AI in the transportation industry: Geotab in LATAM

Jonnathan Solis Castro, Industrial Engineer with a Master’s degree in Finance, focuses on sustainable development and strategic planning and currently works at GEOTAB. He shares with us some of his experience in the company and how he has seen technology contribute to cities around the world.

Tell us about yourself!

I’m Jonathan Solis Castro and I’m the Senior Marketplace manager for Latin America at Geotab.

Can you tell us more about Geotab and what you do there?

Regarding what I do, if someone in the market has some kind of need and it can’t be covered with our main product, I try to answer them with the Marketplace. It looks for alliances to respond to parallel needs around the use of our products.
Geotab is a technology company specializing in the transportation industry. Through telematics, it helps other companies to make better decisions in terms of productivity, efficiencies, environmental impact, avoidance of failures, maintenance, expenses, etcetera. One very good thing is that it is a world leader in what it does and is entering very strongly into the electric car business. Our devices are connected to more than 200 models of electric cars and notify how much battery you have left, its wear, the distance you are going to reach, and other data. It is interesting to see that companies such as large companies are electrifying their delivery fleets in North America or Latin America, which has a lot of trucks. Our company helps to analyze the migration from combustion to electric cars and reduce the impact on the environment, in Latin America alone, we have almost 200,000 connected vehicles in the region.

Something interesting in the operation of large logistics companies are the cameras. They monitor drivers with cameras that look into and out of the cab, using Artificial Intelligence (AI). In the cab, they detect if someone is drinking water, eating, yawning, or distracted. On the outside, they detect if they leave the lanes, someone crosses and how the driver reacts to this. This way, alerts are created where the fleet manager does not have to watch 24 hours of footage, because the AI does the work, reporting just when one of these alerts turns on. It also serves to record the road or for accident reconstruction, since you have a backup of all the images. This is an example of a technology that surrounds our product, and there are many others. We have 12 categories and this environment of technologies that surround our product is the Marketplace, because we do not make them, we partner with leading companies in the industry to provide this solution to the needs that our customers will have.

Could you go a bit more into the concept of Telematics and AI?

If you start from the very basics, telematics would be GPS, a long-standing technology that calculates points. Then it follows telemetry, which is the calculation of additional data through the points that GPS calculates. For example, Uber, Beat, and other applications work with telemetry. They can make calculations of the time it is going to take you and the distance with your starting and ending points. What the telematics part starts to do afterward is that, to this geolocation data, plus the calculated data, they add all the engine or car data directly connected.

We have a device that fits in the palm of your hand, it has an input for the OBD port of the car and this is connected as a kind of USB to the computer (image). This can be connected to the scanner or the computer to check what information it has, so it starts transmitting data to the cloud and you get the car data (battery level, tire pressure, engine status, revolutions, speed, if the belts are connected, etc.). Our customers, through the platform, make use of their data. It tells them, “You have to change the battery because it’s already low on life.” You can also measure the ability of those who are driving your fleets of vehicles (how well they accelerate, brake, how sharply they make a turn, etc.) and with this, you can make training plans. It’s a much more holistic view of what’s going on in the vehicle with the driver and also in the transportation work.

How have you seen this contribute to smart cities?

With this, what they want to do is to make people’s lives better, to make them much more sustainable, and to be able to use the advantages of technology. Something interesting is that, in the end, the specific data from our devices is owned by the customers. So, as Geotab I am not allowed to go in and see where the client is, because that would be an abuse of their privacy, but what we do is what we call aggregated data, which is the accumulation of a lot of data, which we do see how they behave.
Here, we remove the individual because we are analyzing 5,000 data points at the same time, relating them to cities, this is where we help. I know there are strategies, alliances, or private uses by States with our technology. One that I liked is in a city in Japan, they use the devices in government vehicles. The device has an accelerometer and detects movements in all axes. For example, they put a high sensitivity on the vertical axis so that when they pass a hole in the road, it detects an alert, and someone is sent to fix it. So, since government cars are traveling the streets all the time, it makes sure that faults are detected early and promptly fixed. This makes the city more enjoyable, and there is more aggregated data.
We can detect where and when cars with our devices had accidents and with this we can make analysis and recommendations to the government, to put a traffic light or a traffic circle, to avoid accidents at that point. Some applications know where you are all the time, or that facilitate the use of parking lots and automatically charge your credit card, more automated, making it easier to use the city. They also help in cities with a lot of traffic to optimize or suggest where routes are needed.
Something interesting is that it could also make use of information aggregated from other types of companies that measure the temperature of the environment. For example, if 2,000 cars have their windshield wipers on at the same time, it is raining in that city. Thus, you can locate in real time where it is raining in the city and delimit from which street it stopped raining. Then you know exactly in which blocks of the city it is raining because with the data you can see in which place they have their windshield wipers on.

From Geotab, what do you think we can look for in other Latin American companies to promote tech?

It is not much in the companies, but more in the government, in each region there are different challenges. In Latin America, the use of these technologies is mainly to optimize. In the region these technologies are usually used with a focus on security (to prevent robberies), here they use cameras to see that the vehicle has not been tampered with, that it is in good condition, or if there is an assault, to have evidence of what happened.
Also, it would be important for the government to promote regulations that help smaller companies to adapt to these technologies. You see these in large companies, which have 20,000 or 30,000 vehicles, or maybe more than 4,000 or 5,000 vehicles. I haven’t seen a lot of smaller companies, 50 or 100 vehicles, trying to approach these technologies to cause a change in operation or avoid some kind of risk.
A while ago I heard a person who has a company with many trucks share that he was dealing with certain situations, as his drivers are exposed to many dangers and there are no regulations, as in the United States or Canada, that makes them not drive for 16 or 18 hours at a time, as this increases the probability of accidents. In these cases, governments can be a great help and platform for this technology to be used faster in Latin America. In the beginning, it is also clear that these technologies are introduced to the market by large companies, then, from there, it starts to go down the pyramid to smaller companies, generating a more commercial and accessible technology.

How did you see the dynamics of these new technologies in the countries where you have worked?

In Latin America, there are more advanced and backward countries. For example, Chile is one of the most advanced in electric vehicles, and in the use of this type of technology, Colombia and Mexico are other advanced countries in the region. From there on, the line or the vision of the use of these technologies in different countries becomes a little blurred. If you go maybe to Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, or Peru, there is not so much demand for these technologies and it can be expensive for their operation in terms of market prices and the service they provide. This is why they prefer not to use it or not to implement these new technologies which may represent a higher cost for them. For this reason, there are notable differences within the region.
Apart from being a company dedicated to this, we help to educate different countries on the use of these technologies. We show them that, although it can be seen as a big investment, the return in terms of what they can save or avoid brings a quite good benefit in the medium-long term.

Have you seen the advance of the sector in the Asian region?

Yes, we are there, I think there are offices in Singapore. It is a very big and interesting market for us, although it is very different. For example, when you talk about Asia or Latin America, which in many ways are similar, it is more a matter of price. Bringing such complete technology is difficult to sell. Even if it has more benefits than others, the price complicates it. Similarly, I believe that in Asia there will be a lot of demand for this type of technology for motorcycles, which have smaller loads and transport units, which increases costs. Asia is a developing market and we are looking at opportunities to enter there.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I have been with the company for seven to eight months and I like the owner’s vision. I see that he is trying to make or leave a footprint on the planet, not only to sell but also to help industries to do better what they do. This is something very cool and as private initiatives are supported by government initiatives it will be much easier and faster to implement new technologies.
Something difficult in Mexico is that, although some car companies are selling electric vehicles, there is no network of charging stations to support a high number of them. Right now, if you want to travel from one province in Mexico and you are more than 600 or 800 thousand kilometers away, you have to plan your route very well to be able to get from one point to another and be charging the car electrically. It is not like in Europe or the United States where there are constant and close charging stations to use this technology in a normal way. And well, in Mexico, which is one of the most advanced countries in this sense, in southern regions it is more difficult to use 100% electric vehicles. These limitations make that, not only individuals but also companies, don’t buy electric transport vehicles because there are no solutions that allow them to do their work. So, the implementation of technology, even if it is developed by one company or several, always goes hand in hand with the support of the government’s vision to create the infrastructure for the technology to be used.