Telematics services are rapidly moving from a luxury option to a commonly used tool. Expanded capabilities and improved coverage continue to make it easier for fleet owners and private operators to justify the expense of connectivity.
One aspect of these growth in services comes from providers who are helping operators in remote areas stay connected when cellular connections are not available. At the same time, they are offering more features, giving operators and maintenance staffs more information about what’s going on in the vehicle.
“Our telematics systems let dealers log onto a machine and monitor performance so they can see what’s causing a problem,” said Paul Garcia, WorkSight Solutions Product Manager at John Deere, Intelligent Solutions Group. “That’s very helpful for intermittent problems—technicians can set trigger points so that when a condition arises, data will be recorded to see what caused the problem.”
Broader geographical capabilities are also becoming common. Vendors are making it easier for systems to stay connected when they’re working in areas that don’t have telephone coverage, often deploying Wi-Fi.
“Some people are installing wide coverage Wi-Fi because cellular coverage is not as good as they need,” said Mike Martinez, Marketing Director of Trimble’s Agriculture Division. “Wide coverage Wi-Fi can be spread across thousands of acres, it’s seeing much more use than WiMAX.”
These expanded capabilities are driving solid growth. Berg Insight foresees around 16% growth in telematics usage over the next three years. The number of fleet-management systems deployed in commercial vehicle fleets in North America is expected to reach 6.8 million by 2017, compared to 3.3 million in 2012. Deployment in Europe will reach 6.40 million by 2017, up from 3 million in 2012, Berg predicts.
Telematics connections are rapidly expanding beyond higher-end vehicles to individual trailers and inexpensive vehicles. Equipment vendors are reducing module sizes and driving down costs, making it more attractive to connect more vehicles and ancillary equipment. Modules can be attached to anything that owners want to monitor.
“Our Universal Telematics systems can be applied to Deere equipment, competitors’ equipment, and on fixed assets like generators and pumps,” Garcia said. “Fixed assets typically don’t need real-time performance, calling in twice a day is sufficient. The modules have batteries, GPS, and cellular devices, so you can attach a module to a trailer and know if it’s moved or not.”
As more vehicles collect more data, costs can climb. Many users are avoiding higher cell phone charges by utilizing Wi-Fi whenever possible.
“Cellular data plans haven’t changed much over the last couple years,” Martinez said. “We’ve added a wireless data transfer module that sends telematics information and farming information to the main office. It’s part of the increasing usage of Wi-Fi.”
Cellular providers are working more closely with fleet managers to establish connectivity programs that work for them. Wi-Fi is only one of the options being bundled together at worksites.
“For network connectivity, our focus is the CDMA network, but businesses may need to use a combination of networks within their solution depending on their need,” said Jan Short, Sprint’s M2M Marketing Manager. “For example, a business may want to download info using Wi-Fi when the truck pulls into the garage. Or in really remote areas, store and forward capabilities will buffer data when they’re in remote areas, then transfer it when they get back into a coverage area. If needed, we also have relations with solution providers that can incorporate satellite services.”
As more owners and operators employ fleet-management systems, telematics suppliers are providing users with deeper access into vehicle operations. Newer systems can access more of the data that travels over the vehicle’s CAN networks. That can help fleet owners improve their bottom line while also reducing pollution.
“Monitoring how a driver is driving can help a manager coach for safer and more fuel efficient driving,” Short said. “If you can reduce wasteful behaviors such as speeding, hard braking, and jack rabbit starts, you will likely see significant savings in fuel and maintenance costs and possibly reduce chance accidents. Monitoring idling time can also be a significant way to reduce fuel consumption. Drivers and operators can learn when it’s cheaper to turn vehicles off than leave them idling.”
Accessing the information on the CAN bus also helps maintenance personnel determine when vehicles need servicing or repairs. Technicians can monitor operations to easily see if various parameters are within desired ranges.
“Users can more easily see data coming off the CAN bus, like engine temperature, oil pressure, and fuel usage,” Martinez said. “It’s presented in graphical form.”
When design teams devise ways to let users safely interact with on-vehicle networks, information overload is also a factor. System designers also have to provide human-machine interfaces that help busy operators and technicians easily understand what that information means. Ease of use is a major factor given the difficulty of finding experienced operators.
“When our equipment is connected to our vehicles, we can get more information from the CAN bus,” Garcia said. “The volume of data that’s being collected is increasing exponentially, so we’re providing tools that help people determine what data is relevant to them and help them locate that information quickly.”
Automation provides another way to ensure that technicians are getting the most from the available data. Many systems let users define critical parameters that will automatically alert maintenance personnel and operators when certain thresholds are surpassed. That ensures that problems won’t arise from events such as overheating.
“There’s more real-time information reporting, which can be displayed as graphs to make it easier to see trends,” Martinez said. “If they see trends going the wrong way, they can make decisions. Alarms can be set for limits, sending an alert to maintenance if oil pressure is too high, for example.”
While most telematics systems now link to the vehicle’s networks, the amount of information that’s accessible still varies. Some equipment makers make a fair amount of data available, while others are leery of sending too much information out over wireless networks. That could make telematics a factor when equipment is being purchased.
“Access to data on the CAN bus varies from OEM to OEM,” Martinez said. “Many users have mixed fleets. For some owners, the richness of access to data is becoming a purchase driver.”