Manufacturing, food, software — these industries will emerge from the fourth industrial revolution looking much different than they did before, largely because of big data. Our ability to record and analyze every minute aspect of a business has huge implications, and not just for these industries.

America’s commercial trucking industry has evolved a great deal in its hundred-year lifespan. The focus for trucking companies is always to maximize efficiency, so incorporating big data into the way commercial fleets are managed makes a lot of sense. In fact, big data will be at the very center of next-generation trucking operations. Here are a few examples.

The First Step — Electronic Logging Devices

When you think about technology in trucking, you probably consider what’s happening at the front of the truck before the back. Most of the major advances to come in the last 50 years, with the possible exception of important side-impact barriers for cars, have been under the hood or in the cab. Electronic logging devices, or ELDs, are one example of this.

Compared to the old-fashioned manual method of collecting logs, where drivers were on the honors system to record their time behind the wheel, total trip time and other important data, the ELD performs this task automatically. These devices have been implemented by nearly every trucking fleet in the nation, and are considered a major contributor to safer operation by truckers in recent years.

Trailers, Maintenance and Safety

In the future, however, it won’t just be the ELD collecting data about how many hours a truck has been on the road. New smart trailers will record their mileage, allowing fleet managers to more closely follow all-important regular maintenance schedules.

You might know that refrigerated goods must be transported in a special type of trailer with equipment for keeping your food frosty. The next generation of trucks will improve on old designs by using active monitoring equipment to keep food at the ideal temperature, down to the tenth of a degree.

Worried about your haul getting stolen? With network-aware trailers, you can rest easy. These new-age containers can communicate with fleet management software to notify supervisors if the trailer should deviate from its planned course.

Running Clean

Today there are more trucks on the road than ever before, and air quality standards are as stringent as ever. Trucks are already discouraged from spending prolonged periods of time at idle. One way truckers can help the environment and keep their trucks cleaner is to regularly check their diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). Modern diesel engines require DEF to reduce NOx exhaust. Performing regular Performing regular tests allows drivers to keep their engines clean & running efficiently. If something isn’t right, they can quickly notify fleet managers if a truck is out of regulation.

This type of in-the-field data analysis is known as edge analytics among the big data crowd. It could hypothetically be incorporated into several aspects of modern trucks to monitor everything from tire wear to fuel consumption on a given route. Drivers might even be subject to comparison based on how efficiently they use their machines.

Big Data and the Self-Driving Semi

It’s no secret that the future of commercial trucking lies in automation. A self-driving truck can spend longer on the road and drive safer than one with a human at the wheel.

While experts speculate that the initial transition will be a gradual one, with drivers remaining in the cab to monitor and take over in case of emergency, the data collected by a fleet of trucks will be valuable in planning new routes, calculating potential traffic patterns and navigating difficult weather.

Your friends might think trucking is a low-tech industry steeped in tradition, but there’s more than meets the eye to operating 18-wheelers.