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October 5, 2015

Trucks to be Smart Platforms

Virtual Technician
Seattle-based Zonar intends to make the commercial vehicle a fully connected, smart platform that integrates with other trucking business solutions. This is in contrast to the smart electronics being incorporated into passenger vehicles, which is really for “infotainment,” says Zonar president and CEO. Brett Brinton. 

The goal is to make the whole commercial vehicle smart, not just a portal for a bring-your-own-device (BYOD)

Speaking at a Daimler Trucks press conference held recently in California’s Napa Valley, Brinton said that customers want choice in the software and hardware they use and the vehicle must talk to “all applications that run the business, so vehicles must be ‘platform ready’.”

Following on the announcement in June that Daimler was taking a minority share in Zonar, Brinton said the closer association will bring greater opportunity for both companies in developing new customer-centric solutions. But not at the expense of other products that Zonar currently offers. “Zonar will continue to build an all-brands product, and contribute where necessary on Daimler products. So both are independent but Zonar can move Daimler along to develop smart trucks,” he said.

Zonar entered the trucking business environment with the introduction of its electronic vehicle inspection report (EVIR). This uses stick-on smart tags that are attached at inspection locations around the vehicle. The hand-held reader prompts with inspection queries and then captures, transmits and records inspection, compliance and maintenance data. 

So mandatory pre- and post-trip truck inspections are automated and verified using Zonar's patented technology. According to the company, this has eliminated errors and inefficiencies involved in the traditional driver vehicle inspection report (DVIR) required of drivers every time they start and finish a trip.

Because data is transmitted via Zonar with more than 400,000 billable vehicles – which will more than double by the end of the year  the company now has years of sampled data. From that initial concept, Zonar has launched the innovative 2020 Android tablet that offers:
  • Driver Hours-of-Service
  • Verified Electronic Vehicle Inspection
  • Two-Way Messaging
  •  Advanced Navigation
  • Visual Driver Feedback
  • Camera and Video for Documenting Defects or Damaged Freight
  • Driver-Friendly Applications Including Navigation, Driver Safety, and Weigh Station Bypass solutions


Additionally, it is an open Android platform for custom applications and integrations.

Zonar also has a suite of telematics products that aid in asset tracking. Ground Traffic Control is a Web-based fleet management software application that provides a real-time picture of fleet operations. 

Zonar’s V3 is a fleet tracking/vehicle diagnostics system that provides next generation GPS vehicle tracking capabilities with real-time delivery of vehicle condition and performance data, in one on=board telematics device. The third product in this group is ZTrak for managing assets that will be deployed for long periods without maintenance needs. With ZTrak, all kinds of equipment can be located easily and reliably.

With its telematics expertise, Zonar also has tracking products in use on school buses to track students getting on and off the bus and even informing parents of the location of their children through smart-phone notification.

Brinton said Zonar is 15 years old, founded 2001. He is proud of the fact that 18% of revenue is reinvested in research and development and growth continues at 30% year over year. The company now has 300 employees and counts several Edison awards for innovation.  In addition, “we have a lot of intellectual property gained from the six-year relationship with Daimler Trucks North America,” Brinton said.

Zonar was the partner in the development of Virtual Technician that was introduced by Daimler Trucks in 2011. In developing Virtual Technician, Zonar tapped in to the network of the vehicle allowing access the CanBus. It has sophisticated monitoring so when something goes wrong, the system can diagnose exactly what is wrong and reports to the Daimler’s Customer Service Center. 

The extent of the problem is analyzed and scored as mission critical, service soon or log service information to be accessed at the next scheduled maintenance. At the time the vehicle owner or fleet contact is notified. In a mission-critical event, dealers nearby are brought into the loop and parts inventories are queried to ensure that parts and service bays are available for immediate repair as soon as the truck arrives.

The relationship between DTNA and Zonar has led to the availability of the 2020 in a dash-mounted cradle on the Freightliner Cascadia Evolution. At the Napa press event, Brinton said that the current version of the product is the fourth generation benefiting from smart device evolution. 

“It is a ruggedized seven-inch tablet, and an open but controlled platform on top of the Android operating system,” said Brinton. “It’s a dedicated-purpose device configured so it’s not driver distracting. Currently built by Zonar and special for Daimler, it gives access to new data streams.” Sampling a lot of data, deciphering it and getting meaningful information is where Zonar and DYNA are going, he said.

“Four areas benefit: uptime, regulatory compliance, fuel efficiency and operations,” Brinton said. “Uptime currently is reactive, but should be predictive. Prototype tests show the system can actually be predictive for component failure.

“The fuel analytics package is coaching device for the driver as well as an aid to predicting proactive maintenance. Sophisticated fuel users can drill down to a driver score and get significant improvements. For safety and compliance, today you can see speeding, brake applications, and so one. The new open platform gives ability to Skype and close the gap with connected vehicle, making it possible to have live conversation over the tablet.“

Brinton said to expect future innovations from Zonar. The driver and technician workforce is aging and in order to attract a new generation of kids who want technology, the execution must be done properly to improve driver experience for young drivers. And new options are opening up with the available data streams. Driver performance-based pay is enabled and there will be a “gamification of business processes,” he says.

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