Thursday, March 3, 2016

A big bet on a camera aimed at you

If you don’t work in front of a camera now, you may soon. I say that because a Chicago private-equity firm just bought Lytx for $500 million – almost the entire U.S. government budget in 1900.

Lytx is a safety and compliance outfit that puts cameras in trucks. They also sell the software that analyses what the cameras and other sensors record. Their in-truck camera business has been growing like mad. Last year, the company claims, they signed up 365 new fleets for a total customer list of approximately 1,500 fleets.

Many Lytx-equipped fleets are private carriers, governments, and non-transportation companies. Some are in the U.K. But Lytx is making serious inroads among U.S. commercial truckload and dedicated fleets. For example NFI and Dart are customers, according to the Lytx website.

Last year, Lytx says, they signed up well-known truckload carriers such as Transport America and Crete Carriers among others. But the new customer that caught the investment firm’s eye was probably Swift Transportation.

Transport Topics ranks Swift as the biggest truckload carrier in the nation with 6,000 company-owned power units. Almost a year ago, Swift issued an in-house video advising its drivers in the softest, gentlest terms possible that they would soon be driving in front of Lytx cameras.

A Land Line blog last year about cameras in Swift trucks wondered how it would go. Would the cameras prove to be a deal breaker for would-be Swift drivers, or would Swift’s competitors see the camera deployment as a precedent to follow?

I have to guess we’re beginning to see an answer. Those guys from Chicago would not have bought Lytx without having at least made a phone call to Swift. And no serious investment company would spend half-a-billion dollars on an in-truck camera company if they weren’t sure it was going to put a lot more cameras in a lot more trucks.

The next truck could be yours.

Lytx better hope these systems actually provide the safety benefits they claim, because they come at a high cost. These devices could remove the last shreds of a driver’s independence, privacy and dignity on the road.