A major exhibition has given fleet managers a tantalising glimpse of how new technology will transform their roles and responsibilities. The 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas showcased the very latest technological innovations, with vehicle manufacturers increasingly prominent in new developments.
Cutting edge systems hold the potential to revolutionise how employees choose their next company car and how managers can monitor their drivers on the road. But the complexity of the new technology will also make vehicle handover procedures, when a driver receives the keys to his or her new company vehicle, far more involved.
BMW i has launched a new virtual reality headset that allows potential buyers to explore a real-sized virtual car. The customer can open the boot or the doors, even and even get ‘inside’ the virtual car to inspect the interior. Andrea Castronovo, BMW Group Vice President, Sales Strategy and Future Retail, said, “In our initial tests, we saw people ducking down when they were getting into the car, as if there really were a roof there for them to bang their heads on. In situations where the desired product isn’t available on the spot, this visualisation is the next best thing.”
The BMW i Visualiser is the first to offer this kind of interactive experience, but it’s not hard to envisage the fleet manager’s office being full of similar devices, allowing company car drivers to inspect and assess their next car before making a buying decision.
And when employees do drive for work, new technology holds the potential to monitor driver behaviour in completely new ways. Hyundai has unveiled a concept vehicle with sensors all around the car that are capable of monitoring the physical and mental state of the driver. They can detect the driver’s posture, record their rate and depth of breathing, measure heart-rate variability as an indicator of stress, and use eye tracking and facial feature recognition to monitor alertness and the driver’s emotional state.
How employers choose to use this information, and whether fleet operators will be responsible for the live tracking of drivers to improve their road safety is an issue that companies will have to address.
The complexity of new vehicles during the transition to autonomous driving is also an area that fleet managers have to resolve. Vehicle handovers used to take barely five minutes; headlights, indicators and fuel-type pretty much covered the briefing. Now, however, drivers need a complete understanding of when to rely on automatic safety systems and when they have to take control.
To predict the unpredictable
Manufacturers are still not at a point where autonomous vehicles can know exactly how to handle unpredictable situations, hence Nissan’s new Seamless Autonomous Mobility system (SAM). SAM’s innovation lies in its ability to identify situations when an autonomous vehicle cannot drive safely – for example, when a policeman is using hand signals to direct traffic across double yellow lines and against traffic lights. In this scenario, the vehicle’s autonomous controls cannot reliably judge what to do by itself, said Nissan; human judgment is required to understand what other drivers and pedestrians are doing and decide on the appropriate course of action.
In these situations, SAM brings the vehicle to a stop and requests help from mobility manager in a command centre. This manager then uses vehicle images and sensor data to assess the situation, decide on the correct action, and create a safe path for the vehicle around the obstruction, until the autonomous system can take over again. Will large fleets or leasing companies operate these command centres themselves, or will fleets buy into specialist service providers?
“SAM will benefit companies that wish to deploy fleets of commercial autonomous vehicles, including delivery companies, taxi services and transportation systems,” said Nissan.
Picture copyright: BMW Group