“Sensors on wheels” driving environmental change

We asked a simple question — “How can data arising from over a million sensors on wheels be used to positively impact the environment?”

Mike Branch
Jun 25, 2018 · 5 min read

This question allowed us to start thinking beyond benefits to fleets and opened the discussion on how the collected data can contribute to the greater good.

With over 2.5 billion raw data points generated every day from connected vehicles, at Geotab we are in an excellent position to use “data for good”. Still, moving forward to where we can use these insights and turn it into action can be challenging. It’s not enough to have beautifully designed dashboards that show incredible insight into an organization’s operations if these insights are underutilized in observing and contemplating what measures ought to be taken to impact real change. It is imperative that if we want to produce a net positive benefit for the environment we use this data to bring about action.

An opportunity arose for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)-Geotab partnership to frame a hypothesis: Using the Geotab telematics device as a connected IoT device in the vehicle, could we connect lower cost air quality sensors and leverage Geotab’s real-time data infrastructure in existing fleets to collect air quality data at scale without disrupting the general course of fleet operations? Many questions were considered beyond public fleets being willing to have sensors installed, including feasibility and timeline for obtaining good coverage for a city. These needed to be answered before engaging cities in the discussion. Thankfully, with all the fleet movement activity available at aggregate for us to analyze, we were quickly able to uncover some favourable results that showed, in some cases, only 30 municipal vehicles would be required to get 80% road coverage of a municipality within 3 months (with a requisite 15 or more passes on each road segment). This proved to us that hyper-local air quality mapping at scale is truly within reach.

The belief that we’re all in this together led to a strong partnership between Geotab and the Environmental Defense Fund. With the impact of environmental issues felt by citizens all over the world, it’s up to organizations — whether a private corporation, public entity, or a non-profit, with the power to affect change to take action. Those that hold the keys to create a net positive impact on our environment, have a duty to do so because we’re all in this together. By combining EDF’s environmental thought leadership and Geotab’s data science bench strength, we felt we had the keys to unlock something great.

Over the past year, the collaborative work put forth by both Geotab and EDF is a testament to how fruitful partnerships can be created to achieve a common objective. Geotab has come a long way from being a company who developed a telematics solution to help fleets track their vehicles, control fuel costs, promote driver safety, and enhance organizational efficiency. While this still forms the cornerstone of our business, having reached scale with an installation base of over 1 million commercial vehicles, the massive volume of data produced by these vehicles provides a forum for research and development into new initiatives that can help both our customers and public entities become better environmental stewards.

Geotab has already kick-started some of these concepts in smart city innovation with fellow Canadian firm Miovision (experts in intelligent traffic solutions). Our vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication can already enable priority of freight vehicles in certain circumstances through intersections. Minimizing the number of times a heavy duty truck is idling or has to stop and start within traffic corridors results in direct measurable air quality benefits within a city.

EDF has been instrumental in showcasing how drastically air quality can change within a given city block (see the research that EDF and Google put together on this). However, they found that even if a city has ten air quality monitors in place, the ability to effectively pick up pockets of low air quality just isn’t possible in a consistent, scaleable, and meaningful way with stationary measurements. Furthermore, good air quality sensors can be extremely expensive (in the order of thousands of dollars per device).

Geotab has placed a focus on collaborating in projects with the aim of producing a net positive benefit for the environment. For years Geotab has been providing fleets of all sizes with measures to help reduce idling by alerting drivers when they’ve been idling for too long, thereby allowing companies to reap the benefits of reduced emissions and fuel costs. Moving towards tracking air quality across North America in near real-time by vehicles down to 100 meters, measures have to be implemented to react to events such as an unusual localized air quality advisory.

These localized air quality events can provide an opportunity to come up with innovative ideas that can impact real change. During these air quality events, imagine automatically alerting all vehicles in a localized area when they’ve been idling past a certain threshold, or automatic modifications to air filtration systems. Imagine inciting desired behavior by creating programs to apply credits to a company whose vehicles reduced their idling during air quality advisories. Furthermore, those invested in the smart city movement can plan for infrastructure that can respond to such advisories, such as optimizing traffic signals that allow heavy-duty vehicles through city corridors.

At this inflection point we can see the convergence of IoT sensor networks, big data, V2I communication, and artificial intelligence coming together at scale to create some remarkable solutions that can be used to help us all become better environmental stewards. At Geotab, we openly welcome like-minded organizations to reach out to us for collaboration, utilize our freely available datasets, and even participate in our university research and development program aimed at creating innovative use cases driven by vehicle data. It is through these collaborative partnerships bringing together thought leaders from the private, public, and non-profit sectors that we can innovate and bring about positive change for our environment. After all, we’re all in this together.

We are entering a new era of environmental innovation that is driving better alignment between technology and environmental goals — and results. #FourthWave

The Fourth Wave

Environmental progress doesn't just happen.

The Fourth Wave

Environmental progress doesn't just happen. It's been propelled by successive waves of innovation, each unleashing powerful new tools: Land conservation. Force of Law. Power of Market-Based Solutions. Today we are seeing the emergence of a Fourth Wave of environmental innovation.

Mike Branch

Written by

Mike is the VP of Data & Analytics at Geotab and leads the development of solutions that enable insight from the over 1 million connected commercial vehicles.

The Fourth Wave

Environmental progress doesn't just happen. It's been propelled by successive waves of innovation, each unleashing powerful new tools: Land conservation. Force of Law. Power of Market-Based Solutions. Today we are seeing the emergence of a Fourth Wave of environmental innovation.