As automotive engineers redesign truck cab ergonomic layouts with new technology, fleet managers may want to reconsider their aversion to factory-installed dashboard gadgets. Affordable computer technology is allowing space-age technology to not only increase a driver's delivery efficiency, but also address the issues of limited dashboard space and driver safety.

Evidence of this most interesting innovation of applied driver technology is Freightliner's Truck Productivity Computer, an on-board device with which a fleet manager can combine access to company radio communications, vehicle operating information, global positioning data, and even weather monitoring services. Just as important, engineers sized this multi-functional device so that it fits into the radio slot in a commercial vehicle dashboard.

A voice-recognition program enables the driver to actuate commands without taking his hands off the steering wheel. Real-time monitoring allows the dispatcher to know what's happening without interrupting the driver with a radio call. Drivers can quickly download important information on weather, road conditions, and customer job status. Also, a text-to-speech software addition allows both the driver and dispatcher to convert sensor information and text radio messages to verbal messages.

Just as important, Freightliner has enabled a wide range of third-party software vendors to customize software applications for specific producer needs through the computer.