Can We Live Without Vehicle Insights?

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Op-Ed by Paul Wimsett

First what are Insights?

Your car’s computer gathers and transmits information about how your car performs under various conditions—like when you’re stomping on the gas.

According to IBM

“IBM® IoT Connected Vehicle Insights extends the power of cognitive computing to connected cars, acquiring data from sensors and systems to improve the in-car experience. Today’s cars are moving data centers with onboard sensors and computers that can capture information about the vehicle and access it in near real time. IBM IoT Connected Vehicle Insights is an IBM Cloud service that you can use to retrieve, manage and analyze big data from connected vehicles.”

It’s all designed to improve your business, or so says SAP.com.

It’s about optimizing your fleet. Instead of drivers checking in via CB radio, dispatchers know everything about where you are, what speed and direction you’re traveling. They know when you’ll need to refuel.

Does it sound a little invasive? Yes! But it also allows logistics companies to optimize everything they do.

It is meant to go hand-in-hand with monitoring inventory and warehousing. For example, Walmart is pretty famous for their distribution model. While the specifics are a proprietary secret, in general it involves using the content of trucks as part of their warehouse system.

In an old logistics scenario, trucks would pick up an entire order from a factory when it’s completed and taking it to a distribution center to be stored until loads are dispatched to stores. Now trucks pick up smaller batches of product daily as they are produced. These trucks can swing by several factories or warehouses in a day so their load contains a mix of products. Then when a store orders a case of inventory the nearest truck can drop it off on the fly.

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When it comes to day-to-day operations, the number one cost for logistics business would be fuel costs, hands down.

A logistic business is one which organizes movement of materials.

The key with vehicle insights is that all the information is fed live to the company.

It produces graphs which might mean nothing to you unless you have a degree in statistics, but it all amounts to time and motion–saving time and reducing the amount of motion (that is movement of traffic) involved. It’s about knowing where all your vehicles are at any one time, and what’s on them, so that you can reroute them on at a moment’s notice.

It is hard to think of cars or trucks as “moving data centers” but this is how IBM puts it. Nor is it easy to imagine what they call “big data” coming from such a business, but that’s another way of saying that there is a huge output of data available to analyse.

What about unsafe practices:

How do you know that a specific driver is keeping to the best rules of the road?

Car insights are used to monitor driving performance and decision-making. Only a few years ago this was accomplished via putting the company phone number on it’s trucks so virtuous members of the public could report bad the behaviour of drivers. Many companies also employed a “governor” which limited the maximum speed of it’s fleet vehicle.

But times have changed. Nowadays the driving patterns can be investigated at a distance. The idea is that drivers will take fewer risks if they know someone is watching. Whether that’s true or not, hasn’t been statistically proven. Clearly it’s not a popular feature for drivers who don’t enjoy being micromanaged. Most drivers who are forced to be conscious of how they are driving are more stressed and perform more poorly than drivers that are simply paying attention to the road and not to how they’re driving.

Weather and Traffic—the real benefit:

Perhaps the biggest blessing to drivers themselves is aiding them with unfamiliar weather conditions and constantly changing traffic. When one vehicle hits a traffic slow down it will notify other vehicles to try an alternate route. It will also let a destination know that their shipment is delayed.

In summary, car insights allow companies to see problems for themselves and do more with the information, which can translate to money. However, this could also mean less and less freedom for drivers in such enterprises. Safety and money is one thing, but what is the real toll on the health of drivers who feel like they’re under a microscope all day at work?

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Sorry, But We’re Looking At The Slow Lane

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But first, let’s take a fast look at the basics because I know most of us never see a freeway that’s not a packed with slow-moving traffic in every lane.

The Right Lane

According to the Uniform Vehicle Code, the right-most lane, a.k.a. slow lane is primarily for vehicles that have just entered the freeway or intend to leave it at the next exit. It has a second purpose, however, and that is to house vehicles that aren’t traveling with the flow of other vehicles. We’ll return to that in a second.

The slow lane in hilly terrain is also known as the climbing lane. The layout is such that two lanes head upwards on a freeway and one head downward. Heavy vehicles are more likely to use the climbing lane.

The Left Lane

The U.V.C also defines the use of the left-most lane, a.k.a. fast lane. The right lane is also known as the passing lane, because vehicles in this lane are, in theory, overtaking slower traffic in lanes to the right.

It’s worth noting that Colorado Police are particularly well known for handing out tickets for going slow in the fast lane. The high altitude and pitch of the climb on certain roads make it more likely for cars to travel slowly in the fast lane, which is truly a hazard.

The Middle Lane

The middle lane, or lanes, is for “through traffic.” These vehicles should be traveling at or near the speed limit. Since you’re supposed to be using the left lane for passing, it’s illegal in most states to travel in the left with the flow of traffic and not yield if someone is overtaking you.

Legitimate Reason to Drive Slow in the Slow Lane

Many states have a lower posted speed limit for Tractor Trailers or other vehicles with more than two axles. Also, most states have special speed restrictions for oversized loads. Some vehicles may be overloaded or awkwardly loaded which causes them to drive slower for safety. Also, temporary car trouble could be a legitimate reason to drive slower until a good exit can be found.

Being too old, too impaired or too blind to safely drive at freeway speeds is not a legitimate reason to camp out in the slow lane. If you don’t feel able to safely operate your vehicle at freeway speed, please avoid using freeways.

Differential Rate of Speed

The issue isn’t really about top speed. In theory, we’re all traveling the speed limit (wink) and if we’re not the police take care of it.

No, the issue is the difference in speed between one vehicle and another. It’s the rate at which you overtake the other vehicles on the road, which means acceleration and deceleration. If someone enters your lane going 20 MPH slower than you, you’d better have good brakes. The opposite issue is the source of most frustration.

When you finally break free of that slow car in the fast lane you want to get back to your cruising speed which is all about engine acceleration. It may seem like a little thing but it might just save your life. Cars which fail to accelerate at intersections or up hills or ramps can cause accidents. You need to be able to pick up speed when necessary.

Car acceleration performance is measured by the time it takes to go from 0 to 60 mph. It is not always possible to tell this just by looking at a car. The Chevrolet Camaro Iron Duke may have been marketed as a sports car but it still has an embarrassingly low acceleration rate of 0 to 60 in 20 seconds.

Did you Know the term ‘Slow’ travel is actually a thing?

But let’s move on from slow lanes to another kind of slowness; slow travel.

Sure we’ve all been on road trips where someone took too many rest breaks. For some people, due to their age, health or some other condition must slow travel–it’s the best they can do. (Though it is not an area the Kicker spends much time on.) For most car enthusiasts the slow traveler is the enemy.

The term, ‘Slow Travel’ was inspired by the term ‘Slow Food’ which came about in the 1980s. Slow food was a counter-movement against the sudden domination of unhealthy & over processed ‘Fast Food.’ It was based in the notion that it’s okay to have a different priority for your food than mere speed–things like taste and atmosphere. If some people preferred a ‘Slow Food’ experience maybe it some folks would also enjoy a slower pace of travel.

If freeways make you feel stressed, you might be one of the folks who understand that life is a journey, not a destination.

For the traveler who wishes to take the slow routes across America, possible suggestions include the Lincoln Highway from New York to San Francisco or Route 6 from Provincetown, Mass. to Bishop, California.

Likely as not, it will go up the mountains and through the valleys. Ironically, traveling slowly is what the car commercials are all about. These routes are slower, which means more stops. More stops mean more meals and more nights in a hotel. It’s not cheaper, but it is more picturesque and you may actually get to meet some nice people you’d normally zoom past.

Narrow Streets and Gridlock

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You are beeping your horn; you are impatient to get to work. You are stuck in a bit of congestion. Would it surprise you to learn you may have caused some of this congestion yourself?

To explain, gridlock is a traffic condition that effects intersecting streets (or as the people who live there tend to know them as, blocks). The drivers on each road cannot move because the space they could move to is taken up by a vehicle that is blocking their way, but then that vehicle is being blocked in by another vehicle and so on, seemingly forever.

Luckily, the gridlock can be removed by trying to squeeze the cars (generally turning them slightly) so there is some room for a car to exit. As with all puzzles it only works if all components work together. It’s a life-sized version of the childhood game concentration.

It’s fairly easy to fix though with a simple box junction and a pair of traffic lights and everyone following the proper rule of box junctions (a box junction without traffic lights might fix the congestion problem but might cause even more problems on the rood). This will ensure that at least one exit is free at any one time.

traffic-jam-688566_1920Maintaining Order:

This is why “blocking the box” has become such a crime. In New York it is subject to a $90 penalty. In Virginia Beach, it is even more; $200.

The box junction has been around for about 50 years, starting in the UK but spreading around the world.

The concept that bigger cars have such difficulty getting anywhere is generally why smaller cars are seen as better on city streets, they just find it easier to maneuver in problems like this. The more trucks in gridlock the harder the problem and trucks are the number one seller in America.

Sat-Nav to the Rescue?

Satellite Navigation actually can make the problem worse also. Some systems will look at the raw data of where traffic is and what speed it’s moving, and then direct vehicles onto side streets that aren’t designed for heavy flow. When it does this with a semi-truck or something pulling a trailer the narrower streets in the older section of town can create a blockage. The other thing about narrow streets is that traffic can only go one way and that means it will take you longer to get to your destination. Sometimes street parking of local vehicles blocks sightlines making it impossible to turn around when you miss a turn.

As well as squeezing through road junctions, cars and trucks have to squeeze under arches. In dire situations a special “truck route” is created, often on a less congested roadway, in order to move truck and bus traffic off car routes and direct them to archways at least 14 feet high. These routes require more maintenance, of course, and are unpopular with neighborhoods sometimes. No matter what this is a costly solution, but can be the only way out of trouble for some older cities.

Not Only Narrow Roads:

It is not only narrow roads that might be a problem in an urban idyll, but also crooked roads. When roads are meant for pedestrians there’s no impetus for them to be straight at all, hence why many historic towns have roads which curve all over the place. It gives a pleasant view when driving, but also makes it more stressful.

A recent trend to give bikes the right of way, so as to make them a popular option to cars has narrowed many roads through the implementation of bike lanes. Portland Oregon, for example, has turned entire roads over to bike only in an effort to embrace and encourage the use of pedal power. They have officially decided that there state road budget will consider the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians over cars.

The move is controversial for three big reasons:

  • Motorists pay road taxes, license fees, where cyclists do not.
  • Motorists must be trained and licensed to use the roads where cyclists do not.
  • Motorists are frequently stopped by police or caught on traffic cams when there is a problem and cyclists in Portland seem to drive with flagrant impunity.

The combination of these three factors has caused Portlanders to label bike riders as “the Spandex Mafia.”

Narrow bridges can also cause serious problems, even if it is a relatively new bridge. Many were just not created for traffic. But this is the way that cities were created, it’s a headache to put right, but it gives the planners something to occupy their day.