There are more than 5.8 million vehicle crashes each year in the United States. About 21% of these crashes — more than 1.23 million — are weather-related, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
The U.S. Department of Transportation says the estimated cost of weather-related delays to trucking companies ranges from $2.2 billion to $3.5 billion dollars annually.
Improving road condition forecasting could not only save lives but also could help the bottom line of the vital trucking industry.
One company leading the charge is Denver-based Global Weather Corp. (GWC). For about the past 10 years, GWC has been a top-notch weather forecast services provider for such customers as AccuWeather, WeatherBug and XcelEnergy.
GWC CEO Bill Gail told FreightWaves that the company has made it its mission to focus on the quality of forecast data. He said what drivers really need to know is the future condition of the roads.
“You need to understand the evolution of the rain, freezing rain or snow as it hits the road,” Gail said. “How long does it take to melt? How long does it take to dry? That’s driven in large part by the road temperature.”
GWC developed a unique physics-based model to compute how road surfaces respond initially to rain or snow, as well as when the road freezes or dries after rain or snow ends. This data stream product, RoadWX, can estimate road temps to within 1 to 2 degrees Celsius anywhere in North America, Europe and China.
This caught the attention of NIRA Dynamics AB, part of the Volkswagen Group. NIRA is a Swedish company focusing on research and development of signal processing and control systems for the automotive industry. The two companies have formed a partnership to pursue the markets together.
“It was the global reach and scalability [of GWC] that made them the obvious choice for us,” Johan Hägg, marketing and communications director at NIRA, told FeightWaves. “That and the fact that our companies match well in terms of flexibility, customer orientation and cutting-edge competence and technology.”
The number of connected vehicles with NIRA algorithms is growing rapidly and will reach 1.7 million during 2021, according to company predictions. By adding the weather intelligence from GWC, the NIRA-GWC combination could provide industry-leading road surface monitoring, including prediction of future road conditions.
One of NIRA’s technologies is the Tire Grip Indicator (TGI), which estimates the available friction between the road and a vehicle’s tires. However, at locations where no vehicles have passed recently, the road friction can’t be estimated and therefore it can’t be forecast. GWC data would fill in these gaps.
Gail believes some companies will want to work with friction prediction, some with road conditions prediction and some with both.
“We’re watching as the industry figures this out,” Gail stated.
He said some of the partnership’s efforts will focus on autonomous vehicles, which rely heavily on the kind of information provided by GWC and NIRA. The lives of the passengers in autonomous vehicles hinge on the accuracy of the data that determines when a self-driving car will brake, how hard it will turn to avoid hydroplaning and countless other moment-to-moment decisions on the road.
“If we consider the transportation industry in general, and the autonomy industry in particular, the combination of road weather and connected vehicle data is key to enable autonomy in all road conditions,” Hägg added. “How can we trust that a vehicle makes the right decision in problematic road conditions if it does not have sufficient information about the conditions?”
After multiple fatal collision lawsuits in recent years among various carmakers, including Tesla, manufacturers continue to urgently search for the best providers of accurate data to keep autonomous vehicle passengers safe.
Gail believes trucking companies should pay attention too. Whether their trucks are autonomous or not, he thinks carriers can take driver safety and risk management to the next level with the GWC-NIRA team.
“In some ways it’s easy with the fleets. They have a lot of software in the vehicles that could readily use this kind of information, but we don’t know,” Gail said. “This is a rapidly evolving opportunity. We think we’re kind of on the cutting edge of this.”
Hägg agreed and doesn’t want the NIRA’s team effort with GWC to be limited to passenger vehicles.
“The fact that we have an open architecture and a flexible platform makes it easy for our partners to contribute and cooperate,” Hägg explained. “This means that the combination of the NIRA-GWC data will be easy to share and very valuable to multiple different business partners within the transportation sector.”
Gail said there’s no set timeline on when the partnership will kick in, but he’s trying to be responsive to the industry and the market.
“We want to be ahead of the market,” Gail added. “We want to be building a joint product so that we can serve the market.”