Technology is quickly turning vehicles into mobile communications devices. The always-on, always-connected nature of modern vehicles is opening doors to solutions that promise to improve highway congestion, reduce fuel consumption and increase roadway safety by eliminating as many as 80 percent of crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) stated that connected technologies go beyond systems, such as lidar and cameras, to provide a 360-degree awareness of nearby vehicles and other objects through the use of wireless technologies.
“This equipment will continually transmit your position, direction and speed (e.g., whether you were turning or putting on your brakes), as well as other information, to other vehicles around you,” DOT wrote. “This technology will also empower vehicles to ‘talk’ to equipment installed in the road itself and other infrastructure, such as traffic signals, stop signs, toll booths, work or school zones, and railroad crossings.”
This connectivity is also collecting thousands of data points from the vehicles themselves that are being leveraged in the freight space to build the next generation of solutions. These solutions will go beyond knowing where a vehicle is located and will turn the asset into an essential part of operational management.
“Our main goal is to connect everything,” explained Sai Prapagharan, Product Manager for Fleet Complete. “We want to be able to connect everything in a vehicle. For a telematics solution, that’s understanding how the vehicle’s performing, optimizing your business and… being able to manage your fleet.”
The proliferation of connected technologies is infiltrating the telematics space, and suppliers are using these advancements to develop more detailed and actionable solutions, and the benefits are now available regardless of fleet size. Prapagharan said the data collected can now be used for effective fleet management, asset management or task management.
In the case of Fleet Complete’s solutions, the benefits relate to the amount of granularity the user seeks.
“Both [large and small fleets] get a benefit from understanding how their fleet is doing,” Prapagharan said. “Larger fleets can customize it; for smaller mom-and-pop shops, the solution can provide insight into where vehicles are, maintenance procedures and more. It’s essentially a holistic way to go from vehicle tracking to vehicle managing.”
Telematics solutions, such as Fleet Complete’s, now collect data, generate automatic reporting and allow fleets to measure that information against key performance indicators. Reports, either emailed or through the dashboard, can be generated in a cadence that works for the fleets regardless of size.
Data is very configurable for the needs of the two different personas.
“We have customers with two to three assets that use it to track their vehicles, see where their drivers are, and what routes their drivers are taking to ensure deliveries are arriving on time,” Prapagharan said. “We have larger customers [collecting information on idling, harsh braking or cornering] that want to see how their vehicle is being utilized.”
Some fleets only want to reduce fuel usage; the solutions can do that. More advanced fleets might incorporate a visual component with video-event recording that adds audible feedback within the cabin environment.
“This is a way to enable them to be safer and help them be better out on the road,” Prapagharan said. “The main thing is to keep your driver safe, and that is what we do… You are informing the driver so they can learn and utilize the vehicle better.”
Connected technology is improving visibility of assets, improving driver safety, coaching and streamlining management. International Fuel Tax Association (IFTA) reporting, for instance, is one example. With the knowledge of where trucks are located, IFTA reporting can be digitized, saving valuable hours comparing fuel receipts and vehicle GPS data. Monitoring driver behavior for hard braking or out-of-route exceptions are other areas in which having the data can improve coaching opportunities, saving valuable dollars down the road. Hours-of-service compliance and cold-chain management through the use of cargo sensors are other areas where connected technologies can help.
Fleet Complete says that optimizing these functions and more can save fleets up to 30 percent in costs as a result of improved dispatch, fleet uptime, routing and fuel consumption. All of this would not be possible if the vehicles were not connected in real time. A simple “black box” type device collects this data. In other cases, partnerships with several original equipment manufacturers have eliminated the need for the black box in some vehicles, as Fleet Complete is able to collect vehicle data through APIs. Once connected, a cellular connection transmits the information, or if no cell network is available, it is transmitted through satellite backup.
However the data is collected, the connected vehicle is quickly becoming the standard through which operational excellence is achieved.