A true reflection of KJR’s values is when members of the Collective are empowered to explore and champion projects that may not be directly related to our paying clients. One such case is the result of a hackathon winning idea that has come to life over the last 12 months – a smart steering wheel designed to tackle the important issue of fatigue in the trucking industry. You can read more about the project in a piece from September 2018.
Today we chat with Andrew Hammond, KJR’s General Manager for the ACT and team leader for the Smart Steering Wheel, and get an update the progress of the project since 2018. Starting with the shift in brand name to FatigueM8.
KJR: First up, we see you have changed your brand, can you tell us about that?
Andrew: Yes, we have decided to change the name from Smart Steering Wheel to FatigueM8. During the past year we have seen that many truck manufacturers claim they have ‘smart steering wheels’ with the likes of cruise control, radio control and more, now being operated from a the wheel. We decided on the name FatigueM8, as in ‘fatigue mate’, because if your mate knew you were driving while fatigued, they would say something – and that’s exactly what our solution does.
KJR: How have things been since September? What’s been happening?
Andrew: We have gotten to the point where we’ve been trialling the FatigueM8 prototype in trucks and gathering data on how it’s working. It’s gone from being an idea to an actual thing you can touch and feel which has been really good for progress. Things are starting to feel real.
Also we’ve been noticed by a trucking company called, Multiquip, and they reached out requesting if they could be one of our trial partners, as safety is their highest priority.
Testing it on different drivers, in different trucks and on different routes has allowed us to work on the next iteration of our onboard computing device. We’ve been expanding the functionality, now including GPS and a front-facing camera, to provide additional context about the driving conditions from which the ECG readings we’re observing.
Recently in Perth at the Trucking Australia 2019 conference I was also fortunate enough to be introduced to Glenn ‘Yogi‘ Kendall, from the TV show Outback Truckers. He has a big profile, and influence in the industry. He’s a larger-than-life character, and he’s been awesome because, not being a tech guy, he provided us with a completely different opinion on what we’re trying to achieve and his point of view was great. If we can convert him, we can convert anyone and we’re glad to have him onboard for the journey.
Encounters like that will provide us with more opportunities to get additional trial partners onboard, and since presenting in Perth we’ve had strong interest from three new potential trial partners. We’re heading up to Brisbane to build further relationships at the Brisbane Trucking Show in a couple of weeks. With 250 exhibitors and all the major trucking companies there looking for new equipment, it’s bang-on our target market. Unfortunately, we’re still in a stage that is too early for us to exhibit, but perhaps next year. In the mean-time, we’ll be having lots of conversations with exhibitors and attendees.
KJR: it sounds like things are taking hold in the trucking industry. How about the prototype? How are things coming along?
Andrew: Our current prototype is set up as a steering wheel cover, rather than an actual steering wheel so it’s much easier to install and remove. This means we can easily deploy it on any truck and then remove it when we’ve finished. Installation or removal takes as little as two minutes. Many people have shown interest in that form rather than the original complete steering wheel we proposed. When we get to the stage of manufacturing our products, we might have two products – a complete steering wheel and a steering wheel cover – the former being a permanent fixture in vehicles and the latter being an interchangeable option.
There is still a long way to go. We must constantly trial and tweak the prototype, but the field-testing trials are mainly used for capturing data in a more formal manner. Dr Shane Nanayakkara, a cardiologist from The Alfred in Melbourne, has joined our team alongside our existing medical advisor, Dr. Brent Richards, Medical Director of Innovation and Director of Critical Care Research at Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service.
They have both been advising us on the data that we must collect and also on the duty of care we have to participants and potential users. Our device has the potential to detect medical abnormalities in the drivers using it, and so we have a duty of care to let the person know if we find anything. On the data side of things, we need to collect data on a more expansive population of drivers than we currently have.
On the medical side of things, monitoring the electrical activity of the heart via an ECG (electrocardiogram) device can provide some pretty interesting insights. From a fatigue perspective, this is something completely novel and unique. Aside from that, heart disease is unfortunately common amongst truck drivers, particularly as it’s a sedentary job in a group of people who are sometimes at high risk.
Reviewing an ECG could pick up heart rhythm problems, similar to how some smartwatches do it, and prevent problems before they happen. Of course, the technology must be rigorously tested to make sure it is reliable first, and that a set processes are in place to review incidents when they happen. From here there could potentially be screening for medical conditions without people leaving the comfort of their cab. As well as an ECG, other considerations are a non-invasive way of measuring blood pressure.
KJR: And how about on the business side of things – what’s been happening since September?
Andrew: Things are going well – we’re cruising along and making great progress. Sometimes we feel like we want to go faster, but with a start-up and tech product like this, it’s a process and we need to make sure we’re measured and not running before we can walk. Over the next 12 months as the trials progress we’ll be looking for a foundation client and we have a number of ways this could occur that we’re currently exploring.
Financially we have been bootstrapping until now, and this is normal for a start-up. We still have some of the prize money left to work with, which is great. We’re not actively seeking investment at this stage but we’re open to conversations. We have been very lucky with the team of experts we’ve got and everyone willing to commit to the project the way they have. This includes people from a variety of backgrounds including 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and more. We’re looking to continue that momentum and we really couldn’t do it without our supporters.
KJR: Has your team grown in size?
Andrew: Yes we’ve almost doubled in size since September with around 14 of us working on the project, compared to the original team of seven. The new team members include Dr Shane Nanayakkara as mentioned above; Matthew Lee a PhD candidate; Nick Dryden our machine learning and AI intern; Meg McConnell who has a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Griffith University; Emily Parsons, an Engineering student also from Griffith University; and Ben Hallett a software developer and 3D designer.
KJR: So what is planned over the next 12 months?
Andrew: More progress and achieving our goals! The first-cab-off-the-rank is the continued trialling and data collection and building further prototypes that are closer to our vision. Currently we have two, but we need more like five – hopefully by June or July. If this all goes to plan then we’d be looking to sign our first client by September, and then onwards and upwards from there!
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