Omnitracs innovation lab tackles weather, parking deserts and dwell times

omnitracs lab

As part of a broader corporate transformation effort, Omnitracs has created an innovation team that aims to remove pain points and  inefficiencies for carriers and their drivers. In existence for about a year, the lab is based in Chicago, a transportation hub that is deliberately apart from the corporate headquarters in Dallas.

“We wanted free rein,” said Omnitracs vice president and general manager of strategic initiatives Mic Yariv, who delivered a talk on the program during this week’s user conference in Las Vegas. 

Two assumptions drive the work underway at the lab, Yariv said. The first is that with enough of the right data – “it’s got to be enough and it’s got to be right “ – most events are predictable, whether they are truck accidents, driver attrition or mechanical breakdowns.

The second assumption is keyed to a specific industry trend. If the team’s data scientists can accurately predict how long it takes to move a load, Yariv said, they can help transition supply chain players away from a mileage-based metric – currently used to determine shipper fees and driver pay – to a  time-based metric. 

Structuring payment around time spent instead of distance is especially important in an environment dominated by electronic logging devices, in which drivers face intense pressures to optimize their hours, Yariv said.

During her presentation Yariv pulled back the curtain on several ongoing projects. One is ready to be piloted and two are still in the research and development phase. 

The application that is furthest along is designed to give drivers hyper-local weather alerts. Using data from several sources – drones, road cameras and cellular towers – the application tracks the current position of a truck, calculates where the truck will be in the future and then checks the micro-weather conditions of that location. If dangerous conditions are present, an alert is sent to the driver.

Another project takes aim at one of the biggest problems facing truck drivers – lack of parking. Using hours of service data showing where drivers are in sleeper berth status, the team is plotting locations around the country based on availability of parking.

The team aims to help drivers figure out how much time they will have to spend looking for a space. The project is also expected to prove what everyone knows – that drivers are parking (and sleeping) where they shouldn’t be – on the highway. “When we quantify that data, we’ll have a big impact on the industry,” Yariv said, by showing “how pervasive and difficult this problem is.”

The third initiative targets truck driver wait times. The Omnitracs group geofenced nearly seven million shipping and receiving locations, aggregating dwell times to predict the length of stay at any given location. The long-term goal is to build a user-friendly website hosting information about each site.

Yariv said, “The same way I can go to Yelp and can look up a restaurant before I go there, I should be able to look up these seven million locations.”