Productivity

Racing cars and what businesses can learn from their approach to tech

28 May, 2017

By Newth Morris

IndyCar is at the pinnacle of racing – an elite competition that requires cutting-edge innovation in engineering and tech to propel cars around a track at incredible speeds. The sponsors are the planet’s biggest brands, and the drivers are celebs, out-earning most of the world’s other high-profile athletes.

IndyCar’s commitment to innovation is so great that it probably comes as no surprise that other industries can learn a thing or two from the way it operates – particularly how teams use connectivity and data to get a competitive edge. How can companies that have vehicles and people in the field learn from how IndyCar teams embrace connectivity and data?

Every Indy race car now has more than 100 sensors across the vehicle collecting terabytes of deep data. Installed along a car’s chassis, tires and throughout the engine, they measure data points such as stress and downward force, brake temperature, tire pressure, fuel use and monitor how the car is cornering. Sensors on the suspension measure the car’s speed and how force affects the vehicle.

This data, as well as similar information on the competing teams is shared with the driver and up to 20 engineers and sports scientists. In many IndyCar teams, data is shared with engineers based solely at the team’s headquarters that may be hundreds of miles away from the racetrack. For offsite engineers, sending large amounts of data expeditiously is critical to team success. For example, Team Penske sends data from the furthest IndyCar race to their team’s headquarters in North Carolina in under 300 milliseconds.

How is this data interpreted and actioned? Near real-time simulations run possible outcomes of the race. Every piece of information gleaned is analyzed and changes are made live and in retrospect to increase points such as of fuel and aerodynamic efficiency. Data is also used to measure impact forces and can give doctors insight into potential damage a driver may have suffered as the result of a crash.

This continuous optimization of IndyCar teams and their drivers comes from connected intelligence – information pulled from big, deep data. There is a laser focus on the need to be able to analyze and get better. It’s learning through data, but you don’t have to be an IndyCar team to benefit from these ideas.

While most companies with mobile workforces aren’t focused on driving their vehicles around a track at 220 mph, they do need to optimize routing and driver behavior, and manage all of their mobile assets to get the competitive edge. This means implementation of a Mobile Resource Management (MRM) software platform and vehicle-wide sensors to get feedback on driver and vehicle behavior.

Driver behavior includes metrics such as harsh braking, acceleration or seat belt use. Vehicle information can be engine diagnostics, idling, adherence to routes, delivery schedules or nuanced information like refrigeration temperature or the engine hours on a piece of heavy equipment.

Just like optimizing an IndyCar vehicle on the track, having visibility on, and then doing something with this data can transform the way the car – and by comparison, a business – runs. Managers that can see which of their drivers are accelerating too harshly or speeding, can coach drivers in real time or after the fact in order to help drivers be safer on the road. Managers that are alerted to heavy idle times or inefficient delivery routes can then mitigate against it.

The impact this has on the fuel consumption, efficiency and safety of vehicles – and the people who operate them – is significant. Rolled out across a fleet, the effect on the bottom line of a business is vast, and these savings can be invested elsewhere in the organization.

Tech can also be used to harness another aspect of IndyCar: driver competition. Modern mobile apps allow gamification to be applied to any mobile business. This means drivers can compete against others on their team or even nationwide on safety and efficiency measures such as speed limit adherence, braking and acceleration. Through tech and data, the competitive instinct of drivers can be harnessed to help drive down fuel costs, boost productivity and improve safety.

There are clearly significant differences between IndyCar and software that helps to manage a mobile business. But managers that are able to learn from the use of technology and harness the competition fostered within the sport can create major differentiators and bottom line savings.

Keep an eye out for Josef Newgarden behind the wheel of the No. 2 Hum by Verizon car at the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 28.

Newth Morris heads up strategy for Verizon Telematics, and was previously the president and co-founder of Telogis, a connected commercial vehicle software company that was acquired by Verizon in July 2016.