Telematics, in its broad definition, refers to remote communications (telos is a classical word meaning long distance) and informatics, a combined term based on information and automatic or automated.
In a more specific sense associated with fleet tracking, telematics describes the technology used to manage a vehicle or group of vehicles and other assets, most often in trucking, site excavation and construction or similar applications.
There are many functions under the telematics umbrella — and many advantages this technology affords the fleet manager or operator.
Telematics technology for vehicle fleet management incorporates GPS fleet tracking. The global positioning system comprises a network of space satellites that communicate with a ground-based receiver. By measuring the distance between the ground unit and multiple satellites, GPS can determine the exact location of the user.
For navigation and tracking, GPS is a proven, accurate technology that’s been active since the 1970s in military, commercial and personal applications.
Fleet tracking telematics systems generally include a tablet-computer-sized device that a commercial motor vehicle driver may carry or place inside the cab of the vehicle. At the driver’s base of operations — for example, a trucking company’s offices — another device is used by a fleet manager or dispatcher. This forms a communications loop to send and receive data. In a fleet setup several vehicles are sending and receiving information with this central component.
Fleet tracking software facilitates rapid data exchange, transforming these streams of telemetry into usable information. Managers or dispatchers can analyze the results and make informed decisions to manage the fleet’s activity.
The types of information exchanged between office and remote location include more than the physical location of the vehicle. A complete fleet management telematics solution can record and transmit whether the vehicle is in motion or stationary, engine performance (power-up, shutdown, idling), engine malfunctions, vehicle speed, driver actions such as hard braking and more.
Knowing the exact location of each vehicle in the fleet means that over the course of the day a dispatcher can make constant routing adjustments based on changing traffic, weather or vehicle availability and send the nearest truck to the next assignment.
The gain in efficiency can deliver impressive dividends — for example, an eight-truck hauling fleet reported that instituting telematics-assisted routing resulted in an additional $1,600 in revenue, per week.
Improved routing can improve delivery times, and help in keeping the client informed as to estimated time of arrival. That can increase customer satisfaction — and provide a competitive edge.
Improved routing trims the number of miles traveled. Fuel is a major expense in any trucking operation and telematics technology provides the opportunity to manage it more precisely. Reducing fuel consumption also reduces emission of greenhouse gases and the company’s carbon footprint.
With fewer miles traveled, not only is wear and tear on equipment reduced, the engine diagnostics transmitted by telematics systems can give warning of impending issues. When mechanical problems are remedied before a failure, this saves both on repairs and downtime.
Telematics can report on driver as well as vehicle activity, exposing patterns of driver behavior such as speeding or hard braking that consumes fuel at an excessive rate and can also shorten equipment life. One study published in Transportation Research Record concluded that “There can be as much as a 35-percent difference in fuel consumption between a good driver and a poor driver.”
Telematics solutions that incorporate an electronic logging device, or ELD, replace the drivers’ practice of recording their daily hours of service in paper logbooks, and will be required equipment for all commercial vehicles beginning in 2017 or 2019, depending on the type of logging system they supplant.
ELDs represent a major step forward in productivity because as an automated technology they help minimize errors and time-consuming paperwork. Businesses and individual drivers who have already made the transition to these devices report many hours saved and a dramatic reduction in disputed or erroneous submissions when these records are reviewed by authorities.
Telematics can extend to drivers a measure of safety in being able to provide a quick location fix if emergency aid is warranted. A field study whose findings were shared with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also established that telematics can be an effective tool in encouraging safe driver behavior. In-cab feedback may alert the driver to unsafe practices, and when combined with driver intervention in the form of coaching and incentives, the results were safer driving.
A 900-vehicle fleet in Britain saw tremendous gains in safety since its adoption of telematics: a reported 97 percent reduction in speeding, 47 percent reduction in crashes and savings in both fuel economy and maintenance expense.
Now widespread among large vehicle fleet, there are expectations that this technology will become an integral part of every trucking operation within a few years.
Several factors will drive that change. One is the decreasing capital cost in implementing telematics, making it more accessible for any sized business. Another is the competitive aspect: like computers a generation before, this technology will soon be essential to any trucking operation that intends to offer a level of service equal to its competitors.
In 2016 the Financial Times reported, “There is a growing consensus among industry executives that, in five to seven years’ time, the technology will be an integral part of all vehicle fleets.”