With sensors being installed across entire fleets and autonomous shuttle bus trials occurring across the country, the Internet of Things (IoT) is driving transport and logistics into the future.

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There are 3.5 million road freight vehicles in Australia that transport valuable goods as well as people around the country every day. Traditionally, those vehicles and their drivers would all be on their own for the duration of the trip, left to handle delays, congestion and other problems themselves.

But with IoT that’s all changing. Vehicles are now being fitted with built-in sensors and smart devices that can deliver near real-time data on the vehicle location, performance and the condition of drivers and cargo. These have significant benefits for road safety, vehicle maintenance, traffic congestion, fleet management and more.

Safer roads and drivers

According to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, there were 168 fatal crashes involving heavy trucks and 26 fatal crashes involving buses in Australia in 2017, for a total of 215 deaths — or around 18 percent of all road deaths that year.

Transport and logistics company Linfox is taking steps to ensure that number comes down significantly. Through a partnership with Telstra, Linfox’s entire fleet is being fitted with tablets and sensors that collect data on vehicle condition, speed, brake/accelerator usage and location, as well as driver fatigue.

These sensors allow Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems and office staff to monitor the health and well-being of both the drivers and vehicles. The tablets are used to efficiently complete mandatory safety checklists before each trip, and Linfox CIO Conrad Harvey writes that they can also provide drivers with tailored alerts about safety issues or route changes through text-to-speech technology.

As more data is collected, these insights will unlock refinements to safety and maintenance procedures, and with that should come a reduction in road incidents as drivers find themselves better equipped to deal with every circumstance.

Better efficiency and productivity

Built-in tablets and data from on-board IoT sensors means better performance, faster deliveries and less congestion on the roads, too. By combining MTData’s GPS telematics and fleet management tools with the Telstra’s network, transport businesses can now monitor the location and movements of every vehicle in their fleet and identify more optimal routes for their drivers on the fly — as traffic and road conditions around them change.

This means less congestion on the roads and increased productivity not just for the transport and logistics companies but also for everyone else — since it could translate to shorter average travel times.

Predictive AI and machine learning algorithms may reveal further optimisations, such as the ideal time of day to depart for different routes and the most efficient ways to distribute cargo loads across multiple vehicles.

Preparing for autonomous and semi-autonomous transport

Meanwhile, vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology makes it possible for businesses to embrace truck platooning, wherein multiple IoT-equipped trucks drive in tight convoys, with semi-automated braking and acceleration, for better fuel efficiency. Passenger transport stands to benefit, too. Battery-powered driverless shuttle buses are currently being trialled at multiple universities and airports around the country. These are mostly low-speed vehicles that operate within a limited range to ferry passengers to and from carparks or major public transport nodes and across campuses.

Their multi-technology mix — which includes LIDAR, camera, odometry, ultrasonics, and GPS sensors — make it possible to navigate dynamic routes through complex environments such as airports and warehouses, while their compact size and agility coupled with low running costs should allow more frequent and streamlined “last mile” transport solutions.

Fully-autonomous buses and trucks and other vehicles could be on our roads within the next decade, but getting there will require many small steps such as these. Automation will first be mastered off-road — in campuses and warehouses and on receiving docks and then integrated into road traffic via incremental software improvements that offload more and more of the core driving tasks.

Telstra is helping to roll out technology to enable (and prepare for more) developments like this, with vehicle-to-infrastructure, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian communication networks that can coordinate interactions between vehicles and their environment and minimise the impact of human error.

Just imagine how much better — and safer — traffic might flow if all vehicles, traffic lights, signage, emergency services, and roads were able to talk to each other to dynamically adjust things like timing sequences and lane openings/closures and routes all with minimal human intervention. It’s not so far away as it might seem.