Technology is advancing at a record pace.
It is taking over the trucking industry as well as the tire industry. People are talking about electric and autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence (AI), some with hope, some with fear.
A lot of people are afraid that AI could make human workers obsolete and therefore, unemployed. In some people's imagination, they fear a future depicted in movies such as "The Matrix" and "The Terminator," in which machines take over the world.
- This column appears in the April 1 print edition of Tire Business.
It's for certain that as artificial intelligence becomes increasingly accessible in our businesses, it will result in significant changes.
But what exactly is artificial intelligence? Is that what you call a blonde who has dyed her hair brown? (No, that's a bad blonde joke.)
Artificial intelligence is the theory and development of computer systems that are able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and translation between languages.
Apple Inc.'s Siri virtual assistant is a well-known example of AI. It recognizes your voice and responds to your questions and commands appropriately … most of the time. But it's also used successfully in facial recognition that helps find criminals, in medicine where it recently spotted a patient's rare form of leukemia that doctors missed, and in disaster forecasting.
As AI becomes more sophisticated, it will not replace workers but rather help them work better and more efficiently. Its biggest benefit is that it can recognize subtle patterns within massive amounts of data and point out anomalies that require humans to deal with.
It will handle more of the mundane tasks that require accuracy but little thought, enabling humans to focus on solving complex problems and interacting with customers. AI provides us with the opportunity to enhance jobs instead of eliminating them.
The trucking industry is a big beneficiary of AI technology. Today's trucks have more than 200 components that are monitored by sensors, from the alternator to the tires.
Artificial intelligence and machine-learning software measure the wear and tear on individual components and draw on historical data concerning those parts to conclude, with a high probability, when something is about to go wrong.
It captures, analyzes and uses the enormous amount of data generated to predict component failures and prevent breakdowns in real time. This is called predictive maintenance.
The standard practice in the industry is to diagnose vehicles while they are in the shop and follow a preventive maintenance schedule.
However, AI now provides fleets with a different approach to maintenance. It is possible today with the data provided from the vehicle and the technology to analyze it, to predict failure rather than hope that a preventive maintenance program will keep trucks on the road. It essentially takes the old idea of preventive maintenance and eliminates the guesswork.
This capability can save trucking companies an enormous amount of money in several ways. They can use predictive maintenance to decrease unexpected breakdowns and unplanned maintenance and repair expenses, decrease parts and labor costs, and increase productivity and revenue generation as a result of improved uptime and having their vehicles ready when needed.
For commercial tire dealers who also provide vehicle maintenance services to their commercial accounts, AI can be a benefit to you, too. If trucking companies know when vehicles in their fleets are running sub-optimally or are on the verge of a breakdown, they likely will tap your resources to address problems that develop while their vehicles are on the road and schedule the required maintenance before a breakdown occurs.
Augmented reality (AR) is another technology that is penetrating the trucking industry. It is being used to help technicians learn and do their jobs.
What is augmented reality, you ask?
Augmented reality is a technology that overlays a virtual object onto a real image or video. It's different from virtual reality, which totally immerses you in another world. As you look around 360 degrees, virtual reality tricks your mind into thinking you are actually somewhere else.
With augmented reality, you still can see the real world, but it is augmented by virtual objects. So if you look at a real truck, for example, you might see a floating virtual hologram of a brake, with step-by-step instructions on how to repair or replace it.
Each of the steps is placed on the truck virtually, and the technician works through those steps. Through the headset that you wear, you can see 3-D diagrams, PDFs, audio notes and videos.
Design Interactive Inc. (DI) is a company that is a leader in this technology. It is working with fleets to do pilot programs of its Augmentor AR technology that can guide a technician through the diagnostic process.
The cool thing about this application is that the technician's company's experts such as maintenance managers and trainers can create content that is specific to that company and its equipment.
DI also is working with the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) of the American Trucking Associations to turn its Radial Tire Conditions Analysis Guide into AR content.
With this new application, a technician wearing the headset can see a hologram of a tire that has an example of an irregular wear pattern and the person can make a determination whether the real tire exhibits the same pattern. It also will tell him what it's caused by and what to do about it.
So for example, if the floating hologram of a tire with one-sided wear looks like the tire on the vehicle, the technician will learn it usually is caused by misalignment, and that the truck's alignment should be corrected.
Technicians have commented that the 3-D floating tire cross section is so real looking they feel like they can reach out and touch it.
To date 13 different types of wear in the Radial Tire Conditions Analysis Guide have been translated into the AR software. Some, like the One-Sided Wear, use a 3-D hologram, while others use photos and text content in a virtual sticky note.
Design Interactive also has started working with component suppliers to develop ways to augment their training for commercial customers. For now the company is focused on using AR for training, but over the next few months it will determine how it would work in actual diagnostic repair situations.
This program is available for now only through AR headsets (DI uses Microsoft Hololens), which are too expensive for a company to provide to every technician.
However, a smartphone-based version should be coming out this year, which will be much more affordable.
Artificial intelligence and augmented reality are powerful tools to recruit and retain a new generation of technicians who prefer to learn and gain expertise using high-tech tools. If this technology is being adopted by trucking companies, you should consider it as well for your vehicle technicians, since your return on your investment will be enormous too.
Artificial intelligence is a wonderful thing. I told Siri today was my birthday, and she told me I needed an upgrade.
I think machines already are working on taking over the world.
Ms. Fisher is president of TireStamp Inc. and is based in Troy, Mich.