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Privacy and trust are paramount if AI-augmented tech is to deliver its potential

Lawrence Schoeb Profile picture for user Lawrence Schoeb October 23, 2023
Dashcams have been an integral part of logistics, but the introduction of AI brings both potential and fear of change. Samsara's Lawrence Schoeb shares how leaders have overcome challenges and concerns from staff.

Digital surveillance concept with spying eye symbol © Arkadiusz Warguła -
( © Arkadiusz Warguła -

The world of physical operations is embracing game-changing connected technologies like never before. Even something as commonplace as vehicle dash cams are being supercharged with artificial intelligence (AI) adding extra layers of sophistication to increase safety, productivity and sustainability.

Dashcams — which simply record what’s in front of the lens — have been around for years. But AI-enabled dashcams have opened the door to a whole new digital experience.

Forward-facing AI dashcams use real-time data to provide early warning alerts to drivers about tailgating, speeding or heavy braking. At the same time, driver-facing AI cameras can keep an eye on those behind the wheel, picking up tell-tale signs if they become distracted, using a phone, or even not wearing a seatbelt.

In effect, these AI dashcams can act as ‘digital coaches’ to provide reassuring ‘nudges’ or reminders when appropriate.

And when these devices are installed in lorries and trucks — the workhorses of the commercial world that underpin physical operations — this technology can help with accident prevention.

A couple of months ago Samsara chief executive, Sanjit Biswas, reported that 120,000 accidents had been prevented thanks to this type of technology in the last year alone. Translated into real cost savings, US-based trucking and logistics firm, Chalk Mountain saw an 86% decrease in preventable accident costs and a 43% decrease in compensation payouts.

David Serach Director of Safety at Chalk Mountain explained: 

AI dash cams have helped us not only improve workplace safety, but further enhance a world-class culture where employees want to work.

As a result, safety has become even more of a competitive advantage for us, and we improved driver retention by 15%.

Despite the significant upsides in terms of safety and cost savings, the increased use of AI and other data-gathering technology is not without concerns.

Technology, privacy and the drive for greater safety 

A report just published by Samsara — The 2023 State of Privacy in Physical Operations — has shone a light on concerns around privacy and the steps companies need to take to ensure they steer the right course between safety and data protection.

It found that while companies are excited about adopting AI (93%), more than half (54%) of physical operations leaders have privacy concerns.

In addition to AI, the report found that a strong majority of drivers accept cameras. In Germany, for example, two-thirds (64%) of drivers are happy to have cameras monitoring their driving. In France, it’s 68%. It’s a different story in the UK (81%) and the US (86%) where acceptance of the technology is even higher.

In all cases, the concerns expressed centered around the use of data and the broader issues of data privacy. However, the report clearly highlighted that people working in physical operations are more comfortable with AI-based technology when there are safeguards in place.

AI and tech need safeguards

According to the report, four in ten (40%) said drivers want clarity and transparency around how data is collected, stored, and used. Unsurprisingly, a similar percentage (38%) said drivers want clearly defined policies on how the footage is to be used. While more than a third (37%) said real-world examples of how footage can be used to exonerate drivers would boost driver buy-in for inward-facing cameras.

It’s an approach pioneered by Antalis — the UK's leading materials supplier — which not only reduced insurance claims by 75% in one year by using cameras, it also improved safety and helped foster stronger relationships with drivers and reduced road risk.

Rather than impose the cameras without consultation, Antalis decided to engage with their employees and union officials right from the outset to explain the role cameras play in exonerating drivers in the event of a fraudulent accident claim and to address concerns about data privacy.

Nicholas Thompson, Supply Chain Director at Antalis, said: 

At Antalis, we believe every driver in our team is a professional driver.

We told our drivers that this technology will allow us to prove you are a professional driver. This will protect you.

While drivers were initially concerned, after a few colleagues were exonerated by the cameras, opinion shifted quickly. The company’s commitment to defending drivers — and the proof that exoneration helped keep marks off their insurance cards — helped convince the team of the cameras' value. Thompson said: 

The drivers are absolutely bought in now. 

360-degree support essential when privacy matters

And getting that buy-in is vital if firms are to maximize the benefits of investment in data-driven technology.

As well as highlighting the issues around balancing safety, data protection and privacy, the report offers advice for those looking to roll out technology.

As in the case of Antalis, the report advises firms to build trust through open communication and frequent updates — a point supported by almost all (96%) executives who agreed that open communication with employees is a factor that would ease privacy concerns. If needs be, engaging the help of union officials at an early stage is also recommended.

In the UK, for example, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has just launched a new AI taskforce to propose new legislation to “safeguard workers’ rights and to ensure AI benefits all”.

The union-backed taskforce aims to publish an expert-drafted AI and Employment Bill early in 2024 warning that the UK is “way behind the curve” on the regulation of AI.

With privacy issues coming into focus, it’s down to executive teams to lead from the front to ensure that the benefits of technology go hand in hand with addressing concerns around privacy and data protection. Regardless of any forthcoming legislation, as AI-based technology makes more of an impact on the workplace, business leaders need to balance the benefits against genuine human concerns around privacy.

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