While looking for innovations with fleets at the AFAC show in Brisbane during August, I caught up with Tom Haye, Managing Director at Opses, who was in Australia to showcase the work they were doing with emergency services fleets in the UK to reduce distraction for drivers in the vehicles.
They had a Volkswagen Passat on display in police livery (German police which reduced the confusion) to demonstrate how fleet operators could remove the bulky tablets from the driver’s cockpit area and use the manufacturer’s infotainment screen instead.
“We’re here with Code 3 and VW Australia to showcase our new technology to integrate external kit that’s normally fitted to a vehicle after its manufactured into the OEM touchscreen,” explain Haye.
“So in the case of police, fire and ambulance, your blue lights or sirens, your radio, your command or control software, matrix board or anything else that was fitted to the dash after the vehicles been manufactured. We take it off the dash and create a new user interface from the OEM touchscreen to make it safer for the drivers to use which means they get less distracted whilst driving because it’s always in the same place.”
“We found with a lot of customers where they jump in a police car on a Monday, and in a different car on a Tuesday, the switches are in a different place. And if you’re driving really fast to get somewhere then you want to make sure that you’re not going to get the distracted to look where these switches are.”
“So it’s now on the touchscreen in the same place all the time. We’ve really dumbed the interface down to make sure that they only need access to the bits that they use. For example, a Police radio has about 20 buttons on it but they only use two or three. So we make that functionality available.”
Legislation in the UK is driving the change. It’s aimed at reducing the distractions for emergency services fleet drivers that could previously use a phone or radio whilst driving. The law has stopped them from using the devices and their employers have a duty of care to make sure they drive safely, often at very fast speeds.
Fleet Managers can reduce costs with this solution because they don’t lose any time when the vehicle is being delivered. There’s no need to install additional brackets to mount tables or wiring looms to power the equipment. Haye explained how that reduces the costs and helps maintain resale values.
“So the idea of installing a ton of kit on the dash means that you’ve got to rip a dash apart and put a lot of equipment on there. And then when you de-fleet the vehicle, you’ve got to take it all out again. And you’re often left with loads of holes in the dash. You don’t have to that anymore,” says Haye.
“There’s literally two cables going into the dash, into the infotainment system, and everything else is in the boot of the car. So that means when you de-fleet your vehicle there’s a lot less cost in taking it all out, but there’s also less cost installing it in the first place.”
Locally, Opses is testing two vehicles with Volkswagen. There’s a Passat being used as a police demonstration vehicle, and a Crafter ambulance being trialled in Western Australia.
“But it’s not just the emergency services,” explains Haye. “It’s also the roadside services, utility companies, oil and electric companies who have tablets on the dash that they can no longer use. In fact, they couldn’t use it in the first place.”
Opses works with a number of manufacturers in Europe and the technology can be easily adapted to suit most popular fleet vehicles to reduce the distraction for drivers.
“So you don’t have to put the tablet on the dash anymore. You can put the tablet in the booth or to the side of the seat, but run the app onto the screen. And the way that we do this, we put a switch between your OEM screen and the infotainment system. So you can continue to use your infotainment system as normal but switch between that and the device that controls all of the other equipment.”
According to Haye this solution is cheaper in terms of whole of life costs but more importantly it makes it safer for the driver and the community they operate.
“If we can take away some of that complexity of controlling all the equipment and make it easy and simple, that makes a big difference.”