

Webb told the reporters and law enforcement that the flashing lights blinded him. He even submitted his “nearly melted pair of eyeglasses” as evidence that something must’ve happened to him.

The whole account is worth reading, especially for the description of the UFO, which in Webb’s own words looked like “a big turnip.”

“The bottom and top sections were spinning and looked like they were made from aluminum or chrome,” he said in the article. “The center section had the lights on it and wasn’t spinning, but the lights were glittering and the red and yellow seemed to mix together.”

Eventually Webb stuck his head out the window and claimed to wind up with burns and nearly melted glasses when the object disappeared in a flash.

Most interestingly, Webb’s wife Velma Mae, also a trucker, was in the cab with him at the time. Although she claimed not to have seen the lights, she verified parts of her husband’s tale.

Ever have a close encounter of your own? Tell us about it in the comments.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Trucking needs more people like Sandy Long

Sandy Long’s accomplishments and accolades are as vast and diverse as the trucking career she has embraced for more than 42 years. She’s seen a lot of just about everything out there.

Sandy has logged more than 3 million safe miles and has been a mentor to many other drivers over the years. She is a prolific and thoughtful writer, a social media moderator, a senior life member of OOIDA and a charter member of Women In Trucking.
OOIDA Senior Life Member Sandy Long
shares some wisdom and gratitude
during a ceremony that named a TA travel
center as the "Sandy Long Travel Center
Oak Grove, Mo." Photo by Sandi Soendker,
Land Line Magazine

And now, she has a TA travel center named after her.

Friends and family were on hand on Monday, May 11, to cheer Sandy on during the official renaming of the “Sandy Long Travel Center” in Oak Grove, Mo.

Sandy was as cool as a cucumber on this day, accepting of the award but also turning her appreciation outward to others she has looked up to – her mother and three brothers including her late brother, Tom, who was her trucking mentor and will always be her hero.

Sandy was named one of five Citizen Drivers by TravelCenters of America during the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., back in March. Part of that award, which recognizes integrity and leadership in the profession, included having a TA travel center or Petro Stopping Center renamed in their honor. Sandy got to pick the TA, and she chose Oak Grove “because the food is good, the coffee is hot, and they have a Popeye’s!”

Anyone who knows Sandy or who has interacted with her online via various trucking forums and social media pages knows that in addition to being wise about the issues and caring about others, she also has lightning quick wit and a knack for putting others at ease.

The "Sandy Long Travel Center Oak Grove, Mo.," is located
at Exit 28 on Interstate 70
When asked to give a few remarks, she told TA’s Peter Ward that he may have made a mistake by letting a truck driver have the microphone and an audience. It had its intended effect and drew a good laugh.

In all honesty, giving Sandy a microphone and an audience is never a mistake. In fact, we need more people like Sandy Long to grab up the reins, to stand up to the issues, to share her knowledge and experiences and shatter any preconceived notions that people have about trucking or truck drivers.

It’s highly likely that Sandy is already teaching and inspiring future trucking ambassadors and Citizen Drivers. “It’s an old concept but a good one if you ask me,” she said about mentoring.

There were some nice tributes to Sandy, the Citizen Drivers and Women In Trucking. They came in remarks from TA’s Peter Ward, from Women In Trucking President Ellen Voie, and city officials from Sandy’s hometown of Marceline, Mo. They also came in song form by Lindsay Lawler, a very talented Nashville singer who is currently out on a truck stop tour.

With Sandy being a Missouri resident – and since Oak Grove is just down the road from OOIDA headquarters – we were glad to be there to show our support.

Click here and here to learn more about the Citizen Driver Award recipients. They’re an impressive group. Four out of the five recipients this year are also OOIDA members.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Snake on the windshield

Did you see that video last week of the snake slithering up the windshield of a truck while it was going down the road? It pretty much swept the regular social media hangouts.

After the images went viral and his trucking company learned about it, trucker Brian Wilds was fired by his supervisor at Georgia-based Brown Trucking.

If you didn’t see it, here it is on YouTube. 

The snake was a sizey rascal and I can’t say I blame the guy for having to video it. It was right in his face. Jeez. Talk about distracted driving. According to some news reports, Wilds says shooting the footage while driving was “dumb” and says he’s not looking for any sympathy, but he does want to warn other truckers about operating hand-held devices while driving.

Brian, here’s a message for you. I think you deserve an attaboy for keeping the truck on the road while the thing was flailing all over the windshield. I would probably have ended up in the ditch.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Diving into the data

Every day or so the results of an important study hits the news, and it’s the task of some cube-bound reporter somewhere to interpret and accurately report what it means. Studies are popular news and not easy ones to get right. Sadly, the real importance is often missed and gets misrepresented by journalists. In fact, it’s often missed by everybody, which is shaky since many of these studies are what policymakers rely on.

For one thing, “correlation” and “causation” are incorrectly used as interchangeable and conclusions of preliminary studies are taken as gospel. This is a combination of ignorance concerning the scientific method and the hyper-intellectual jargon that researchers use in their paper, rendering it nearly indecipherable.

Sometimes, a study misses the mark so badly that it raises a red flag to even a TMZ gossip journalist, let alone someone who spends a good part of their day emerged in research material (such as myself).  

The National Transportation Safety Board cranks out its fair share of studies, and most get a lot of attention. Recently, NTSB released a safety report titled “Commercial Vehicle Onboard Video Systems.” The paper attempted to reveal the benefits of video cameras in commercial vehicles as it pertains to safety. The study went on to give recommendations to various transportation organizations based on the findings. Here’s their recommendation that was sent to the American Bus Association, United Motorcoach Association, American Trucking Associations, American Public Transportation Association, National Association for Pupil Transportation, National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, and National School Transportation Association:

Encourage your members to ensure that any onboard video system in their vehicles provides visibility of the driver and of each occupant seating location, visibility forward of the vehicle, optimized frame rate, and low-light recording capability.

That recommendation was based on the report’s study that involved two case studies. Two. And the two cases that were used to reach NTSB’s conclusions looked at the cameras of commercial vehicles involved in a crash: a school bus and a motorcoach. The cameras of a truck driver were not represented. Despite the lack of evidence of cameras in trucks, NTSB extended its recommendation to the American Trucking Associations.

Even if a third case study using truck cameras were used in the report, it is still not sufficient evidence to reach any conclusion. Anecdotal evidence has no place in the scientific method unless it is being used to formulate a hypothesis. Beyond that, anecdotes should take a back seat to scientific evidence when drawing a definitive conclusion. Even then, such a study should be peer reviewed and replicated before any confidence can be given. That is not happening here.

Land Line senior editor David Tanner recently reported on a bill that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from using “secret science.” The bill aims to ensure that research is transparent and reproducible before implementing regulations. I recommend that this bill be extended to include all government research, not just the EPA.

Implementing regulations and policies based on anecdotal or otherwise shoddy evidence is both dangerous and irresponsible. Conclusions based on such evidence can easily be inconsistent with the realities of the world. Furthermore, such research does not address the issue of correlation versus causation.

NTSB Senior Biomechanical Engineer Dr. Kristin Poland wrote to me in an email that the Florida crash was chosen since it “was the first case with a continuous video system that captured all phases of the crash.” The Nebraska crash was used “to highlight lessons learned from these video systems.” It’s a good thing my follow-up question was whether or not they plan on using scientific evidence rather than anecdotes. Dr. Poland’s response:

The types of crashes encountered by the NTSB are extremely diverse and therefore a case study methodology is commonly used. Since the prevalence of these systems is continually increasing, our recommendation to NHTSA recommends that NHTSA develop standardized procedures for collecting and using pertinent video recordings in their crash database systems, with appropriate access controls. These databases are commonly used by researchers to study crashes using the scientific method due to the large sample sizes and the ability to compare like crash types.

I agree that the cases are extremely diverse. When anecdotes are diverse, it stands to reason that the conclusions will vary case-by-case. A one-size-fits-all recommendation may not be applicable. I also agree that NHTSA should compile a large database for researchers to use. What I do not agree with is reaching out to transportation organizations with recommendations without the data and subsequent research in place.

If I wanted to, I could find two cases where people wearing flip-flops tripped and injured themselves. From there I could form a hypothesis stating that flip-flops are dangerous and go on to do a scientific experiment proving (or disproving) my theory. What I shouldn’t do is take those two anecdotes and recommend to every shoe manufacturer that they redesign their flip-flops. That is essentially what is going on here.

I understand what Dr. Poland and her colleagues are trying to do, but when it comes to recommendations that can influence policy and the way we live, I want it based on research that can result in more absolute conclusions.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Road rumor: Are scale houses in seven states swapping photos and info?

If you’ve been on a social media site in the last few weeks, perhaps you’ve seen this:

Somebody shares a picture (or series of pictures) showing a Qualcomm with a message from their company saying that scale houses in Washington, California, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Arizona and Texas are all linking their systems. Even if the scale is closed, a camera will take a photo of your DOT number, as well as record the time you enter the state and the time you exit at the last scale house, meaning state police and commercial vehicle enforcement officers will be able to “prove” whether or not your log is false. The system is supposed to go into place in September.

Except that’s probably not going to happen, according to multiple sources.

One of those sources, OOIDA Security Operations Director Doug Morris, said that while information can be retrieved from trucks equipped with either PrePass or Drivewyze systems, the scale houses themselves are not linked.

“The plan from (U.S.) DOT is to integrate all the state-run systems for the roadside/scale house officer to utilize in the future,” he said. “But that is a few years off.”

When we reached out to the various state DOTS to find out if they were linking up, we got no response, except for an emphatic “there is no such thing” from the folks at Indiana’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division.

Just a reminder, OOIDA’s position on electronic on board recorders is that “they are no more a reliable or accurate record of a driver’s compliance with HOS regulations than paper log books and there remains no rational basis for the economic burden and unreasonable imposition to personal privacy presented by requiring drivers to be monitored by EOBRs.”