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What Is Telematics and How Can Fleets Benefit?

  • July 27, 2021
  • Kinana Hussain
  • Reading Time: 4 minutes
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Front view of truck driver sitting in his truck and driving to a warehouse. Front view of truck driver sitting in his truck and driving to a warehouse. Photo taken through the window glass. Vehicle telematics enables fleet management software that in turn helps organizations save money and boost safety. (Credit: CalAmp)

You’ve heard the term “telematics,” but what exactly does it mean? 

The word “telematics” is a combination of “telecom” and “informatics.” “Telecom” refers to data transmission in real time, usually over cellular network or satellite. Informatics is the science of storing and processing information. Thus, telematics involves remotely transmitting streams of data to be mined for relevant information.

The most popular application of telematics today is vehicle telematics, which enables more efficient and effective fleet management. A telematics system can track vehicles and also provide visibility into driver behavior, vehicle health and collisions, helping organizations reduce operating costs, improve fleet safety and minimize liability exposure. 

Telematics devices

At the heart of any telematics system is the telematics device that collects, processes and transmits data. In mobile applications (cars, trucks and construction vehicles), telematics devices can be factory installed or purchased as aftermarket upgrades. 

Add-on telematics devices plug into a vehicle’s OBD-II (On-Board Diagnostic) port or CAN bus interface, the same connection point mechanics use to diagnose a vehicle. Commercial-grade devices, often called black boxes, house several components. These may include a central processing unit, GPS receiver, SIM card or other communication module, various sensors such as an accelerometer and gyroscope, and a buzzer for audible in-cab alerts. 

Some devices include electronic logging device (ELD) capabilities, a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot and/or Bluetooth module for connecting to sensors and cameras.

This combination of electronics allows telematics devices to provide a pipeline of data including:

  • Vehicle location
  • Vehicle speed
  • Time and distance traveled
  • Harsh braking, hard cornering, fast acceleration and other aggressive driving behaviors
  • Idle time
  • Engine on/off
  • Engine fault codes
  • Battery charge levels
  • Fuel consumption
  • G-force 
  • Status of connected devices such as proximity sensors/smart tags attached to assets or cargo

The data is commonly sent to a cloud server, which powers fleet management software such as CalAmp iOn™. From the dashboard, users can generate reports on everything from fuel consumption to drivers with the worst speeding or long idling records. 

A fleet management system can be configured to show alerts within the application dashboard or send alerts via text or email to keep managers up to speed on important events. Find out in near-real time if a driver exceeds the speed limit or the allowable idle time by a certain margin, if a collision occurs, if the engine is started during off hours or if a fault code is triggered. 

Asset tracking through telematics

Tracking the location of vehicles, trailers and heavy construction equipment is a common use case for telematics devices. But it’s possible to leverage these devices to track other assets as well. 

Affix a proximity sensor to a tool, generator, or heavy equipment attachment and pair that sensor with the telematics device. If the asset goes out of range of the associated device, the driver or operator will be notified almost immediately.  

Video telematics 

One of the newest and most exciting developments in fleet telematics is video telematics. With a video telematics solution, high-definition smart dash cams capture video footage of the road in front of and around the vehicle, and, if a driver-facing camera is installed, footage of the driver, too. 

The camera is rolling whenever the vehicle is in motion. To avoid information overload, an intelligent video telematics solution that’s fully integrated with a vehicle telematics solution uses inertial triggers to automatically capture short video clips of risky driving behaviors such as harsh braking and swerving. 

These clips show what took place in the critical seconds before, during and after the event. Perhaps there was a sudden traffic slowdown that required harsh braking, or another motorist cut in front of the driver’s vehicle. Reviewing video footage is the only way to truly understand what was happening around the driver at the time of the event.  

A smart dash cam enabled with artificial intelligence (AI) can identify road signs, lane markings and other vehicles and initiate video clips based on visual triggers. If a driver blows through a stop sign, exceeds the posted speed limit or tailgates, the incident will trigger a video clip.

In the fleet management system, a manager can easily see how many video clips a driver generated on a particular route or day and view the clips, alone or together with the driver during a coaching session. 

Video clips, along with accident reconstruction made possible by services such as Crashboxx®, also help accident investigators determine liability and can expedite claims processing and exonerate drivers who are not at fault. In addition, they help organizations avoid frivolous lawsuits and fight fraudulent claims. 

A video telematics solution can also power in-cab audio alerts that call out speeding, tailgating, lane drift and other driving safety issues as they happen, which can help the driver avoid a collision. 

Benefits of telematics-based fleet management 

For commercial, government and construction fleets, fleet telematics enables data-driven decision-making and fast action in response to rapidly changing conditions. Managers can locate vehicles and equipment, gain a holistic view of driver behavior, monitor asset utilization, analyze routes, get alerted in real time to possible theft, stay on top of mileage- or hours-based maintenance and react to fault codes that indicate service is needed. 

It’s also possible to pair a key fob or driver identification card with a vehicle’s telematics device to identify the driver for safety and accountability purposes.

In short, fleet telematics can boost safety and operational efficiency across an entire fleet, improving fleet performance, driving down costs and even increasing sustainability. Some solutions, such CalAmp iOn, also enable the transfer of data to third-party applications via application program interfaces (APIs).

Adoption of telematics has soared in recent years. Most fleets now use a telematics solution, and with the addition of smart dash cams and other components, the benefits only grow. 

Staying on top of the latest telematics technology and leveraging value-added services is a powerful way for fleets to maintain an edge and drive success.

CalAmp iOn fleet management software, along with CalAmp telematics devices and smart proximity sensors, can take your fleet management or supply chain logistics to the next level. Contact us to learn more.