How can the Use of Telematics Contribute to Safer Roads?

By | Business Insurance

Many fleet drivers have wrong ideas about the benefit that telematics can bring to the fleet industry. They resent the implication that they need “Big Brother” to monitor their driving behavior. Nevertheless, studies have proved that the use of telematics in the transport sector can go a long way towards improving safety and fuel economy and reducing vehicle downtime and the rate of accidents.

Using real-time data, fleet operators can make their operations more transparent, fuel efficient and safer as revealed by a recent study conducted on drivers of sleeper cabs. As part of the study, telematics was used to keep tabs on unsafe behavior like hard braking, speeding and sudden acceleration. Through a combination of feedback, training and coaching of the drivers, there a 60 per cent reduction when it came to severely unsafe driving events and a 55 per cent reduction in less severe unsafe events. Drivers accept such feedback more readily when safe driving behavior is also acknowledged as part of the program.

Using telematics, from the comfort of their office, fleet operators gain valuable real-time insight into what happens behind the wheels as this technology can be used to assess whether drivers are braking too hard, accelerating too fast and whether they are speeding. Thus, they can harness this technology to reduce the prevalence of this kind of driving. Over the long term, this leads to lower wear and tear, higher safety and greater fuel efficiency. Drivers too benefit from one-on-one feedback and training opportunities to improve their behavior on the road.

Fleet managers can also use location tracking to ensure that drivers stick to their assigned routes and are not shirking their jobs. Keeping track of the location of individual locations also helps to increase safety as if drivers have a breakdown or miss a particular stop, managers are in the loop and can take prompt and effective action. In the case of deliveries, telematics can be used for better prediction of delivery times and in the case of any issues, can quickly arrange for backup vehicles. This will help a company to protect its reputation for prompt service. Vehicle tracking also enhances the security aspect as such vehicles can be tracked easily if they are stolen. With the use of telematics systems, police can detect  the stolen vehicle location and find it is moving or is parked somewhere. Chances of recovery are definitely higher.

Another key benefit of using telematics systems is the inevitable decrease in downtime due to more proactive maintenance and repair. When it comes to fleet vehicles, timely maintenance contributes heavily to the efficiency and safety of the fleet. An AAA study found that 51% of drivers who operate vehicles with a built-in electronic maintenance reminder system generally perform maintenance when get reminders through the system. Use of telematics systems with maintenance reminders will ensure that vehicles comply with their maintenance schedules and vehicles which need to be serviced first get prioritized over those that could go longer without service.

When we analyze the costs and benefits of using telematics services, it turns out that the benefits definitely outweigh the costs in the long run.

Posted by Manju Mathews tires and parts.

Is Your Distracted Driving Policy Working?

By | Business Insurance

According to research conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), driver distraction is a leading cause of vehicle accidents. Nearly 80% of vehicle crashes involve driver inattention.¹ Additionally, texting while driving can increase your crash risk as much as 23 times. Reaching for, dialing and talking on a cell phone are tasks that also can significantly increase crash risks.²

Recent highway crash data highlight the magnitude of the problem. The number of people injured in distraction-related crashes in 2012 totaled 421,000 – up 9% from the prior year.³ Despite these sobering statistics, many drivers continue to talk and text while driving, making distraction one of the most serious roadway safety issues we face today.

Considering the potential dangers and costs associated with vehicle accidents, distraction caused by mobile device use is a problem employers should address. Yet, in a survey of Travelers’ customers, only 27% reported having a formal policy on distracted driving that was strictly enforced. This suggests that some companies could be doing more to limit distraction.

Four steps to help make your distracted driving policy more effectiveFour steps to help make your distracted driving policy more effective
  1. Create – Create a formal, written policy stating your organization’s position on mobile device use and other distractions while driving. A formal policy is the foundation of your distracted driving prevention program. It should apply to everyone in your organization who drives a vehicle on company business, whether it is a delivery truck, a sales vehicle, a supervisor visiting job sites or an office employee using a personal vehicle to run errands.
  2. Communicate – To be effective, safety policies should be communicated on a regular basis. The best way to communicate your policy is to ask every employee who drives on company business to acknowledge in writing that he or she has read, understands and will follow the policy. But you should not stop there. Use emails, newsletters, bulletin board postings, defensive driving training and signage in vehicles to communicate your policy in various ways throughout the year.
  3. Follow – Managers and office staff should lead by example. Let employees know that while they are on the road, no phone call or email is more important than their safety. To further prove that point, managers and other staff should defer conversations with employees until they are safely parked.
  4. Promote – Managers should define the safe driving practices and expected behaviors of those that drive for any business purpose. They should also take the appropriate steps to understand who is following these policies, and actively promote the desired behavior.

6 Agriculture Robot Startups for Farming

By | Specialty Insurance

Old MacDonald had a farm, ee, ai, ee, ai, oh. And on that farm he had some robots, ee, ai, ee, ai—oh yes, the robots are headed to the country. Much of AgTech has focused on innovations such as high-resolution satellite imagery to survey farm yields or the development of bugs to improve the health of crops. Sure, there have been automated machines to do some of the heavy lifting but agriculture robots capable of doing labor-intensive jobs such as picking vegetables without mangling the fruits of labor have been slow to reach the market to help Farmer Joe.

Now this is the part of the article where we make some edgy jokes about how we don’t have to build a border wall with Mexico because agriculture robots are going to take away jobs from illegal immigrants. The main point, however, is that jobs will be lost as Big Ag looks to AgTech robots to save on labor. (It’s not as bad as you might think, as we’ll discuss below.)

Think about progressive California, where people have this crazy idea to pay workers a fair wage with benefits. Last year, the world’s sixth-largest economy passed a law that requires agriculture businesses and farms to pay employees overtime. Nearly a third of the United States’ 1.2 million full-time farmworkers are employed in California, according to AgFunderNews. California grows more than 60 percent of domestic fruit and nuts and about a third of U.S. vegetables, AgFunderNews notes. While only about one percent of the U.S. population gets its hands dirty, about 40 percent of the rest of the world still lives an agrarian lifestyle.

So while agriculture robots may not be as sexy as drone racing or battle bots, they stand to disrupt far more lives than those of the Dale Earnhardt Jr. wannabees of the world. Agriculture robots will eventually work faster and cheaper than even José—and without the specter of la migra raiding Farmer Joe’s strawberry fields. Our article earlier this year on AgTech startups covered a wide range of companies, including one called Blue River Technology that develops robotic systems that use computer vision to apply fertilizers more judiciously. Blue River has scooped up about $30.5 million in funding.

Abundant Robotics

More recently, we found another company building agriculture robots that has gotten serious interest from investors. California-based Abundant Robots took in $10 million this month, led by GV (formerly Google Ventures). That brings total funding to about $12 million. The startup was spun out of nonprofit research institute SRI International. Abundant Robotics’ niche is developing robots capable of picking apples without bruising the fruit or inadvertently turning it into apple juice. In this case, the agriculture robot is more like Dr. Octopus, using vacuum arms to harvest apples. You can watch the pulse-pounding action in the video (with 1970s porn production quality) below:

The money should help Abundant Robotics achieve commercial production, according to TechCrunch.

Vision Robotics

Another California company, Vision Robotics, is reportedly also working on an octopus-like orange harvesting machine. The San Diego startup was founded in 1999 and has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding so far. According to one story, Vision Robotics is developing an agriculture robot tandem. One robot uses machine vision to build a 3D map of a fruit tree while a second multi-armed robot follows to harvest the fruit. The company has also developed an intelligent vacuum cleaner—another two-part robotic system—but is reportedly looking for investors to commercialize the technology. There may be smarter ways to invest in robotic vacuum cleaners as we’ve discussed previously. The Vision Robotics model just seems a little overly engineered in our estimation. Judge for yourself:

That thing might actually start sifting through your jewelry drawer when you’re not around, so it’s probably a good idea to hide your valuables when you’re out of the house. Other agriculture robots developed by Vision Robotics include a lettuce thinner, grapevine pruner and weeder.

Harvest Automation

We’re the first to admit that we don’t exactly have a green thumb, but the nearly $34.5 million greenbacks that have been poured into Massachusetts-based Harvest Automation seems a bit extraordinary. Funding includes three rounds of debt financing for more than $8.5 million. The company’s flagship product, R2D2 VX-100, is designed to work in a variety of manual labor positions but mostly seems to be employed in nurseries to move potted plants around. Apparently that’s very important for plants. In one case study, four of the droid-like VX-100s relocated 200,000 rose plants across 60 acres, perfectly spacing them at a critical time in the season, thus saving Valentine’s Day and keeping those annoying rose sellers gainfully employed.

Agriculture Robots for Nurseries

The VX-100 nursery worker. Cute, isn’t it?

The company certainly plays up the labor savings angle, noting that some states are considering a $15 minimum wage and that the VX-100 will save employers money on health care. More than 150 of the agriculture robots have been deployed. An attempt to develop a warehouse version of VX-100 fell flat and eventually caused the company to downsize significantly.

Naïo Technologies

Leave it to the French to develop a robot specifically for weeding vineyards. Why startup Naïo Technologies calls its agriculture robots Ted and Bob is probably one of those unsolvable mysteries, such as why the French find Jerry Lewis so darn funny. The company has raised nearly $4 million, most recently a $3.27 million Seed round back in December 2015. Here’s a look at Ted, and what he sees through his beady little robot eyes:

Agriculture Robot

Monsieur Ted

Other weeding robots developed by the company include Oz and Dino. The latter is a large-scale vegetable weeding and hoeing robot that is smaller and lighter than a tractor, and powered by electricity. It also collects data about crops to help manage yields.

ecoRobotix

Also on the other side of the Atlantic, ecoRobotix is a Swiss company with a solar-powered weeding robot. It looks like a ping pong table on wheels—if a ping pong table also had mechanical arms underneath it. The agtech startup has raised about $3 million. Its agriculture robot, which is still in development, applies machine vision, GPS and other sensors to precisely eradicate weeds. It can follow crop rows and detect weeds with 95 percent precision. The mechanical arms then squirts a small dose of herbicide directly onto the offending weed as depicted below:

The ecoRobotix platform.

The company claims its machine can reduce pesticide use by 20-fold and run 12 hours on just the sun—no batteries required. It’s fully autonomous and programmable via a smart phone. Testing on new prototypes began this spring, with hopes to begin commercial manufacturing next year.

Soft Robotics

Sometimes it just takes a softer touch, even when it comes to robotics. That’s the philosophy behind Soft Robotics, a Cambridge startup that has raised $5 million. Soft Robotics has developed a gripper out of elastomeric materials, a polymer with rubber-like elasticity, that is dexterous and sensitive enough to handle everything from eggs to strawberries to Hostess cupcakes. Here’s another video of more robotic things moving stuff:

Currently, the startup’s gripper arms are mostly doing the picking on conveyer belts for food shipping, but the company has floated the idea of adapting its technology for an agriculture robot in the field.

Conclusion

A recent article in Forbes notes that the agricultural industry is prime for a robot revolution, particularly given a labor shortage that’s been growing since the 1990s. Well before talk of a wall, immigration from our southern neighbor has been in decline. And, let’s face it, where are you going to find white people to pick strawberries unless it’s a weekend outing to an organic farm where they’ll pay $10 a pint for the privilege? The full automaton of the American farm is just decades—if not years—away from reality. EE, ai, ee, ai, oh.  Article first appeared in Nanalyze.

Stockton High Among Cities for Ransomware

By | Personal Insurance

cyber-attackSTOCKTON — Stockton ranks third on a list of cities with the most prevalence of ransomware attacks, according to malware prevention firm, Malwarebytes.

Researchers analyzed nearly half a million ransomware incidents between July and October. They found incidents of ransomware in 200 countries; 26 percent were in the United States.

“The results of our research shows that cybercriminal gangs have already saturated both the rural and urban U.S. populace with ransomware, yet they are constantly improving their tactics, execution and business model to evade detection by current solutions,” said Adam Kujawa, head of Malware Intelligence at Malwarebytes.

Las Vegas topped the list of U.S. cities with the most ransomware attacks. It was followed by Memphis, Stockton, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Buffalo, San Antonio and Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that blocks access to your data until ransom is paid.

The three most common types of a ransomware detected were Cerber, Locky and CryptoWall. Last fall, researchers detected a surge in Locky incidents that made Locky the predominant ransomware family throughout the United States and in all the top U.S. cities.

Locky was released in February 2016 and has risen to become one of the most prolific ransomware attacks of the year.

 

Stockton Companies Raise Money for Children’s Home of Stockton

By | Personal Insurance

kids-from-childrens-home-of-stocktonSTOCKTON, CA (January 9, 2017)—Children’s Home of Stockton (CHS) partnered with Dohrmann Insurance Agency in the first annual North Pole Fitbit Challenge, where CHS not only participated but was the beneficiary. The charity challenge included 13 local teams who participated using their Fitbits to virtually walk a total of 4,400 miles from Stockton to the North Pole and back from December 7-14, 2016 to raise money for the kids at the Children’s Home of Stockton. Dohrmann Insurance Agency provided each of their clients with discounted vouchers toward purchasing Fitbit devices at low to no cost as part of their Wellness Program. There were first, second and third place prizes. All entry fees went directly to CHS which totaled approximately $850.00. 

In addition to CHS, the teams included: MJ Hall Golden Bear; AG Spanos; Value Products; The Grupe Company; Belkorp AG; Dohrmann Insurance Agency; Hospice of San Joaquin; Big Valley Ford; Nelson Staffing; Petz Enterprises; and Visionary Home Builders.

The Children’s Home placed second in the number of steps walked, with an average of 97,000 team steps. “This was such a fun challenge and a healthy way to get people moving and build team spirit,” said Chief Executive Officer at the Children’s Home of Stockton, Joelle Gomez.  “We are grateful to Dohrmann and all of the wonderful teams who contributed to the fundraiser and look forward to participating again in the future.”