Some define truck driving as the unhealthiest occupation in America. When life revolves around sitting stationary for hours in stress-induced traffic and pausing to stretch those legs usually equals a stroll through the aisles of a sweet and salty of a road stop gas station, it is no wonder truck drivers are faced with increasing medical bills from an over-extended heart. With the DOT keeping real-time data on literally every facet of a trucker’s cruise to export, there has finally been a smart device – trucker smart wristbands – created personally for drivers, not merely their driving record.
Smart wristband tracks vital signs to keep truckers moving
Source: New Scientist online
Truckers are about to get some company on long drives. A wristband that monitors vital signs will keep tabs on alertness, stress levels and overall health, helping fleet managers operate their teams more effectively.
Most trucking firms use fleet management systems to reduce costs. They provide detailed information about how vehicles are driven, including braking intensity and fuel consumption, as well as operating conditions, such as weather patterns and traffic. “But they know nothing about the driver,” says Jean Gelissen at EIT Digital, which is part of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.
Truck driving is a popular occupation. As of 2014, it was the most common job in 29 US states. But it’s an unhealthy job. A recent study found that over two-thirds of drivers were obese. Many have from cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Frequent sleep deprivation from overnight drives makes things worse. “Stress on the job is a problem, obesity is a problem. In general they are not extremely healthy people,” says Gelissen. “But we can avoid some of the stress pretty easily.”
In October, Gelissen and his team will begin trialling a wearable device that they hope will add information about a driver’s well-being to the equation. Called Ready to Perform, the wristband measures galvanic skin response, heart rate variability and skin temperature. An algorithm then determines stress and alertness levels as well as sleep quality, which can be used to predict when the driver is likely to fall asleep at the wheel. A connected tablet in the truck cab provides constant biometric information about the driver, which is fed back into the overall fleet management system. Aggregated data from all drivers can be used to plot points in journeys that cause the most stress, so that they can be avoided in the future.
As profiles are built up over time, the system can then advise the fleet manager which driver to assign to particular jobs, based on their physiological state. The amount of time truckers spend on the road is strictly regulated. But Gelissen thinks existing regulations are too rigid and don’t take into account the fact that some people may be able to drive more than others. “It’s so strictly regulated that every driver is pushed to do exactly the same,” he says.
He hopes that monitoring drivers will eventually lead to more flexible regulations. “If you have evidence that the guy behind the wheel is capable of doing something more, you can stretch it a little bit,” he says. “If there’s a chance he is losing attention, you should do less.”
Responses from drivers who took part in a preliminary trial last year were positive. “For the driver, it is very good information,” says Gerard de Graaf, who has been trucking around Europe for 26 years. “One guy found out he had sleep apnoea.” The system also lets drivers track each other. You can see if your friend is having dinner nearby and meet up, says de Graaf.
Dominique Bonte at ABI Research says that this sort of monitoring technology will be crucial even as we start to see driverless trucks hit the road. At least to begin with, human drivers will still need to sit in the cab in case of an emergency. This would likely be the case in platooning —something the UK government is considering. Here, a convoy of self-driving vehicles follow a lead truck with a human in charge. “If the driver needs to take over, then the system would need to be sure that the driver is ready, healthy, aware and understands the situation,” says Bonte. “All technology ultimately is about utilising our assets more effectively.” Until the industry becomes fully automated, that means humans.