High-tech routing
Smartphones and stand-alone devices aid navigation

By Max Kvidera, Land Line contributor

Few drivers are as technology-loaded as OOIDA Member Shelle Lichti, a company driver for Hirschbach Motor Lines. She practices technology redundancy as she navigates such trucking-challenged locales as Brooklyn, NY.

Lichti uses two GPS devices – a Cobra 7700 Pro and a Rand McNally TND 710 – two smartphones from competing services, an iPad and a laptop computer. On one GPS device, she programs the fastest routes to her destinations, and on the other device the shortest routes. The two smartphones provide backup in case she’s out of the service range of one provider. The laptop gives her online access to such features as a satellite view of an obscure delivery destination.

“I’m the gadget girl,” says Lichti, who says she’s out on the road 11 months a year. “I enjoy utilizing all available technology to increase my performance. I use comparative equipment to see what works better for a particular purpose and to show to other truckers. I use technology on many of my trips from the Midwest to the East Coast, where it can be daunting to drive.”

Lichti may be an extreme user of technology, but she’s not alone in employing electronic devices to plot routes, find trucking services and discover the best fuel prices.  

An increasing number of truckers are equipping themselves with devices to save time and money and maximize income. An estimated

86 percent of truckers have a mobile device and 44 percent of those own a smartphone, according to a study cited by Craig Fiander, vice president of marketing for North America with ALK Technologies’ Enterprise Solutions Group. ALK spokesperson Mary Kelly says there are more than 14,000 Google transportation applications for Android smartphone devices alone.

Fiander says apps for specific functions are flowing from the consumer market to trucking. Both ALK’s CoPilot Truck app for independent truckers and CoPilot Truck Professional for company drivers have features that are available in the four-wheeler market. “The consumer user interface is driving the commercial applications,” he says. “Fleets want their drivers to have that same experience.”

The company recently introduced upgrades to its longstanding PCMiler software, including interactive mapping, Fastest routing that incorporates historical traffic data and RouteSync functionality to enhance route compliance.

GPS device maker TeleType is also paying attention to the smartphone market. The company is rolling out mapping and routing apps such as voice navigation, map rotation and fuel pricing along a given route.

“We thought people would use smartphones as a backup system to a GPS product,” says TeleType Vice President Marleen Winer. “But we found people are using this as a primary means of navigation. As more drivers begin to adopt smartphones, there will be more interest in navigation using the phone. If you’re trying to get from A to B using a truck route, it’s so fast to do it on the phone.”

Routing software developers Rand McNally and Garmin are taking a different approach. They recognize the growing smartphone usage by truckers but are focusing on building new functions into their stand-alone devices. Cellphone use while driving is restricted or prohibited in most states, while smartphone use in trucking could come under federal regulations.

“There will be folks who will want to rely on their smartphones for everything, but what they’re going to find is they’re going to be heavily regulated on what they can and can’t do with their phones,” says Chad Sallman, business development manager for fleet management and OEM at Garmin International.

Garmin is advancing toward dashboard devices that combine routing and mapping information and recording hours of service. Garmin’s dezl 560LMT model is compliant with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations for automatic on-board recording devices.

Instead of creating apps for the smartphone market, Rand McNally introduced its TND 720 with features the company says bypass phone shortcomings. The unit has a 7-inch screen, and the user can dim the screen as needed when driving at night. It also offers wireless connectivity that enables calling up weather conditions along a proposed route. Other features include flexibility in routing to avoid certain states at certain times of year or to request the shortest route that incorporates major roads or freeways.

“Our philosophy about smartphones is to recognize their value and increasing penetration in trucking, but to use the best parts of them,” says Dave Marsh, vice president of research and development.

When Chad Walworth hits the road, he packs his GPS device, smartphone and atlas. The lifetime OOIDA member and driver for Earl L. Henderson Trucking uses his TND 510 dashboard device to help map his delivery destination, as well as to find fuel stops and truck washes to wash his trailer after delivering a produce load and where to park as he waits for his next load.

Walworth uses his smartphone occasionally to call up Google Maps for a satellite view of an unfamiliar delivery location. He can zoom in to find which driveway to take and nearby parking lots in case he has to wait.

“Technology has definitely made my job easier,” says Walworth, who adds that his primary routing tool remains his Rand McNally trucker’s atlas. “It has served me well and has features I use such as overpass heights.” LL