Hi-tech training: FMS Tech's robot driver trainer

PMV Middle East speaks with Bassam Alkassar, CEO of FMS Tech, about the company’s telematics and driver merit system and his patent pending tool for tailoring driver training to the individual

Bassam Alkassar, CEO of FMS Tech.
Bassam Alkassar, CEO of FMS Tech.
The robotic virtual avatar used by FMS Tech’s Kiosks.
The robotic virtual avatar used by FMS Tech’s Kiosks.

FMS Tech is an Abu Dhabi-based end-to-end telematics provider that — by emphasising local requirements and working closely with its customers — has secured business with oil firms including ADNOC and a number of subsidiaries, and covering fleets of thousands of vehicles.

The company has also been active in promoting driver merit system (DMS) as a means of improving driver behaviour in commercial fleets, and as a consequence, road safety in the UAE. And in recent months, FMS has taken its DMS a step further with the introduction of ‘Kiosk’, an automated, DMS robot — linked to a fleet’s RFID driver identification system — that analyses telematics data and uses a virtual assistant to provide feedback on driver performance.

This driver training tool, which is patent pending following its submission in the US this January, is the realisation that Bassam Alkassar, CEO of FMS Tech, has had in mind since 1999, before he even founded his company.

He says: “FMS was established in 2006, when we bought the blueprint for our software from an American company called Techno Group. Initially, the product was American and it had a presence in the US, but we moved it here and made it more suited to the local culture.

“At the time, it didn’t support Arabic and it didn’t have GPS — so we added functions to make it an end-to-end solution for this region. It took us a couple of years to perfect it and we introduced the first product in this region in 2009. But from the start, back in 1999, I thought we needed to provide some kind of feedback.”

While many of the features of FMS Tech’s product are common to the major telematics providers, the development of its driver training and road safety features is an area in which the company invested a considerable amount of time, energy and resources.

Alkassar notes: “Telematics is a sophisticated technology, and tackling road safety and driving behaviour is not easy. I’ve never seen an application that gives you the complete scope. But if you want to cut the cost of your fleet and improve its efficiency, you really have to rely on a high-quality product that gives you the right information when you need it.”

In terms of the sensory hardware on the market, he adds: “You shouldn’t have to service the device; the device should serve you. I’ve seen many devices in the market for which the failure rate is high, or cases where customers have believed that GPS tracking is telematics.”

Alkassar has since built a successful business out of FMS Tech, and today counts many of region’s top oil and gas firms and commercial operators in transport and logistics among his customers. Yet it is FMS Tech’s DMS Kiosk that comes closest to fulfilling Alkassar’s idea of what telematics should be and where it is heading.

He continues: “Even before I established FMS Tech, I had been involved in building road safety solutions for commercial fleets, and despite the telematics technology that helps improve driver behaviour by capturing engine performance and driving patterns, I’ve always thought that there was a gap in the offering.

“We’re capturing and recording engine performance and driver behaviour, but who’s cascading this information to the driver? And that’s where the idea of having an automated DMS like the Kiosk came in — a DMS robot that analyses the driving patterns of vehicle operators without human intervention and gives feedback to each driver based on his unique RFID and the trips that he has driven.”

Beyond the actual data analysis and synthesis of feedback, the automation of that feedback process is a critical step, as Alkassar highlights: “Having a human sit down with 2,000 drivers in a medium- to large-sized company is quite difficult, so you need to automate this process, and the Kiosk is the tool that we invented for that purpose.”

At present the FMS Tech Kiosk incorporates six languages, including English, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, French and Serbian, based on the requirements of the customers participating in its early trials, but there are plans for more.

The other critical aspect of FMS Tech’s Driver Merit System (DMS) is a robust incentive programme that rewards drivers for good behaviour on the road and penalises them for contradicting the driving policy or performance criteria of their employer, for example by overspeeding or harsh accelerating or braking.

Alkassar notes: “We have been involved in several studies on the impact of in-vehicle monitoring systems driving patterns, and there is a standard calculation based on the criteria you are focusing on in your organisation. Some say, ‘ok, I have overspeeding problems on graded roads, as well as on blacktop’. Some companies have a policy against driving at night, and we capture all of this.”

Once set up, however, the system is largely autonomous, with drivers attending the Kiosk by themselves to receive their DMS briefings and any instructions on where they could improve their driving. On the part of FMS Tech, the only recommended service is a calibration of the company’s criteria every six months or so.

Alkassar explains: “I always recommend calibration every six months, because we don’t use the GPS; we use the speed at the actual gearbox, either from the gearbox or from the CAN bus, and sometimes tyres can play a role in, for example, speeding violations.”

The response to FMS Tech’s DMS Kiosk, has been immediately and overwhelmingly positive.

Alkassar notes: “The customers have loved it: especially where they have had subcontractors and previously had no control over their drivers, — because at the end of the day, especially in oil and gas, you get the blame for whoever works on your project. So far, everyone that has tried the pilot has converted to a contract.”

He adds: “The autonomous and driverless cars are all an attempt to reduce driver errors. Fatalities are no longer acceptable; neither are accidents and congestion — but through telematics and the internet of things, we can change these outcomes, and we’re happy to be part of this and part of the future.”

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