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Driving with Tech – Q&A with Ben B.

We recently sat down with Werner professional driver Ben B. to get his thoughts on what it’s like behind the wheel with recent tech rollouts.

Q: How has driving changed over the years as more tech has been added to trucks?
A: It’s changed dramatically. Even having access to better personal technology like cell phones and weather apps – that kind of tech – has made it a lot nicer when planning our next day or connecting with friends and family in our down time. Specifically with Werner, I would say that the biggest change is in how we communicate. We can now send messages way faster than we used to because of improved upload and download times. It’s almost instantaneous. Before, with the systems we had, it would take 10 to 15 minutes if we wanted to send or receive a message. As far as the Werner EDGE tablet and some of the new onboard technology, the collision mitigation systems and lane departure systems have also been significant additions that are helpful on the road.

Q: Are there any tech changes that you don’t care for or that you think still have room for improvement?
A: The only small nitpicky thing I can think of is, and it’s something I don’t want Werner to change, but on the old MPC 200, we had a full keyboard, whereas the EDGE tablet is touch screen. Because of this, I used to be able to type up messages faster because it was an actual keyboard – like the switch from slide-out keyboards to touchscreen on cell phones – it’s a bit less tactile. But, I will gladly take that in exchange for the easy-to-use interface and quick upload/download speeds.

Q: Do you like the emphasis that Werner puts on making sure you guys have the latest tech and the latest equipment?
A: Oh yeah, I definitely like that. I enjoy that Werner’s always keeping up to date on that. They’re also always trying new things rather than saying, “This is the one new tech upgrade we have and we’re going to stick with it.” And none of it is because they got a good deal or it’s what everybody else is doing. They reach out to us drivers and try a lot of different things and then see which ones the drivers like the best. That’s where Werner does a really good job – they actually test new tech and equipment with the drivers and get our input on it. For instance, before we got the EDGE tablet, we tested four or five different devices and software companies to see what worked the best.

Q: Where do you think technology has helped the most in recent years?
A: Something I know Werner’s working on is evolving its weather tech and real-time, on-the-road insights so that it’s further integrated into the EDGE system. Even with cell phones and weather apps, being able to know what the weather’s doing quickly is huge. I mean, even ten years ago, you would usually just listen to the weather on the radio, and that told you what was going on around you, but not what was coming up 500 miles down the road. I really like that Werner uses the CAT scale app, so rather than going into a truck station and talking to people, paying with our own money and getting reimbursed later, we can do it all from the phone. Also, the technology of the Werner app has helped me a lot. For instance, being able to send your trip info electronically to get paid, when we used to have to write those trip envelopes out and then send them in the mail, that’s been a big change.

Q: Is there anything that you just can’t do without, now that you have it?
A: Having access to better weather data as a result of cell phone apps has been a huge thing for me, personally.

Q: How is Werner when it comes to communicating about and training drivers on new tech?
A: Werner has gotten way better with that. Actually, just before this interview I was working on an e-mail with training on trailer care. Being able to have micro-learnings and classes where we can get way more in depth with the materials, where Werner can show pictures and videos to explain things helps quite a bit as well. Also, with all the tech we’re getting, we’re regularly getting new training on it so we can understand it better – Werner is staying on the ball on that one for sure.

Q: Are there any changes or improvements that you would like to see in the next few years?
A: Again, and I know this is something Werner is working on, but improved access to weather data is something I would really like to see. For instance, to be able to see the overlay of weather events like snow and wind on top of the copilot for navigation so that when you’re doing your navigation, you can see if you’re getting into or out of a storm or what the storm’s looking like, which way the winds going. Another one I’m really excited to see is the Samsara camera. While the older stuff was great for its time, the footage looked like something from the 1980s, very grainy and not HD at all. When they showed me some of the Samsara footage, it was fantastic! It was in color and much more detailed and high quality. With the new footage there’s now the possibility for drivers to see exactly what we’re talking about during coaching conversations.

Q: From a safety perspective do you feel like the tech has been helpful?
A: Yes, a lot. I know I’ve heard from multiple drivers about the lane departure tech and how helpful the warnings can be. The collision mitigation tech helps a lot as well. You can, for example, see if there’s a vehicle driving down the interstate in front of you who you might assume is moving at a decent rate of speed, but then the tech will show you on your dash that vehicle is traveling slower than what you thought based on your own visual assessment, allowing you to slow down appropriately or make a lane change to safely do a pass. I find it really helpful.  

Q: What do you think it would be like to drive 10 to 15 years from now with all of this tech that we’re seeing?
A: I don’t know, but it will be interesting, that’s for sure. I think in 10-15 years some of what we’ll see may be some of the tech we’re already seeing in consumer vehicles. I don’t personally think we’ll have self-driving trucks in 10 years, I think that’s still ways away, but that’s more due to infrastructure. Honestly though, we can’t even predict what will change. Somebody will come up with an idea that is fantastic, and it’ll become the norm, but nobody is likely thinking of it just yet. Overall, I think we’ll just get better. I think there’s going to be a lot of the small things that are going to be worked out, just like we’re seeing with improved cameras.

Q:  Is there anything that you would like to share about what it’s like having tech in your truck that we haven’t already talked about?
A: To be honest, I’d just like to encourage others to not be scared of trying new tech. Just because something is changing, doesn’t mean it necessarily is bad. I know a lot of drivers look at new tech as a negative but, think about automatic trucks for a moment. When those started coming out, many were saying things like, “I want my manual back,” or, “I don’t trust this thing.” But now, automatics are pretty much the norm because we’ve realized that they’re better. And, not giving up on new tech when it, like most new things, takes time to adjust to. Most tech innovations we’re seeing positively impact drivers and make life on the road better. It’s just that there are sometimes rough patches getting started, until everything gets settled. I can’t think of a recent tech innovation that didn’t work out well.

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