What Are Vehicle Telematics and Vehicle Tracking?

Every few years a new technology appears that changes forever the way people communicate and do business with each other. GPS spray on bedliner Tracking Systems spawned from the evolution of personal computers, mobile phones, the GPS Global Positioning System and the Internet. These all converged to form a new technology; Vehicle Telematics. The more general topic of Telematics can cover many areas. The focus of this article and the UK Telematics Online website is with vehicle telematics, which can be defined as; “The use of computers and telecommunications to enhance the functionality, productivity and security of both vehicles and drivers.”

A prominent part of many vehicle telematics solutions is Vehicle Tracking. Typical vehicle tracking systems are comprised of two core parts; location hardware (also known as Vehicle Location Unit or tracking device) and vehicle tracking software. The tracking device is most often hardwire installed in the vehicle. For a straight forward vehicle tracking product, the installation menas fitting the device using a simple three wire connection; ignition switch, battery and earth.

Tracking devices using SIRF II or similar GPS receiver technology require the use of an antenna, external to the device, fitted in the line of sight of the sky to receive optimal GPS transmissions. A second antenna is used to transmit the data off board the device, commonly using a mobile data network such as GPRS. Latest generation GPS receivers may mean that installation foregoes the use of an external GPS antenna.

As stated, the typical tracking hardware for a fleet management solution uses GPS to pinpoint location. Updates are transmitted at a regular timed interval, or after and including an event trigger, such as ignition on / off. This location/ journey data is commonly made available to the user by the service provider, via a website, where a secure login enables fleet activity to be viewed live and or historically, using digital mapping and reporting tools.

Vehicle Tracking Systems are often configured to transmit location and input data at a set update rate or when an event triggers the unit to transmit data. Entry level “Live (or real-time) Vehicle Tracking” generally refers to systems which are configured simply to update at regular timed intervals; 1 minute, 2 minute or 5 minute etc. These sohrt update intervals are used while the ignition status is on and once the vehicle is parked, ignition off, the device will often go into a hibernation or standby mode, transmitting updates intermittently or upon wake up by the next ignition on or the input from a motion sensor attached to the device.

Many Telematics Service Providers, facing increased competition and falling prices, are keen to show that Telematics can mean more than just vehicle tracking. The advent of combined two way messaging and satellite navigation products is such an example of this product development. Fleet managers can choose to do more than simply locate a vehicle or group of vehicles.

So called Connected Navigation solutions, allow fleet managers and job dispatchers to locate and track a vehicle or group of vehicles in relation to customer sites, then transmit and receive job messages to and from drivers, while the onboard navigation device automatically creates a journey route and and sends back the estimated time of arrival back to the job dispatch office. This can lead to more jobs completed per day, reduced journey times, fuel savings and improved customer satisfaction.

When used in a commercial environment vehicle telematics can be a powerful and valuable tool to improve the efficiency of an organization. The fleet activity can be analyzed and decisions taken based upon actual information, not guesswork. Key Performance Indicators including, journey times, fuel economy and drivers hours, can be improved.

The challenge is finding the right tracking and telematics solution and then using the information it provides to ensure the maximum benefit is returned against investment.

Other terms used in relation to vehicle telematics might also include, fleet management, GPS vehicle tracking, GPS tracking, GPS tracker, fleet telematics and satellite tracking or satellite tracker. All of these terms generally relate to the content found on the website UK Telematics Online.

As vehicle telematics technology has developed and it’s use becomes more widespread, an ever increasing number and variety of vehicle tracking systems are available to small business users.

Understanding the technology behind these products, knowing what benefits this technology can deliver, while at the same time, being aware of some of the potential pitfalls to avoid, will save the potential user money and ulimately aid the implementation of these solutions. 

Vehicle tracking is the technology of tracking the movements and/or status of a vehicle or fleet of vehicles, through the use of a vehicle tracking device, typically equipped with a GPS Locator and GPRS modem, which is fitted in the vehicle. Tracking software is then used to view the data, available as a PC or Web based mapping and reporting application.

Trailer Tracking is the technology of 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 though either PC or Web based software.

The typical car, commercial vehicle or Heavy Goods Vehicle built in recent years, now comes equipped as standard with on board engine diagnostics. This information can be accessed via after market products which capture data directly from the vehicles’ communications network. This communications network (CANbus) passes information around the vehicle connecting all the elements of the vehicle; engine performance, fuel usage, diagnostics etc., various elements of which can be captured and then transmitted off board the vehicle to be analysed by the user.

Being able to show the driver that they are over revving, not using cruise control enough, driving to fast, not being efficient in their use of gears etc., can lead to improved fuel economy and reduced vehicle emissions. In addition to driving performance monitoring, providers are beginning to offer ECU remapping to optimise the performance of the vehicle. When combined with ability to monitor vehicle performance and driver behaviour, ECU remapping is promoted as leading to fuel economy savings of up to 10%.

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