While the future is still unwritten, there are clear tech advances being talked about—and even offered—now.
By Wim Hoek
Tech advances in the end-to-end management of the waste and recycling process are transforming the industry. Savvy operators now leverage the potential for cloud computing to seamlessly integrate the various parts of their business and harness efficiencies.
Historically, depot managers or planners would compile a list of customers to be serviced on a given day, gathering this information from customer accounts software, such as the company’s accounting software or a standalone CRM. This customer list would then be put into a route planning application, again a tool run in a silo, which would spit out a paper schedule for each driver.
From there, the driver would set off drawing on his local knowledge of the roads or using a Sat Nav tool, checking off collections and exceptions on the paper schedule, and only phoning back to base if there were a significant problem.
The story is already quite different today with advances in solutions that help planners draw on a more extensive set of data and, ideally, integrated applications that deliver value to the business. These advanced capabilities present complex information in an easy-to-understand, user-friendly way via an automated planning module.
Such optimization modules reduce route planning to a few minutes, allowing transport planners to focus on other higher-value tasks, delivering significant additional business efficiencies to the organization. This includes finding the route, sending it to the in-cab display, providing the driver with clear instructions about each customer, as well as directions between each stop. And that is not all.
An optimization module gathers and incorporates real-time information that affects the route’s progress, such as a traffic event or breakdown, as well as environmental or local information, such as the time children are leaving school. This data helps manage
potential risks more effectively. In addition, with new data, the optimization automatically updates in real time.
Overall, automatic optimization reduces drivers’ workloads, enabling them to stay focused on their main task: driving safely on the most efficient route.
Telematics is another aid to more robust transport management. We expect this technology will become more commonplace across the industry in the future. The advent of telematics refers to the automatic collection and sharing of much more detailed data about drivers’ behavior as well as vehicle status and performance. For example, sudden braking, prolonged idling, or veering off the planned route can be measured in terms of driver safety and productivity—an area of knowledge previously unavailable to management. This data can provide valuable feedback for drivers and help inform performance reviews as well.
Telematics can also inform better vehicle maintenance schedules. Improved diagnostics on fuel use, engine loads, and operating temperatures, combined with GPS data and hydraulics, can preemptively note when service is required. With cloud-based solutions and 5G communication, real-time vehicle metrics can be analyzed automatically, providing actionable insights.
Tomorrow’s Electric Vehicles, Biogass and Other Fuels
Business owners and other stakeholders recognize that in the future, use of electric vehicles and the use of biofuels and other types of natural gas will be widespread. Governments worldwide have signaled their intent to phase out production of vehicles burning fossil fuels. For example, GM plans to end production of gas and diesel vehicles by 2030, the same year the UK intends to, with the EC planning to do so in 2035.
As transport management systems advance, they inevitably will adapt to maximizing the performance of the new engine technologies. In cold conditions, for example, the software will be able to compute the length of routes based on electric batteries performance. Even today, a transport management system enables planners to reassign jobs in real time if, for example, an incident delays a route, transferring a portion of the collections to another driver and recalculate optimal routes and new schedules to both vehicles’ in-cab displays.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT heralds the prospect of sensors in containers, automatically notifying companies when it needs emptying. This type of innovation has already established a foothold in the municipal sector, particularly in Europe, avoiding unnecessary stops to empty containers.
Longer-term, it is conceivable that more commercial collection will transition to a weight-based, pay-as-you-go system. Onboard weighing technology can create a compelling customer proposition when coupled with bin sensors.
Eyes on the Road
Today, there is a greater focus than ever on keeping the public and collection crews safe. The industry has an unenviable record. According to the latest report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, waste and recycling is the sixth deadliest occupation in the U.S. and according to the European Public Service Union, the risk of an accident at work is 2.5 times higher in the waste management sector compared to the average for all other sectors. In the UK, there were five fatalities last year, down from the recent average of nine a year. We can expect technology to deliver measurable gains in this area, as safety has increasingly become a critical KPI for most waste and recycling companies.
It makes sense to reduce the cognitive load on drivers, simplifying the interface of the in-cab display. Advanced technology is automating previously repetitive tasks, such as logging a collection based on a vehicle’s GPS reading. Business Intelligence solutions can
provide a feedback loop, drawing on data from telematics to help fleet managers collaborate with crews to improve at an early stage.
Another developing field that offers the potential to keep the driver’s eyes on the road is speech recognition. A sophisticated voice user interface (UI) would allow drivers to communicate with a crew wearing headsets outside the cab. Talking to the onboard computer could also enable recording an exception or event or requesting a camera to take an image.
In addition to listening to drivers, safety innovation will likely include watching their eye movements, like the Tesla AutoPilot does today. Although such technology might generate some resistance and challenges around privacy, drivers—and management—may value technology that keeps drivers alert and improves safety statistics.
As with all other road transport, there will inevitably be a trend towards automation in waste and recycling collections. Although self-driving cars still need substantial development before humans can consistently take their hands off the wheel, this field is attracting considerable investment and will continue to improve. Google’s autonomous vehicle spin-off, Waymo, already operates driverless taxis in Phoenix, AZ, with many others not far behind. Vehicle manufacturer Volvo has already tested an autonomous refuse collection vehicle in Brussels. The trial vehicle ran at low speeds on a preset route, with the collection crew walking alongside loading bins. Volvo fitted it with sensors all around, bringing the truck to a halt if there is an unexpected obstacle.
Although this prototype has not progressed to production, improvement in machine learning and sensors mean self-driving refuse collection vehicles will inevitably develop. Municipal services, for example, may replace drivers with an operative that primarily does bin lifts, increasing productivity. A key factor for such early adoption will be the availability of technology connecting operatives with the RCV’s onboard computer to determine the vehicle’s pace and the ability to intervene if the AI cannot overcome an obstacle. Commercial collections could pose a few more challenges, such as the spacing between lifts and less predictable routes.
The waste collections of the future will inevitably target getting more from vehicles and crews, while placing less stress on either. Kept in in good condition, these valuable resources will last longer, providing business owners with a healthy rate of return on investment in these technologies of the future.
By employing a connected suite of web-based applications, waste and recycling companies can immediately benefit from a variety of technological improvements and innovations. Real-time route
optimization, which makes the most of IoT devices connected with 5G, increases the potential for these businesses to minimize their environmental footprint while delivering services for the circular economy. By becoming a more sustainable business, they can truly practice what they preach. | WA
Wim Hoek is a Product Manager at AMCS focusing on routing and transport management solutions. For more information, visit www.amcsgroup.com.
Article based on Wim’s blog on TMS at www.amcsgroup.com/blogs/future-trends-for-the-mobile-workforce/.