At issue: The federal government requires commercial-vehicle operators to inspect specific equipment before and after each trip, including the vehicle’s tires, brakes and emergency exits. Beyond filling out paperwork, there’s no way to ensure the vehicle inspections actually occur. Zonar uses a wireless technology called radio-frequency identification (RFID) to verify inspections. The way it works: An RFID tag contains a small computer chip and has a range of uses, from bar codes to tracking animals. In Zonar’s case, it is placed on parts of the vehicle that require inspection. The driver uses a handheld reader to view the information on the tag,
similar to the way a grocery store scans a bar-code number to identify a product.
The catch: The driver needs to be 2 to 5 inches away from the location to get a read. “You can’t do inspections unless you’re physically near the tags,” Brinton said.
And then: After each inspection, the handheld reader is docked into a cradle that transmits the information to Zonar’s servers. The information is accessible via the Internet, which reduces paperwork. While regulations still require a physical signature, the company said it is gaining permission to digitally sign inspections.
Five heads, not one: Brinton and four partners founded Zonar in 1998 to reduce paperwork associated with inspections. “A light went off,” Brinton said. “We now have proof that safety inspections are being done for the first time.” Each partner brought a different talent: Brinton and his brother Bill both have business backgrounds; Mike McQuade is an electrical engineer; Dan Mayer writes software; and Eric Mangold came from a long career in the trucking industry. “We have done everything internally,” Brinton said.
So far: Zonar, which started shipping its systems Oct. 1, has 14 customers, including Oak Harbor Freight Lines and the city of Yakima. The company is focusing on school districts, private companies and emergency services.
Cost: The company charges customers roughly $1 per vehicle per day for the RFID tags, handheld readers and Web-based software to manage information. It expects sales next year of $3 million.