From automatic crash notification (ACN) to fleet management, Telematics is the “connection” that makes the connected car a wireless marvel of the automotive world.
Telematics is a hot topic these days. With the current focus on self-driving vehicles, connected cars, cyber security, and especially, rising levels of traffic fatalities, the communication network that makes it possible for your automobile to move and react on its own is rapidly innovating. Telematic solutions are more readily available for all vehicles and even mandated as standard in some countries. The technology’s origin is oddly similar to that of the Jeep, and its integration into day-to-day life has been as seamless as that ubiquitous, stalwart vehicle. But what exactly is telematics?
The term “telematics” is a translation of “telematique.” This was coined by two French scientists in a 1978 report to the French government on the computerization of society. They combined “telecommunications” with “informatique.” Per the Oxford Dictionary, it is defined as “the branch of information technology which deals with the long-distance transmission of computerized information.” And this brings us to its origins.
U.S. armed forces initiative goes globally civilian
The United States Navy began experimenting with satellite navigation to track its nuclear submarines in the early 1960s. By using the “Doppler Effect”–shifts in the satellite’s radio signal–captains could accurately find a sub’s location in minutes. The Department of Defense (DoD) then took what naval scientists had learned and launched its first Navigation System with Timing and Ranging (NAVSTAR) satellite in 1978. By 1993, it included 24 satellites and became the Global Positioning System (GPS).
Today, GPS is owned by the U.S. Government and run by the United States Air Force (USAF). It operates on two different levels to accommodate the separation between military/government use and worldwide access: Precise Positioning Service (PPS) and Standard Positioning Service (SPS). PPS is accessible to U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Federal agencies, and selected allied armed forces and governments. SPS is globally available to any and everyone free of charge.
A global collaboration
While GPS was being created in the United States, the European Parliament was seeking systems to achieve better road safety. They established a resolution in 1984 to investigate solutions, inviting the European Commission–a body representing the interests of all European countries as a whole–to suggest appropriate research. Studies began around current and future innovations in telecommunications and informatics to discover what, if any, possible application there may be. One of these was the GPS. Over the next several years, telematics evolved as a way to improve the following: road and vehicle safety, environmental impact, and transportation efficiency.
The European telematics solutions expanded upon the U.S. based GPS technology to create something wholly unique–a vehicle tracking and support system beyond turn-by-turn navigation. It took the information gathered via satellite and interfaced with the electronic control unit (ECU) in a car. This made it possible for the system to digitally sense not only where automobiles traveled, but how they behaved and the different situations they may encounter.
The first car company to propose driver assistance technology for its customers was General Motors (GM) and it wasn’t OnStar.
A 30 year-old vision realized 20 years ago
OnStar was unveiled at the 1996 Chicago Auto Show and first offered to customers in the production models of 1997 Cadillacs. The system was the first time vehicle embedded telematics was broadly available on the market, but it wasn’t the first time GM pursued driver assistance technology.
Driver Aid, Information and Routing (DAIR) is a system that GM engineers designed in 1966 that was then installed in two prototype vehicles and used punch cards to aid with turn-by-turn navigation. The gaps on the cards represented the basic directions needed on a specific route. This made it possible to drive to a pre-chosen destination without a map. But DAIR didn’t stop there. It also proposed restructuring America’s roadways by burying magnetic sensors beneath the pavement. These sensors would receive communications on highway conditions and accident reports from relay stations set-up all over the country. This information would be sent to drivers via a Visual Sign Minder–a basic heads-up display–mounted on their dashboard. It was recommended as a response to the rapid highway expansion of the era.
Per the DAIR brief, “Today’s complex roadways, increased vehicle speeds and heavy traffic intensify the driver’s need for frequent directions and information. DAIR meets this need for increased safety and driving enjoyment with a simple, low-cost communications system.” Because of the extensive infrastructure overhaul that was required to bring the idea to life, however, DAIR never got beyond prototype. GM kept working and activated its 1960s vision 30 years later with OnStar.
Telematics OEMs and stand-alones
The initial OnStar was a classic case of telematics original equipment manufacturer (OEM) implementation. An OEM is usually defined as parts from one manufacturer used to create an overall product sold by another. In the case of transportation it reflects vehicles coming off the factory floor with the automaker’s proprietary technology already installed. Per The Global Automotive OEM Telematics Market, a study conducted by Berg Insight, the number of OEM embedded systems will hit 159 million globally by 2020.
The reason for this push is primarily safety and many of the rooted systems will be rudimentary “first responder” based, such as the ACN telematics of Europe’s eCall and Russia’s ERA-GLONASS. By 2018, all cars in those two regions are mandated to come off the assembly line equipped with a telematic system built to react to accidents in two ways. The first is by automatically sending a signal to E112–Europe’s 911–when a connected car is involved in a crash. The second is by a motorist pushing a button on the telematics enabled dashboard to alert E112 of a collision or incident they’ve just witnessed. It’s a way of ensuring all drivers are protected–whether they have telematics or not.
In 2012, GM decided to make OnStar’s basic features available to everyone and created OnStar FMV (For My Vehicle). This dongle-based solution joined other systems– such as Verizon’s hum–that work through a car’s onboard diagnostics (OBD) portal. These standalones allow you to plug the telematic device into your OBD port and upload software into your car’s ECU to gain such benefits as navigation, hands-free calling and automatic crash notification (ACN). What it doesn’t give you that OEMs provide are more advanced features like unlocking your car via satellite.
The new world of usage-based insurance (UBI)
This telematic solution is also the brain behind usage-based insurance (UBI). UBI means exactly what the acronym stands for–usage-based insurance policies and premiums. Instead of crafting policies and charging motorists through statistics and analytics, UBI calculates based on how someone actually operates his or her car. Because the device is plugged into the car’s OBD, it gathers and sends driver behavior data back to insurance carriers. This has made it possible for policy flexibility and leads to charging more accurate rates and lowering costs for drivers who are at less risk.
Mobile telematics data gathering
The future of telematics has to do with mobile data gathering. Your smartphone is now able to collect the same information that was only available via OEM or dongles. Verizon’s hum is an example of a three-way system–speaker, OBD reader and cell phone. The speaker works like OnStar, which allows you to contact live emergency services with the touch of a button.
Drivewell from Cambridge Mobile Telematics, on the other hand, is testing mobile telematics technology that tracks your driving behavior with or without a “wireless tag device.” The optional attachment fits on your windshield and sends the telematics data captured by your smartphone to either the company for diagnostic purposes or to your insurance carrier. The company has also added a unique gaming aspect to their telematic service by creating safe driving competitions and incorporating leaderboards. A recent trial in South Africa–where the traffic fatality rate is among the highest in the world–showed a 30 percent increase in better driving due to the play factor. It’s one of many data gathering software options showing more expansive ways the technology can be used in the non-commercial space. But telematics has long been an invaluable tool in commercial fleet use.
Fleet vehicle tracking with telematics
Vehicle telematics play an essential role for fleet management. The systems keep costs down, productivity up and drive the overall efficiency of commercial transportation by tracking vehicle movement, its status–does it need gas? Is it time for maintenance?–driver behavior and more. By attaching a telematic unit to each truck that wirelessly connects to a central hub in the fleet’s business office, managers can track the vehicle’s location, manage performance and monitor conditions for driver safety and protection. Incorporating the technology in the commercial vehicle industry has modernized it and made it a more efficient business.
These telematic devices are excellent commercial partners and have also been embraced by the U.S. government to help it manage the vast fleet of the General Services Administration (GSA).
Example of connecting cars to government with GSA
The GSA offers workspace to over 1 million federal employees, manages the preservation of 480+ historic buildings and handles the purchase and distribution of goods and services used by the federal government. Part of this agency includes GSA Fleet, which has been providing motor vehicles to 75+ participating agencies since 1954.
As of 2016, all GSA Fleet vehicles available for purchase have OEM telematics while lessees can choose installing a non-OEM telematic device. To better streamline this technology, GSA shifted from working with two different providers and awarded AT&T Mobility the Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA). AT&T’s two-tiered solution–simple GPS vehicle tracking and full diagnostics–enables the federal government to keep tabs and maintain their spread out automobile inventory more efficiently and consistently.
Flexible and expansive path to safer, more efficient driving
Telematics are capable of everything from sending information back to auto insurance carriers to affect your premiums to automatically alerting emergency services when you’re in need of roadside assistance. What began, basically, as the GPS has grown to include such things as infotainment, hands-free calling and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication. Companies all over the globe are embracing the technology in strategic and actionable ways.
In June, Visiongain released a report on the Top 20 OEM and Non-OEM connected car companies entitled Top 20 Connected Car Companies 2016: Leading Suppliers of Automotive In Vehicle Telematics By Service Provider Featuring Technologies For Safety, Security, Infotainment, Remote Diagnostics & Vehicle to Everything Communications. The 181-page report outlines the different strategies, strengths and futures of each company. Per the report, the companies to watch in both categories are as follows:
Top 10 Telematics OEMS
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)
Ford Motor Company
Honda Motor Company
Toyota Motor Corporation
Top 10 Telematics Non-OEMs
Google Inc. (Android)
Tech Mahindra Ltd.
Outlook for the future
As automobiles become more autonomous, the technology that enables their interaction with infrastructure and each other will continue to innovate. Moving forward, more governments will continue flexing auto legislation muscles to ensure vehicles driving on their country’s roads are the safest and most efficient–for the environment, motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and economy. This means expanding, innovating and pushing telematics even further as cars become smarter. It is the bridge that puts a zero fatality, eco-friendly future within our grasp.