This article also appears in
Subscribe now »

“I view the truck almost like an iPhone, in that it’s got all these modules on it—on your iPhone we call them apps,” said Navistar CIO Terry Kline.

Connectivity a core pillar at Navistar

Navistar announced last year its plans to offer over-the-air (OTA) reprogramming of engine control modules in 2016 for International trucks powered by its N9, N10, and N13 proprietary engines. This technology joins the company’s already-in-service OnCommand Connection tool as part of its overall connectivity strategy.

OTA reprogramming of the truck’s ECM will enable the driver or fleet manager to utilize a mobile interface to initiate reprogramming. The procedure can be performed at the customer’s facility over a secure Wi-Fi connection. Future advancements include expanding to other software modules on the truck like transmissions and chassis, according to Terry Kline, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Navistar Inc. Kline recently spoke with SAE Magazines about the company’s vehicle connectivity plans and its current solutions.

What is Navistar's connected vehicle strategy?

It’s one of the core pillars of our corporate strategy to the Board of Directors; a cornerstone of what we’re investing in and moving forward. The connected vehicle strategy is a key enabler to some of the other strategies like “up time,” meaning that the trucks are running and moving down the road. As you can imagine a truck that isn’t running doesn’t make money for the owner and freight is late and everybody is unhappy.

We’ve got OnCommand Connection as one of our cornerstones, and it basically is a diagnostic tool that’s an open system, open architecture, that works with and across all the telematics providers. Today we’re integrated with [about] 12 of them that we take data from. We’ve got about 160,000 vehicles tied to that system today that we’re reading data from and able to do everything from health reports to repair maps—given these codes from the truck that means you need these parts, this kind of technician, and this bay capability. Based off these codes you can drive 1500 more miles but don’t drive 1501. So we know what’s going to happen to that truck and we’ve been able with OCC to take repair and maintenance, which averages 15 cents a mile according to ATA (American Trucking Associations) and some others, down to 2 to 3 cents by doing predictive maintenance, predictive analytics on when things need to be done vs. doing them the traditional way; this is with customers that we’re actively working with [who have] fleets of 200, 300 trucks.

We’ll keep investing in OCC. This year, probably one of the biggest things coming out is what we call ‘smart routing.’ What that’s about is when your truck throws a code or throws a set of codes, we’ll know where you’re at, what the urgency of that repair is, what parts are necessary, and we would actually allow our dealers to offer up their services to you. It’s not just about what’s the price going to be but ‘when can I get my truck back,’ because one of your trucks is sitting idle. So that’s where the whole OnCommand space is going.

What’s the idea behind OnCommand’s open architecture?

The 160,000 trucks we’ve got on OnCommand, it’s really important to know that more than 50% of those aren’t our trucks, they are competitors’ trucks. And that’s important for a couple of reasons. One, if you own a fleet of trucks, it’s not likely you’re going to own one brand. So we give that fleet owner one place to shop for this type of data, whether they own an International brand, or they own a Freightliner. We’re pretty proud of the fact that we’re open, and we believe we’re unique in that we accept other brands into the solution. Why would we do that? Well, we believe everybody that owns a truck is a potential future customer, and whether that’s tomorrow at the service department buying parts, or that’s the next time they buy a new truck.

As you can imagine we’re getting tons of data; it’s like having 160,000 test trucks on the road. So whenever we have a ‘what if,’ we generally have a fleet of trucks we can look at to study that [scenario]. It’s been invaluable to increase the quality of our vehicles by looking at these trucks and how they’re performing, or even help customers to understand that the way they’re using the truck is not how it was engineered. In the trucking business, trucks are highly customized; they’re highly designed for [specific] applications—a truck built to have a cement mixer put on the back is much different than a long-haul truck. So maybe people aren’t using these trucks the way they were engineered. We’re starting to notice those things and we can reach out and help; sometimes it’s as easy as reprogramming the shifting patterns of the truck.

How does Over-the-Air reprogramming fit in?

It’s another key piece of our strategy, and we believe it’s unique in the truck space. Obviously people are doing over-the-air programming in other spaces—I’m sure you’ve got a smart phone; it gets programmed over the air all the time. But especially in the heavy trucking industry that we play in, we believe we’re first to market. It really came out of an innovation contest we ran in the company with our employees; some of the folks that do this for a living and do the tools that are wired in the dealerships came up with the specific idea. At that same time, we’ve been running a project we call “Project 80”—80% of the vehicles in the industry don’t have telematics. How can we capture those 80%? So Project 80 and Over-the-Air sort of came together, and that’s what we’re going to market with right now. We’ve got it running in our plants right now, reprogramming trucks. We’ve got it in pilot at some of our dealers and at some of our big customers. And as you would imagine, we’re using it heavily on our own captured fleet.

What’s the goal with OTA reprogramming?

Engines are first. I view the truck almost like an iPhone, in that it’s got all these modules on it—on your iPhone we call them apps. On a truck we call them engine control modules, transmissions have software, brake systems, etc. We want to get to where we program and have the ability to reflash all these devices that have software on them remotely, wirelessly.

How long has OTA been in development?

It’s been in development for less than a year. What’s important to recognize though is we’re building on tools that we’ve spent hundreds of thousands of hours on. The tools that program your truck in the dealerships today, we’re just enabling those to be wireless. OCC, which we’re leveraging some of the lessons learned from that and the expertise there, we’ve been developing since 2013. So we’re leveraging a lot of the things we’ve had in this space to be able to [launch OTA] that quickly; if we were starting from scratch it would be a much different story.

As far as what’s the ‘secret sauce,’ we’ve teamed up with a couple of [companies]. We’ve been working with a company called Digi on this first version; they are making our hardware. We take the standard Digi UMI (user-machine interface) off the shelf and we put it on steroids. By that I mean we put more memory in it, we souped it up. This device is a Wi-Fi device only, it’s not got cellular connectivity. We think that’s one of the secrets to going after the 80% of the people that don’t have traditional telematics. They don’t want to pay for a cellular connection. And we’re going to be able to store about 500 health reports on this device. We’ll store priority information on it based on the importance of the information, so that when you get to a Wi-Fi connection it will dump its contents and become part of the OCC ecosystem. And that’s the OTA dongle that we’re working with Digi on and they’ve done significant engineering for us on this ‘souped-up model.’ On the device software, the software around it, we’ve written all that ourselves; it’s all Navistar proprietary stuff that we’ve either had from all the years of writing code or we’ve developed it over the last year.

We are going to buy and leverage an industry standard to drive the device management. So the device management of the Digi itself and the firmware on it, we will use an industry standard tool. We really haven’t got an agreement signed there yet, so we won’t say who. But the security is a combination of the Digi guys combined with us and a number of other folks that are helping us on the security front.

How you are addressing cyber security concerns?

I’d just say that it’s top of our stack, a top priority to do it, and that we’re working with not just Digi but all the big security [companies] to make sure that we have all the modern capabilities on the devices and doing best practices.

When will OTA be available and where?

In the next couple of months we’ll start pushing it heavy in the aftermarket, or putting it on trucks we’ve already built. In the new-truck arena, middle of this year timing we’re looking at. We’ll actually be putting it on trucks as an option. Right now in the U.S. only, but we are talking to people in Asia as well as all of North America.

Continue reading »