Telematics systems for the transport industry need to be smarter and concentrate on adding value for the vehicle operators. Despite amazing technological advances, too many systems were still over promising and under delivering, and encouraged the scepticism of vehicle operators. And at a European level, the failure and delay of the German toll scheme and the farcical lack of progress over the introduction of digital tachographs have further reinforced the lack of telematics confidence in the transport market. This was surprising because the industry was renowned for its leading edge use of technology in managing supply chains themselves.

These comments were made by Freight Transport Association Chief Executive Richard Turner in Brussels on 4 November. Mr Turner was giving the keynote address and speaking on behalf of customers at 'Vehicle Tracking 2004' organised by Telematics Update.

Mr Turner said that FTA's own member survey work had revealed that many lorry operators were confused by telematics offers, with lack of product clarity, too much jargon and unclear cost information. The telematics industry was failing to convince transport operators that the benefits of this technology are actually worth the costs. At present many operators still regard mobile phones as adequate for most needs and see "the leap" into telematics as unjustified and too risky.

Mr Turner said, 'The transport market is bemused and confused by the offer from the telematics supply industry. Users do not understand the difference between products and their capabilities. The message to suppliers must be to keep it simple, ensure compatibility with pre-existing systems, and to provide practical facilities of real economic and operational benefit to the operator and driver.'

Mr Turner referred to the problems generated by the different pace of progress on pan-European regulations compared to computer technology. This meant that lorry operators were uncertain of what to buy because they did not know what EU regulations would demand of them next - or not! The prospects for road user charging systems were an example of this, where there was yet to be a central EU lead to define the required technology. And the bungled introduction of digital tachographs meant that the eventual unit, which the telematics industry had so far failed to deliver, was likely to be years out of date with the other technology in the cab and would not "talk" to operators' fleet management systems.

The list of operators' needs included modern connectivity ('plug in and play'), driver's hands free systems, steering wheel controls for phones, efficient navigation, lane departure alert systems, intelligent speed adaptation, digital cameras for manoeuvring and reversing and tracking systems for loads.

Mr Turner said that smart telematics technology was the future and indispensable to relieving many operators' problems - congestion, asset tracking, vehicle and driver performance, and asset management. But too much at present was too expensive, too unreliable and frequently incompatible. At the same time suppliers came and went and there were major pan-European issues to deal with. For the future a concentration on user needs by both regulators and telematics suppliers would lead to benefits for operators, suppliers and all road users.

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