Geotab’s Neil Cawse Defines Inflection Points for AI in Fleets



Regarding generative AI, “The ability to train an expert and be able to have that expert reason logically about your data is completely game-changing in my mind,” said Cawse.

Geotab


What happens when you gather over 3,000 fleet industry partners in Las Vegas for Geotab Connect 2024? You dig into connectivity, AI, telematics, data, and technology to understand how they’re all impacting the future of fleet.  

You do this by interacting with marketplace partners, resellers, suppliers, and a thousand fleet operators around two show floors, a vehicle ride and drive, networking events, 40 educational sessions, and one giant Sphere.

Held at Resorts World Las Vegas Feb. 14-16, the conference was massive. But Automotive Fleet was able to distill those themes into a half-hour sit down with Neil Cawse, founder and CEO of Geotab. Cawse was joined by Mike Branch, VP of data and analytics, and Sabina Martin, AVP of product management.

Not surprisingly, how fleets and the transportation industry are harnessing artificial intelligence (AI), particularly generative AI, was the central theme of the conversation.

“ChatGPT is at an inflection point,” said Cawse. “The ability to train an expert and have that expert reason logically about your data is completely game-changing in my mind.”

While ChatGPT launched almost as an amusement, will it crunch fleets’ data to produce meaningful outcomes? “We’ve seen the results, and it’s happening,” he said.

Cawse, Branch, and Martin outlined how Geotab is developing AI, how AI is intersecting with numerous fleet processes, and the AI inflection points that will drive fleet innovation.

Next Steps for AI in Fleet Safety

The top use case for telematics in fleets continues to be fleet safety.

Traditionally, telematics data around driver behaviors such as speeding, braking, and harsh cornering has been used to create driver scorecards by assigning a weighted value to these behaviors.

While scorecards have proven effective, assigning these values is an inherently human endeavor that becomes more accurate and predictive when combined with data from millions of Geotab vehicles and context from AI.

“AI is the best way for us to go beyond the traditional risk-based score,” Branch said.

“(Traditional) scorecarding will help drivers improve to a degree, but there’s a point where that will plateau,” Martin said. “This new model will allow us to be more specific and provide more focus areas.”


Cawse (left), Mike Branch, VP of data and analytics, and Sabina Martin, AVP of product management, pause for a photo during a sit down with  Automotive Fleet  at the 2024 Geotab Connect conference in Las Vegas.  -  Chris Brown

Cawse (left), Mike Branch, VP of data and analytics, and Sabina Martin, AVP of product management, pause for a photo during a sit down with Automotive Fleet at the 2024 Geotab Connect conference in Las Vegas.

Chris Brown


AI and Autonomous Driving

The path to fully autonomous driving has recently detoured with the slow pace of innovation, drying up of capital, and shuttering of companies. “I do not think that autonomous driving is as close as we all want it to be,” said Cawse.

The hard part is the long tail of reliability, in which engineering autonomous technology from 99.999% reliable to 99.99999% reliable — sufficient for widespread adoption — is 100 times the work.

But while we may never see a completely autonomous world of robotaxis, we’ll see versions of AI in specifically controlled areas such as trucking corridors, Cawse said.

AI still plays a massive role in the development of autonomy, first in its ability to understand the granular context of the world outside the vehicle, from parsing rain from snow and a bouncing ball across a road, and then reacting accordingly.   

Geotab is involved in analyzing telematics data to understand how fleets will transition to autonomy. “We understand the movement patterns of these vehicles,” Branch said.

And generative AI will start to play a bigger role.  

“The advancements in large language models (LLMs) and generative AI will need five years to feed into what we’re seeing on the autonomous driving side,” Cawse said. “When that happens — and we have lots of people working on this problem — you’re going to see the world change.”

AI and Transparency, Data Security

Regarding AI and data security, Branch pointed out that Geotab customer data is not used to train LLMs or tools like ChatGPT.

But while the data itself always stays within the restricted Geotab environment a question prompt disassociated from data can inform an LLM. These distinctions are important, and Geotab is preparing documentation to address issues around data security, transparency, and open dialogue.

“Responsible AI is absolutely at the top of things we think about,” Cawse said.

Geotab is also working to understand how AI can be abused and what prompts cross the line. “For instance, the LLM shouldn’t answer a question like, ‘Should I fire my fleet driver?’” Branch said.

AI will never get it right all the time, Branch said, so it’s crucial to create checks and balances.

Employing AI Agents

While the last 18 months have seen a groundswell of activity around LLMs and generative AI, Cawse made the point that Geotab has been using AI in various other forms for 10 years.

This includes anomaly detection, such as identifying unsafe driving maneuvers or detecting collision damage, and more recently understanding the health of an EV battery and when to replace it.

A bigger inflection point, but more in the future, will be around agent-based infrastructures, in which users will converse with AI “agents” to solve tasks in areas such as safety or maintenance.  

Where humans spend hours on these tasks manually today, AI can automate and perform them infinitely quicker. “Those admin-heavy tasks, like compliance tasks, are a real opportunity for those agents as well,” Martin said.

Branch cautioned that work must be done to improve trust in the system and ensure that it’s doing the right thing.

AI and Redundancy

Technology implementation and automation have traditionally and will in the future cause workforce realignments.  

Regarding AI, “We don’t see it as being a replacement for people’s jobs,” Cawse said, or at least it will be many years before this bridge will need to be crossed.

AI should be viewed as a powerful copilot that is like an assistant that works side by side with you, he said.

“AI will just make your life a lot easier. But at the end of the day, you’re the one deciding what gets done, how it gets done, and when it gets done. You’re in control.”

More Telematics Inflection Points

Though AI could have dominated the entire conversation, AF queried Cawse and his team on the evolution of other aspects of telematics.  

Transition to Embedded Modems

Telematics modems installed in the aftermarket will be around for a while, for the obvious reason that it’ll take years to cycle through older vehicles. And 10% to 20% of new vehicle models still don’t have OEM modems embedded at the factory.

Another issue has been the varying data quality, frequency, and signal strength coming from OEM modems, and the need to “normalize” the data for the end user.

A mixed factory/aftermarket environment is a common occurrence today, most often dictated by data quality needs and whether specific vehicle models can deliver on that quality of data.

For simple use cases, fleets may be able to access factory modems from every make and model in their fleet. For use cases needing better quality connected vehicle data, an aftermarket device may be needed if the factory modem doesn’t support it — hence the mixed environment.

According to Cawse, automakers are collaborating on improving data quality, which is continually yielding better data. “If the OEMs keep focus on this, we will be able to get rid of all (aftermarket) devices and switch on at the factory,” he said. “I think that day will come.”

Telematics Penetration: Sales Fleets

Traditionally, the larger and the more expensive the asset, the greater the penetration of telematics. But two areas of fleet that hadn’t seen serious penetration are with passenger cars — corporate sales and rental fleets.

Sales fleets hadn’t warmed up to telematics. Did a high-salaried salesperson generating good money for the company need to be tracked?

That sentiment has evolved. The new inflection point involves safety — the need to understand if a driver has been in a collision or needs help and to address unsafe driving patterns that the telematics data reveals.

The other inflection point, said Cawse, involves the ability of the Geotab system to integrate with numerous other business systems. “(Salespeople) spend hours of their day keeping sales trips and details up to date in Salesforce,” Cawse said. “And now that whole process is automated.”  

Indeed — a conversation on the show floor with a manager of a large sales fleet said that the barriers to telematics penetration are coming down.

The more corporations that use telematics makes it easier for other corporations to employ telematics as workers move between companies. And, according to this fleet manager, “Salespeople love the challenge of gamification.”

Telematics Penetration: Rental Fleets

Regarding rental, “the opportunity is massive,” Cawse said.

Rental companies need accurate fuel tank level data; with telematics, the rental company can still monetize fuel but do it more fairly.

Another inflection point is understanding vehicle damage — accelerometer and other telematics data combined with image capture and AI analysis will be able to instantly reveal if a vehicle was in a minor collision.

Another opportunity involves optimizing operations. The opportunities, as Cawse said, are massive to understand vehicle movements between repair shops, impounds, buried in lots, and customer overdues.

“Make no mistake that the rental car companies have woken up,” Cawse said. “They’re a little late, but they’re coming onboard.”


A collaboration on mobility: A breakout session led by Edward Kulperger of Geotab EMEA (left) explored how the movement of goods, services, and people is evolving through stakeholders in last-mile delivery and rental. Brice Adamson of Enterprise Fleet Management (speaking) was joined by Neil Emery of Amazon Europe, Roy Tippner of Europcar Mobility Group Agnes Van De Walle of Arval.  -  Chris Brown

A collaboration on mobility: A breakout session led by Edward Kulperger of Geotab EMEA (left) explored how the movement of goods, services, and people is evolving through stakeholders in last-mile delivery and rental. Brice Adamson of Enterprise Fleet Management (speaking) was joined by Neil Emery of Amazon Europe, Roy Tippner of Europcar Mobility Group Agnes Van De Walle of Arval.

Chris Brown


A Marketplace of Ideas, Solutions

Finally, the Geotab Connect conference put an exclamation point on a fleet and transportation industry trend: Telematics systems — led by Geotab — are becoming the fulcrums to leverage services to fleets. Over 150 Marketplace partners have been added in the last year, according to Geotab.

With direct connectivity through their provider, fleets can forego separate, expensive enterprise solutions and integrate all of those connections through a single pane of glass. 

Geotab Connect had a separate show floor dedicated exclusively to its marketplace providers. Booths on the show floor revealed HR-focused systems and CRM solutions to field-based programs and dashcams, ELD, and EV management.

Marketplace integrations come from major automotive players down to resellers with a great idea that only can be accessed in the Geotab universe.  

Next question: “AI, tie it all together and make my fleet more efficient.” We’re on the path.



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