What does 15 months look like?

Recently we travelled up the highway to pick up one of our FatigueM8 units. This unit is due for an upgrade and as it was one of the first we installed some 15 months ago!

According to the timestamp on the photo on my phone, around lunchtime on the 1st July 2020 we kicked off the installation. Since we completed the installation this big-rig has been carting sand and gravel up and down the Hume Highway 6 days a week pretty constantly.

collected unit (left), new cover (right)

The compute unit was a little dusty and the colour is a bit faded, but otherwise in great working in order.

The steering wheel over on the other hand was quite worn and the pattern of wear was interesting as there had been several drivers in this truck over the past 15 months.

As can be seen in the photo below, highlighted in yellow, the right hand side of the steering wheel cover is quite worn. This cover was made out of tanned leather and the top layer has worn off the section 1 and 2. The conductive stitching has also been worn off the section from 1,2 and 4.

This pattern suggests that the drivers regularly drove with there right hand on the wheel, most likely with the palm of their hand around the area of most wear.

Interestingly, the underside of the steering wheel also tells a story, in section 1 the stitching where the drivers fingers would be is still in good condition, where as the stitches near section 2 is worn. Its like that a driver adopting a “10-2” hand position would cause this pattern.

There was less wear on the left hand side of the steering wheel cover (below), which considering most people are right-handed does stand to reason. On the left hand side we can see that the stitching has been mostly worn off the top and a little bit on the underside, but no large patches were the shiny leather has been removed.

Reviewing the wear patterns helps us to improve the steering wheel cover design. In our latest steering wheel covers we’ve adjusted the stitching pattern to take into account wear such as can be seen on this example. Now we focus the stitching on the underside of the cover, where the finger tips will come into contact and have all but removed stitching on the top of the cover. It’ll be interesting to see the state of future covers after 15 months use!

Solar Sunday (a COVD Lockdown expirement)

A core part of our system is the collection of the electrocardiogram device that collect the drivers ECG observations. In all of our prototype units we tap into the power that runs through the steering column, and as a backup we have a small battery (as can be seen in the unit below).

FatigueM8 power pack

During our data collection trials in late 2020 and through 2021 we’ve observed that if the trucks are “parked up” for a period that our ECG collection doesn’t automatically restart when the truck does.

It’s taken a while to be able to replicate this, but thanks to the ACT Lockdown we have been able to replicate this circumstances and the behaviour with the unit. The short term fix is to reset the ECG unit once the Truck’s back in operation and the battery is recharged. Its a quick fix once you’re inside the truck, however downside to this fix is if the unit is in a truck that is being driven around the remote areas of Queensland, then it isn’t such a quick fix!

During the ACT lockdown we began to experiment with a solar panels to keep the charge up in the battery unit (below).

The thinking was/is, that when most trucks are “parked up” they will be outside and exposed to the sun. The small solar panels (below) we are testing (pleasingly) provide enough power to charge the battery and prevent the ECG unit from entering ‘sag’ mode.

As, as can be seen in the photos’ below, small enough too, theoretically, be fixed onto the horn cover of some of the models we currently support.

At this stage we’re testing the practical application of this configuration in our test vehicle, and if it proves to be a winner we may shift to in-truck trials late-2021 or early 2022. The early indications are positive, so watch this space.

Big Rigs September 3rd write up

It’s FatigueM8 Friday! This week I’m super excited to share our latest write up in this week’s Big Rigs Newspaper (page 10). 

Big thanks to the team at Big Rigs Newspaper for the chat and writing the article. A big shout out to our trial partners around Australia who’ve been helping us test, iterate and improve our FatigueM8 solution, especially over the past 12 months. We couldn’t make progress without your support and patience. 

read the article here as well as the rest of the Big Rigs edition.

GPS Mystery Character puzzle, solved via an unusual solution

The ACT lockdown as had it’s up sides, no commuting, limited after school and social activities has meant that I’ve had time to tackle the GPS mystery that’s been bugging me for some time.

A while back I noticed the GPS tagging of the data collected in my Van had stopped. This was somewhat unusual as I hadn’t changed anything (famous last words). When I investigated the issue I found that the feed started to appear corrupted, with the steam of characters displaying symbols and partially decoded (as can be seen below).

I’d invested a number of potential sources of the corruption, tried stopping and restarting, pulled the unit apart to check the wiring and then tried changing the decoding from UTF-8 to an alternate encoding; also reset the WiFi region (random I know but Dr. Google suggested it!!). Finally I thought it could of been the frequency of the data feed, so I also tinkered with the frequency of reading the stream. None of these worked. Interestingly I had tested the FatigueM8 unit on the test-bench and the GPS was working fine. I hadn’t joined the dots at this point.

On returning the unit back into my car, and while awaiting a COVID-19 Test I noticed that the Wifi in my car wasn’t working. Both the FatigueM8 and the 3G/4G Wifi dongal are plugged into a 12v cigarette lighter socket.

I removed the cigarette socket to debug the issue with the wifi, there wasn’t anything noticeability wrong with the wifi dongal, but I did notice the Amperage values on the socket. When setting up the system I had made sure to plug the Compute unit into the 2.1A slot as it needed more power than the wifi dongal. This time when I plugged everything back together I made sure again to put the Compute unit into the 2.1A and the wifi dongal into the 1A slot.

And what do you know, when I started it all up the Orange GPS light flashed on and stayed on (signalling a GPS fix was detected). When I looked at the stream via the logs it was back to being the standard NEMA strings and the GPS was back! Of all the things I thought was causing the “corruption” low power was certainly not high on the list of things to check!!

The GPS hasn’t missed a beat since.

Until next time, stay safe.

Stitching by torchlight

On one of my recent trips to Mount Isa I arrived at the yard to inspect one of our FatigueM8 trial units. Walking through the gate, there was a small group of drivers preparing to start the graveyard shift (approximately 6pm at night). They greeted me with a smile and asked “are you here to fix the steering wheel?”. I’m not really sure what gave it away, but I said, “yes, that’s me” and one of them piped up and said, “can you fix the cover, it’s coming loose and if it gets much worse someone will pull the {insert adjective here} off”.

This particular unit is installed into a quad-trailer road train, which operates 24/7 in and out of the mines around Mt Isa (read more here). It’s the most extreme conditions we’ve had our FatigueM8 installed in. On this particular night it was still 30+ degrees and the yard Forman commented that “yesterday the temperature top 50 degree’s in the shed”.

After a brief chat with the team I wondered into the main shed and found the Truck. Climbing up into the cabin I quickly saw what they meant.

Some of the stitching had broken and the cover was a bit loose. Interestingly my interpretation of where the stitching broke was where I believe most of the right-handed drivers would be holding the wheel or resting their hands on the wheel.

On this, and most trips now I travel with a complete replacement FatigueM8 unit. I set about replacing the steering wheel cover and it was well into the evening.

A resting install of the cover takes about 45 mins and this was the first time I’d stitched one under torch light!! The end result was solid and the unit was back ready to hit the road when the 5am crew came in the next morning.

Catch next time.

Thermodynamics lesson

This week we have a quick look at thermodynamic and 3D printed prototypes. Sounds fancy I know but there is several practical lesson’s leant this week. As part of the expansion of our FatigueM8 trials we had to purchase additional hardware and as is typical with technology hardware there was a new model for one of our components. Using the tried and true “bigger and newer is always better principle we upgraded. In a previous post we looked at the change in USB and network port location, if you haven’t read it already you can find it here

Having overcome the port switch, using our bush mechanics skills, fast forward a few months and we noticed some reliability issues with a couple of the devices, odd error messages started to occur python modules “missing” and some other strange/uncharacteristic errors. Dr Google suggested that these were the result of a corrupted hard disk, which I thought was odd as we hadn’t had any corruption issues with our earlier devices. Initially I thought this corruption may have been caused by heat, as it turns out the new model is bigger and better, which in electrical devices typically generates more heat. We ran a couple of tests and did see that the knew model runs about 10 degrees hotter than the previous generation. 10 degrees is a reasonable difference and we thought that allowing some more air flow through the FatigueM8 might do the trick. It was simple enough to drill some 25mm holes through the sidewalls if the unit (see photo below). 


Our units are made of a 3D printed resin and it is easily modified; and as it turns out easily heated by the spinning drill bit! In hind sight I should of obvious that when I used a hole saw to drill bit to drill the holes the friction of the drill bit on the plastic resin would generate heat. It wasn’t until I tried to pull the cover off and re-install the compute unit that I realised by drilling the holes we had fused (melted) the inner and outer casing together (doh)! If you look closely at this picture you can see the merged black and green layers.

zoomed in view of the merged layers

The only way to recover the inner casing for re-deployment was to break the outer casing and that was the end of that cover.

Broken outer casing

Luckily we keep a range of spares!!

The modifications allowed for more airflow and with a rebuilt hard disk back into the trial we headed. While the modification appeared to increase air flow and reduce the temp slightly, on re-installation into the test vehicle the compute unit reported several new errors. These errors again I referred a corrupted hard disk. Luckily, the compute unit has a built in hard disk test program and what do you know, the old spec hard disks aren’t sufficiently fast to handle the speed of the new compute unit leading to segmentation faults and disk corruption!! 

The hard disks the mini-computer uses are pretty cheap, with then original units were in the order of $10 each and the new version will be $20 a unit. Fingers crossed we have this little hiccup sorted now.

Until next time, stay save.


The Learning continues into 2021

The start of 2021 saw us road tripping into Queensland to service the units we installed in the back end of 2020.

Trip 2, Lesson 1: New components force some modifications on the go!

Winning the ICON Grant September 2020 (thanks CBRIN and the ACT Government) meant we had to somewhat rapidly expand out FatigueM8 fleet from 5 to 10 units. Our FatiguM8’s are made up of several “off the shelve” components and as with all technologies every few months there are new versions released, updates, enhancements and as it happens subtle yet important layout changes.

The process we follow to assemble the FatigueM8 compute units is well refined now, after building over 23 prototypes now. The process starts with the installation of the operating system and configuring the various options; next the specific software components are installed and finally the FatigueM8 code base. We then run through a series of connection tests for the ECG unit, GPS and testing the LED lights. When all the tests pass, we assemble the FatigueM8 unit.

It was at the point of assembly that we noticed a subtle, yet important change in the computers layout. In the latest model, the USB and Network ports have been switched (no idea why!). We us the USB port to connect a 3G/4G modem to enable almost realtime up load of data for analysis; and remote connection.

Before (left) and After (right) pictures of FatigueM8 front plate.

Fortunately our prototypes are exactly that, prototypes and allow for quick tweaks without major cost implications. As was the case in Lesson 1 above, a hotel room was able to be converted to a mini-workshop and it was Bunnings to the rescue this time. Grabbing a small push saw and rasp, 3 minutes later we’d extended the USB whole to account for the layout switch. We’ll incorporate this new design into the next FatigueM8 print run.

Trip 2, Lesson 2: What happens when the backup, backups’ fails?

The starting premise of FatigueM8’s steering wheel installation is that the drivers shouldn’t have to do anything other than drive to use the system. To facilitate this we have the ECG wired into the truck’s electrical system, with a battery that is charged when the trucks lights are on. FatigueM8 uses the battery power when then the vehicles lights aren’t on and/or the truck is turned off. The battery is able to power the ECG unit for roughly 5 days and during the year this has worked seamlessly with our trial trucks.

Coming back from the 2020 Christmas break several of our trucks had been off the road for 2 weeks (or there a bouts) and the FatigueM8 systems came back online but had no ECG unit connection. After several days of debugging and speaking to the ECG Unit manufacturer we discovered there is another tiny battery inside the ECG unit itself, which provides power to the internal clock. We discovered that the life of the clock battery is about 5 days and when it goes flat if puts the ECG unit into a “safe state” that requires a hard reset. We’ll thank 2020 for the year that kept on giving for this one 🙂

Trip 2, Lesson 3: Securing the dashboard unit needs some work!

Our FatigueM8 dashboard unit (which contains the compute unit) also has a forward facing camera that we use to capture the road/driving conditions our drivers are operating in; and is designed to sit on the trucks dashboard. This sounds simple enough, but as it turns out there isn’t much consistency in dashboard layouts; even within the same brand and model of truck. Recently I went to check in on a couple of our installed units and found one upside-down! In this instance we’d underestimated the amount of road vibrations coming into the cab and this truck travels several times a day along a dirt road for 50kms.

We’re swapped the unit from the drivers side over to the passenger side of the truck and used a humble cable tie to secure the unit to the air vent and hopefully in place! We’ll check back in a month or so.

When we installed our units wee used a small “occy strap” to secure the unit, but it appears we need a little extra securing. Another of our trial units used Velcro to stick the unit in place, which seams to work well.

We’ll be working on the Dashboard unit over the coming iterations with a focus on securing the unit, as well as making the design of the unit more adaptable to different dashboard configurations.

Until next time, stay safe.

Lessons from the late 2020 FatigueM8 installations

Trip 1, Lesson 1: There isn’t many things that K-mart isn’t able to fix!!

In my preparations for the trip to FNQ we had built three (3) new FatigueM8 compute units, taking our total builds at that point in time to fourteen. As part of the pre-installation checks I noticed that one of the software components hadn’t been configured. Real VNC isn’t part of our core stack and doesn’t effect the operation and collection of thee ECG, but it is critical for accessing the remote device for debugging. When connected to our network at build time, configuring Real VNC is easy; just establish an ssh session, connect to the device and enable it and then connect using thee Real VNC viewer, job done. However, when outside the office and connected to Telstra’s 3G/4G network it’s a little harder. 

After scratching my head for couple of hours, and thinking a little outside of the box; I remembered that the compute unit has USB and HDMI ports, which means it can be setup as a computer. The only issue, I didn’t have a spare Keyboard, Mouse or Monitor in my carry on luggage. Enter K-Mart. K-Mart stocks a small range of computer peripherals and I was in luck, K-Mart Mount Isa to the recuse. With a new keyboard, mouse and HDMI capable I headed back to the hotel; Using the HDMI port on the television I was able to turn the FatigueM8 compute unit into a mini computer, login and configure Real VNC to enable remote connections. Problem Solved. 

FatigueM8 converted into a computer, thanks to K-Mart!

In only a weeks’ time this effort to setup remote debugging would prove worth every moment of effort to setup (more on that later).

Frasers Yarn in the Yard 2020

 The team at Frasers Livestock transport have been long time supporters of our FatigueM8 journey, with several of the team present at the FatigueHACK in 2018 where the solution was born. They were amongst the first, if not the first, to volunteer to be trial partners of our emerging technology.

On Friday last week (18th December 2020) the team at Frasers held their annual “Yarn in the Yard” driver health day and when Athol asked if we could be part of the session we jumped at the chance. The line up of presenters had us experience some serious imposter syndrome; Dr Ross and Dr Heart truck founder, as well as The Assistant Minister for Roads and the CEO of the HNVR to name but a few.

Frasers main depot is located in Warwick QLD in the heart of QLD’s Agriculture belt (?) and we were in awe of the amount of impeccably maintained equipment that was in the yard when we arrived. We were part of the “Fatigue & Distraction” session sharing the stage with Andreas (NHVR Fatigue expert), Dr Darren Wishart (Griffith University) and Sgt Paul Kelly (Commander Heavy Vehicle Operations QLD).

Heart of Australia at Frasers Yarn in the Yard

We presented a short summary of our journey to date and also participated in an interactive panel discussion with the attendee’s.

Our presentation had two (2) purposes, firstly to explain how FatigueM8 is aiming to tackle fatigue and secondly to recruit a volunteer to have a FatigueM8 unit installed. We were able execute both parts of the plan, sharing the story and getting a volunteer (well several actually). The candidate truck was a T659 (Frasers only have the one model in their fleet) which had joined the fleet only a couple of months beforehand. 

We’re getting faster and faster with the installation process, this time around it took roughly one and a half hours, which included a couple of chats with curious team members who stopped for chat when they saw me in the cab. 

The Yarn in the Yard session was the catalyst for a couple of other side visits for the FatigueM8 team. On the way back from Warwick to Brisbane (where I’d be flying home from) we stopped into see the folks at TyTec Logistics. Tytec runs a fleet of K200’s transporting oversized tyres to which support mining operations throughout Australia.

One of Tytecs’ K200 fully loaded. (image sourced from google)

Interestingly when we jumped into the cab of the impressive K200 the driver already had a steering wheel cover on (see below left) and it was the same model that we’d used many times in our earlier prototyping and trial activities (below right). 

Having completed the Frasers installation only hours before hand, we knocked this installation over in an hour and 15 mins (which included 10 mins to grab the notebook out of the car). 

Both the Frasers and Tytec trucks hit the road Sunday and the data started flowing into the system. Below are a couple of pictures from the forward facing camera recording the road conditions.

Until next time, stay safe

Far North Queensland Part 2 – A quad-trailer road train for install #4

After the humidity of Townsville, the dry heat of Mount Isa’s 36 degrees was a welcome change. We arrived in Mount Isa early ready to undertake our fourth FatigueM8 installation, rather fittingly as it happens into a massive Quad Trailer road train, operated as one of 50 by Wagner’s Mount Isa operation that was our 4th installation.

These units really are road trains, with a length well over 50 Meters and weighting north of 120 tonnes, these beasts run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Noting that Mount Isa is at least a five (5) hour plane trip from our base in Canberra and leveraging our software quality assurance heritage after landing, we went through a final set of tests before heading out to site to complete the installation. A couple of tweaks and we were on our way.

Once on-site the installation process is pretty straight forward and took just shy of two (2) hours to complete. The end result is in one way, quite underwhelming, as the steering wheel cover just blends into the wheel and part from the coloured zip it’s hardly noticeable. The zip is a recent addition to the steering wheel cover and simplifies the installation (whilst not annoying the driver). The inclusion of the zip takes roughly an hour out of the installation time. We are interested to see how the zip based unit performs and what our drivers think of it, so watch this space.

The compute unit also blends in somewhat. The dashboard of the T659’s is quite a bit steer than the other trucks we’ve installed in and the result is that the compute unit is somewhat hidden. This isn’t a bad thing, in our original design back in 2018 we’d envisaged the compute unit being a black box hidden somewhere in the truck. Luckily the design of our front camera module is such that it was able to be adjusted to the perfect angle (thanks to our previous trial feedback). 

The truck we installed the unit into was in for a service and I was relieved to see data starting to flow from the unit the next morning (albeit from the truck moving around the yard). This truck, and all the other rigs in Mount Isa run in a 24 hour operation, so we’re excited to see more data flowing in once it hits the road post service. 

Next week we’re off to QLD installing more units, so be sure to check in again to see where we’ve been.

Stay save until next time.