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Home > A to Z guide to vehicle telematics and vehicle tracking brought to you by Ctrack by Inseego

Vehicle telematics

Vehicle telematics is the convergence of telecommunications and information processing. The term later evolved to refer to automation in automobiles, such as the invention of the emergency warning system for vehicles.

GPS navigation, integrated hands-free cell phones, wireless safety communications and automatic driving assistance systems, all are covered under the telematics umbrella.

Vehicle tracking

Vehicle tracking is the monitoring of the location, movements, status and behaviour of a vehicle or fleet of vehicles.

This is achieved through a combination of a GPS (GNSS) receiver and an electronic device (usually comprising a GSM GPRS modem or SMS sender) installed in each vehicle, communicating with the user (dispatching, emergency or co-ordinating unit) and PC-based or web-based software.

The data is turned into information by management reporting tools in conjunction with a visual display on computerised mapping software. Vehicle tracking systems may also use odometry or dead reckoning as an alternative or complementary means of navigation.

 Today, GPS tracking is usually accurate to around 10 – 20 metres. The most basic functions in all fleet management systems, is the vehicle tracking component. This component is usually GPS-based, but sometimes it can be based on GLONASS or a cellular triangulation platform.

Once vehicle location, direction and speed are determined from the GPS components, additional tracking capabilities transmit this information to a fleet management software application. Methods for data transmission include both terrestrial and satellite.

Satellite tracking communications, while more expensive, are critical if vehicle tracking is to work in remote environments without interruption. Users can see actual, real-time locations of their fleet on a map. This is often used to quickly respond on events in the field.

An advanced fleet management system (FMS) can connect to the vehicle’s onboard computer, and gather data for the user. Data such as mileage and fuel consumption are gathered into a global statistics scheme.

A vehicle tracking system combines the use of automatic vehicle location in individual vehicles with software that collects these fleet data for a comprehensive picture of vehicle locations.

Modern vehicle tracking systems commonly use GPS or GLONASS technology for locating the vehicle, but other types of automatic vehicle location technology can also be used.

Vehicle information can be viewed on electronic maps via the internet or specialised software. Urban public transit authorities are an increasingly common user of vehicle tracking systems, particularly in large cities.

Active versus passive tracking

Several types of vehicle tracking devices exist. Typically they are classified as “passive” and “active”. “Passive” devices store GPS location, speed, heading and sometimes a trigger event such as key on/off, door open/closed.

Once the vehicle returns to a predetermined point, the device is removed and the data downloaded to a computer for evaluation. Passive systems include auto download type that transfer data via wireless download.

“Active” devices also collect the same information but usually transmit the data in near-real-time via cellular or satellite networks to a computer or data center for evaluation.

Many modern vehicle tracking devices combine both active and passive tracking abilities: when a cellular network is available and a tracking device is connected it transmits data to a server; when a network is not available the device stores data in internal memory and will transmit stored data to the server later when the network becomes available again.

Historically, vehicle tracking has been accomplished by installing a box into the vehicle, either self-powered with a battery or wired into the vehicle’s power system.

For detailed vehicle locating and tracking this is still the predominant method; however, many companies are increasingly interested in the emerging cell phone technologies that provide tracking of multiple entities, such as both a salesperson and their vehicle.

These systems also offer tracking of calls, texts, web use and generally provide a wider range of options.

Typical architecture

Major constituents of the GPS-based tracking are:

GPS tracking: The device fits into the vehicle and captures the GPS location information apart from other vehicle information at regular intervals to a central server.

Other vehicle information can include fuel amount, engine temperature, altitude, reverse geocoding, door open/close, tyre pressure, cut off fuel, turn off ignition, turn on headlight, turn on taillight, battery status, GSM area code/cell code decoded, number of GPS satellites in view, glass open/close, fuel amount, emergency button status, cumulative idling, computed odometer, engine RPM, throttle position, GPRS status and a lot more.

The capability of these devices decide the final capability of the whole tracking system; most vehicle tracking systems, in addition to providing the vehicle’s location data, feature a wide range of communication ports that can be used to integrate other onboard systems, allowing to check their status and control or automate their operation.

 GPS tracking server

The tracking server has three responsibilities: receiving data from the GPS tracking unit, securely storing it, and serving this information on demand to the user.

User interface

The UI determines how one will be able to access information, view vehicle data, and elicit important details from it.

Common uses

Vehicle tracking systems are commonly used by fleet operators for fleet management functions such as fleet tracking, routing, dispatching, on-board information and security. Some vehicle tracking systems are bundled with or interface with fleet management software.

Along with commercial fleet operators, urban transit agencies use the technology for a number of purposes, including monitoring schedule adherence of buses in service, triggering automatic changes of buses’ destination sign displays once the vehicle approaches the bus terminus (or other set location along a bus route such as a particular bus stop along the route), and triggering pre-recorded (or even synthetic speech) bus stop, route (and its destination) or service announcements for passengers.

The American Public Transportation Association estimated that, at the beginning of 2009, around half of all transit buses in the United States were already using a GPS-based vehicle tracking system to trigger automated stop announcements.

 This can refer to external announcements (triggered by the opening of the bus’s door) at a bus stop, announcing the vehicle’s route number and destination, primarily for the benefit of visually impaired customers, or to internal announcements (to passengers already on board) identifying the next stop, as the bus (or tram) approaches a stop, or both; the latter are often also displayed on an internal LED display or LCD monitor connected to the system while the loudspeakers play them.

Data collected as a transit vehicle follows its route is often continuously fed into a computer program which compares the vehicle’s actual location and time with its schedule, and in turn produces a frequently updating display for the driver, telling him/her how early or late he/she is at any given time, potentially making it easier to adhere more closely to the published schedule.

Such programs are also used to provide customers with real-time information as to the waiting time until arrival of the next bus or tram/streetcar at a given stop, based on the nearest vehicles’ actual progress at the time, rather than merely giving information as to the scheduled time of the next arrival.

Transit systems providing this kind of information assign a unique number to each stop, and waiting passengers can obtain information by entering the stop number into an automated telephone system or an application on the transit system’s website.

Some transit agencies provide a virtual map on their website, with icons depicting the current locations of buses in service on each route, for customers’ information, while others provide such information only to dispatchers or other employees.

With the GPS technology being enhanced day by day, companies are coming up with devices that are compatible with phones and other modern gadgets. These devices provide live time activity of the fleet on personal devices without even logging onto their website as well.

Keeping a track of fleet commander’s actionable data, improving efficiency, reducing fuel cost etc. also come under fleet tracking. These devices and software help in cost-cutting.

Other applications include monitoring driving behavior, such as an employer of an employee, or a parent with a teen driver.

Vehicle tracking systems are also popular in consumer vehicles as a theft prevention, monitoring and retrieval device. Police can simply follow the signal emitted by the tracking system and locate the stolen vehicle.

When used as a security system, a Vehicle Tracking System may serve as either an addition to or replacement for a traditional car alarm.

Some vehicle tracking systems make it possible to control the vehicle remotely, including block doors or engine in case of emergency. The existence of vehicle tracking device then can be used to reduce the insurance cost, because the loss-risk of the vehicle drops significantly.

Vehicle tracking systems are an integrated part of the “layered approach” to vehicle protection, recommended by law enforcement to prevent motor vehicle theft.

This approach recommends four layers of security based on the risk factors pertaining to a specific vehicle. Vehicle Tracking Systems are one such layer and are very effective in helping police recover stolen vehicles.

Some vehicle tracking systems integrate several security systems, for example by sending an automatic alert to a phone or email if an alarm is triggered or the vehicle is moved without authorisation, or when it leaves or enters a geofence.

Other scenarios in which this technology is employed include:

  • Stolen vehicle recovery: Both consumer and commercial vehicles can be outfitted with GPS units to allow police to do tracking and recovery.
  • Asset tracking: Companies needing to track valuable assets for insurance or other monitoring purposes can now plot the real-time asset location on a map and closely monitor movement and operating status.
  • Field service management: Companies with a field service workforce for services such as repair or maintenance, must be able to plan field workers’ time, schedule subsequent customer visits and be able to operate these departments efficiently. Vehicle tracking allows companies to quickly locate a field engineer and dispatch the closest one to meet a new customer request or provide site arrival information.
  • Field sales: Mobile sales professionals can access real-time locations. For example, in unfamiliar areas, they can locate themselves as well as customers and prospects, get driving directions and add nearby last-minute appointments to itineraries. Benefits include increased productivity, reduced driving time and increased time spent with customers and prospects.
  • Trailer tracking: Haulage and logistics companies often operate truck tractors with detachable load carrying units. The part of the vehicle that drives the load is known as the cab and the load carrying unit is known as the trailer. There are different types of trailer used for different applications, e.g., flatbed, refrigerated, curtainsider, super/inter-link.
  • Surveillance: A tracker may be placed on a vehicle to follow the vehicle’s movements.
  • Transit tracking: temporary tracking of assets or cargoes from one point to another. Users will ensure that the assets do not stop on route or do a U-Turn in order to ensure the security of the assets.
  • Fuel Monitoring: monitor the fuel through tracking device (with help of fuel sensor connected to the device).
  • Distance Calculation: calculate the distance travelled by the fleet.
  • OBD II: Plug and play interface which provides most engine diagnostics information.

Vehicle tracking systems are widely used worldwide. Components come in various shapes and forms but most use GPS technology and GSM services. Additionally, these systems may also feature short range data communication systems such as Wi-Fi.

While most will offer real-time tracking, others record real time data and store it to be read, in a fashion similar to data loggers. Systems like these track and record and allow reports after certain points have been solved.

Vehicle OBD tracking systems

Vehicle OBD tracking systems make use of OBD GPS trackers that plug into the onboard diagnostic (OBD) port of a light or medium duty vehicle. A cellular OBD GPS tracker directly communicates with the cell tower for sending the location and other vehicle performance data to the server over cellular wireless network.

Usually, the tracker device draws power from the OBD port itself and contains a built-in antenna along with a GPS module for receiving the GPS signal. In addition, OBD trackers communicate with the different vehicle subsystems for receiving vehicle diagnostic and fuel consumption related data.

Users can view the information using standalone software or web browser from a desktop/laptop computer or using smartphone apps.

Fleet management tracking

Aside from theft-prevention the most common use of vehicle tracking is in logistics and transport. These systems make use of GPS and GSM technology to provide precise and constant location telematics to an individual fleet manager.

These systems are typically equipped with features to monitor statistics such as; fuel consumption, average speed, current driver time and location. There has been a recent increase in demand for this technology as EU regulations place increased restrictions on the hours driver are allowed to work in a given day. It is currently limited to 9 hours per day.

Companies are legally obligated to install a tachograph in any vehicle that is expected to carry goods. This obligation has led many to attempt to cauterise this potentially onerous obligation, instead turning it into a benefit.

Fleet management systems use GPS & GSM technology. Much like other forms of trackers, although due to their nature they are equipped with more thorough diagnostic features.

Other uses such as trailer tracking, fuel monitoring, distance calculation, asset tracking, and field sales can all be incorporated into a Fleet Management solution.

A Fleet Telematics System (FTS) allows the information exchange between a commercial vehicle fleet and their central authority, i.e., the dispatching office. A FTS typically consists of mobile Vehicle Systems (VS) and a stationary Fleet Communication System (FCS).

The FCS may be a stand alone application maintained by the motor carrier or an internet service running by the supplier of the system. The FCS usually includes a database in which all vehicle positions and messages are stored.

Digital maps are often included which allow visualisation of vehicle positions and traces. Communication with the FCS is realised by trunked radio, cellular, or satellite communication. Positioning of vehicles is usually realised by satellite positioning systems and/or dead reckoning using gyroscope and odometer.

Usually, the VS is equipped with a simple input device allowing drivers to send predefined status messages. Drivers may add simple content, e.g., numeric values, but usually cannot enter arbitrary text. Besides the messages sent by drivers, some VS can also automatically submit messages, e.g., the vehicle’s position, data from sensors in the cargo body, or vehicle data from the CAN-bus.

In 2002, major European commercial vehicle manufacturers, namely Daimler, MAN AG, Scania, DAF, IVECO, Volvo, and Renault, agreed to give third parties access to vehicle data using the CAN-bus as a connection.

The Fleet Management Standard (FMS) is an open standard allowing, dependent on the vehicle equipment, access to vehicle data such as fuel consumption, engine data, or vehicle weight.

Unconventional uses

Industries not traditionally known to use vehicle tracking systems (logistics and transportation industries are the ones that have traditionally incorporated vehicle tracking system into their operations) have started to use it in creative ways to improve their processes or businesses.

The hospitality industry has caught on to this technology to improve customer service. For example, a luxury hotel in Singapore has installed vehicle tracking systems in their limousines to ensure they can welcome their VIPs when they reach the hotel.

Vehicle tracking systems used in food delivery vans may alert if the temperature of the refrigerated compartment moves outside of the range of safe food storage temperatures. Car rental companies are also using it to monitor their rental fleets.

Some businesses are able to use the times gathering from vehicle tracking reports to track hours billable to customers and/or replace the use of time clocks with employees.

Trailer tracking

Trailer tracking is tracking the movements and position of an articulated vehicle’s trailer unit, through the use of a location unit fitted to the trailer and a method of returning the position data via mobile communication network or geostationary satellite communications, for use through either PC- or web-based software.

Cold-store freight trailers that deliver fresh or frozen foods are increasingly incorporating telematics to gather time-series data on the temperature inside the cargo container, both to trigger alarms and record an audit trail for business purposes. An increasingly sophisticated array of sensors, many incorporating RFID technology, is being used to ensure the cold chain.

Container tracking

Freight containers can be tracked by GPS using a similar approach to that used for trailer tracking i.e. a battery-powered GPS device communicating its position via mobile phone or satellite communications.

Benefits of this approach include increased security and the possibility to reschedule the container transport movements based on accurate information about its location. According to Berg Insight the installed base of tracking units in the intermodal shipping container segment reached 190,000 at the end of 2013.

Growing at a compound annual growth rate of 38.2 percent, the installed base will reach 960,000 units at the end of 2018.

Fleet management

Fleet management is the management of a company’s fleet. Fleet management includes the management of ships and or motor vehicles such as cars, vans and trucks. Fleet (vehicle) Management can include a range of functions, such as vehicle financing, vehicle maintenance, vehicle telematics (tracking and diagnostics), driver management, fuel management, health and safety management and dynamic vehicle scheduling.

Fleet Management is a function which allows companies which rely on transportation in their business to remove or minimise the risks associated with vehicle investment, improving efficiency, productivity and reducing their overall transportation costs, providing 100% compliance with government legislation and Duty of Care obligations.

These functions can either be dealt with by an in-house Fleet Management department or an outsourced Fleet Management provider.

Fleet (vehicle) management can include a range of functions, such as vehicle financing, vehicle maintenance, vehicle telematics (tracking and diagnostics), driver management, speed management, fuel management and health and safety management.

Fleet Management is a function which allows companies which rely on transportation in business to remove or minimise the risks associated with vehicle investment, improving efficiency, productivity and reducing their overall transportation and staff costs, providing 100% compliance with government legislation (duty of care) and many more.

These functions can be dealt with by either an in-house fleet-management department or an outsourced fleet-management provider.

Fleet management software (FMS)

fleet managmentFleet management software is computer software that enables people to accomplish a series of specific tasks in the management of any or all aspects relating to a fleet of vehicles operated by a company, government, or other organisation. These specific tasks encompass all operations from vehicle acquisition through maintenance to disposal.

Fleet management software enables people to accomplish a series of specific tasks in the management of any or all aspects relating to a company’s fleet of vehicles. These specific tasks encompass all operations from vehicle acquisition to disposal.

Software, depending on its capabilities, allows functions such as recording driver and vehicle details, the tracking of procurement costs, scheduling of maintenance and servicing tasks, import of fuel transactions, and measuring of fleet performance via reports and charts.

Fleet management software functions

The main function of fleet management software is to gather, store, process, monitor, report on and export information.

Information can be imported from external sources such as gas pump processors, territorial authorities for managing vehicle registration,, financial institutions, insurance databases, vehicle specification databases, mapping systems and from internal sources such as Human Resources and Finance.

Vehicle management

Fleet management software should be able to manage processes, tasks and events related to all kinds of vehicles – car, trucks, earth-moving machinery, buses, forklift trucks, trailers and specialist equipment, including: 

  • Vehicle inventory – the number and type of vehicles
  • Vehicle maintenance – specific routine maintenance and scheduled maintenance, and ad hoc requirements
  • Licensing, registration and tax
  • Vehicle insurance, including due dates and restrictions
  • Cost management and analysis
  • Vehicle disposal

 Driver management 

  • Driver license management, including special provisions
  • Logging of penalty points and infringements against a licence
  • Booking system for pool vehicles

Incident management

  • Accidents and fines, plus apportioning costs to drivers 

Tracking 

  • Telematics
  • Route planning
  • Logbooks and work time
  • Alerts

Fleet replacement and life-cycle management

The timely replacement of vehicles and equipment is a process that requires the ability to predict asset life cycles based on costing information, utilisation, and asset age. Organisations prefer to use new fleet as a strategy for cost reduction where the used fleet is sold so that a new fleet is maintained.

Funding requirements are also an issue, because many organisations, especially government, purchase vehicles with cash. The ad hoc nature and traditional low funding levels with cash has put many operations in an aged fleet. This lack of adequate funding for replacement can also result in higher maintenance costs due to aged vehicles.

Driver behaviour

Highly developed fleet management and vehicle telematics systems collect a full range of data in real-time and for transport and fleet managers. By combining received data from the vehicle tracking system and the on-board computer, it is possible to form a profile for any given driver (average speed, frequency of detours, breaks, severity of manoeuvres, choice of gears, etc.).

This data can be used to highlight drivers with dangerous habits and to suggest remedial training applicable to the issues, or to ensure that drivers are meeting KPIs.

Fleet security and control

Recent advances in fleet management allow for the addition of over-the-air (OTA) security and control of fleet vehicles.

Fleet Security and Control includes security of the vehicle while stopped or not in operation and the ability to safely disable a vehicle while in operation. This allows the fleet manager to recover stolen or rogue vehicles while reducing the chance of lost or stolen cargo.

The additional of Fleet Security and Control to a fleet management system gives a fleet card manager preventative measures to address cargo damage and loss.

Remote vehicle disabling systems

trucks on the roadRemote vehicle disabling systems provide users at remote locations the ability to prevent an engine from starting, prevent movement of a vehicle, and to stop or slow an operating vehicle. Remote disabling allows a dispatcher or other authorised personnel to gradually decelerate a vehicle by downshifting, limiting the throttle capability, or bleeding air from the braking system from a remote location.

Some of these systems provide advance notification to the driver that the vehicle disabling is about to occur. After stopping a vehicle, some systems will lock the vehicle’s brakes or will not allow the vehicle’s engine to be restarted within a certain time-frame.

Remote disabling systems can also be integrated into a remote panic and emergency notification system. In an emergency, a driver can send an emergency alert by pressing a panic button on the dashboard, or by using a key-fob panic button if the driver is within close proximity of the truck.

Then, the carrier or other approved organisation can be remotely alerted to allow a dispatcher or other authorised personnel to evaluate the situation, communicate with the driver, and/or potentially disable the vehicle.

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