Exploring fleets in the connected mobility ecosystem


By Graham Jarvis

Traditional fleet management systems that monitor driver behaviour, maintenance and fuel economy are increasingly being integrated with new Internet of Things (IoT) functionalities and infrastructure such as with the smart city or the smart road.

Automated tolls, traffic light management systems, truck weigh stations and road user charging systems are being increasingly used to make fleet management as well as fuel and traffic management as efficient as possible.

"Telematics integration with weigh station bypass is being used by quite a few companies and it enables trucks to avoid having to stop at weigh stations," explains Clem Driscoll, president of C.J. Driscoll & Associates. He adds: "There are road usage tax trails in Oregon and some other states and several GPS fleet management suppliers are involved, such as New Zealand-based EROAD, and California-based Azuga."

He says that currently the main focus is on accurately measuring in-state mileage charges. These could be used by government agencies to replace fuel taxes. Meanwhile, he claims that traffic light pre-emption has been around for quite a while. "It's used by public transport and public safety agencies and it's an example of integration with telematics and the environment around it," he explains. These are only just some of the example of how telematics integration is moving forward.

Part 1: Endless possibilities

Driscoll expects that many more will emerge of the next few years as the possibilities are endless but for these opportunities to be realised he says transport management systems providers need to work more closely together than they traditional have done in the past. Some are already collaborating with each other. "In the case of weigh station bypass, the solution providers, like DriveWyze, are working with GPS fleet management suppliers in the trucking sector," he reveals.

Harold Leitner, vice-president business development at GPS Insight, thinks that there are a couple of different angles to telematics integration. The first is about position, velocity and time data. This, he explains, is being used by third party traffic monitoring companies who aggregate the data from telematics companies and from cell phone networks. It enables them to know how fast and where their vehicles are moving.

"Telematics based driver behaviour data is also being aggregated by commercial driver information services. These services aggregate telematics, toll violation, speed camera violation, red light violation and accident data", he says. Insurance companies, for example, can use this to generate a driver safety score for their customers.

Electric and hybrid

His own company is also working with fleets that have electric and hybrid vehicles because "they want to more easily dispatch vehicles to charging stations once they have reached a certain battery threshold". These fleets use location data to assess when they will arrive at a charging station, how long each vehicle spends at a charging or re-fuelling station, and the technology can log when a vehicle leaves to go on their way to their destination.

With one partner supplier called Lytx, Lee Barnes, director of Connected & Autonomous Vehicle Business at Ricardo, says his company is engaged in a truck platooning project with Texas DOT by providing an in-vehicle driver monitoring system. "So if the driver gets in an accident, slams on the brake, or crosses lanes without signalling this system captures data 20 seconds before and after an incident, the system can track the driver's behaviour," he explains before adding that this capability is being leveraged now and there are other systems similar, that have been in existence, that capture and transmit critical information. "One of the key enablers for platooning is V2V communication, and once this technology is pushed by the government, fleet management systems will have the foundation to expand great features, like driver health monitoring, platooning back office support, advanced route mapping, traffic management etc.," he says.

Fitting into IoT

So how are fleets fitting into the Internet of Things, and what does this really mean for them and their businesses? Barnes offers his viewpoints in response to these questions: "Fleet owners have for a while been leveraging networks to track drivers, routes etc. way before the term IoT." He finds that what's happening today is that the providers are building systems that take advantage of the networks as the networks change, expand and grow to handle more and more complex data.

"With technology advancements, such as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication via LTE or DSRC, more opportunities are available for collecting information, analysing this information and making better use of this information to address issues of safety, environment and cost reduction", he comments. Leitner adds that IoT offers more seamless and integrated workflow, but the delivery of a package from destination A to destination B won't otherwise change much. "The real change is that the integrated data allows you to follow cargo, or a package, from the factory through the supply chain to the customer's door", he explains before adding that documentation flow can be tracked too.

Autonomous vehicles

In Driscoll's opinion the end product will be autonomous vehicles, which would use vehicle-to-vehicle communication and data from them as well as from their surroundings to safely drive to pre-defined destination. He adds: "The Internet of Things will make it possible to automate a lot of tasks involving fleets. For example, a store could automatically notify a supplier when it is low on certain inventory and a vehicle could automatically be dispatched with replacement inventory. Invoicing and payment could be automated." However, he doesn't think that telematics integration and IoT will reach a Utopia because it will always be an evolving process of increasing efficiency and safety. The chasing of a Utopia will nevertheless keep the development and application technology moving forward.

Reaching Utopia

How can this Utopia be reached and who should be involved in helping to get there? Leitner thinks that everyone in the ecosystem has be involved: "The fleet customers have to demand the data from the OEMs and be willing to pay for the telematics hardware, and fleet customers would need easy access that the data that OEMs can provide." He elaborates that OEMs would need to broaden their view of data because they should be focusing on helping to develop safer and more efficient vehicles rather than simply looking at data as a profit centre.

"TSPs and third party software providers must adapt their products and business models to accommodate the increase in data and the demands for higher value added data analysis for customers", he stresses while claiming that government agencies might need to push OEMs to standardise data and to make proprietary data more available than it currently is. "The economic advantages of data sharing would be phenomenal, and standardised data sets and APIs – from smart cities to ports – would all benefit from having readily available and cheap access to data, but the government would have to set the privacy limits of what is public and what is private," he says.

He also believes that the third party providers are going to have to step up their data security and invest in their ability to provide access to timely data of high quality. So with this in mind, who is going to lead the charge into a connected world of mobility? "Well there are lots of companies in the FMS value chain and in the US, Verizon Wireless has recently acquired Telogis and Fleetmatics, which, along with Verizon Networkfleet, will make Verizon the largest global supplier of GPS fleet management solutions," reveals Driscoll.

He adds: "While the truck OEMs are all installing telematics devices in their cabs, the telematics service providers (TSPs) are working with the vehicle manufacturers to provide services based on the hardware installed by the OEMs and there are also companies that facilitate the transmission of data – such as Jasper Wireless and KORE Telematics." They are all leading the charge into mobility and connectivity as part of the value chain in his view.

IoT: a good thing

Some believe that the term IoT is just a buzzword but Barnes says that the fleet management world has "being doing this type of work for a while now". He doesn't feel sure that IoT is blowing the opportunity out of proportion but the good thing is that is it getting more publicity than telematics tended to receive in the past. To him this can only be a good thing because it is drawing companies into the market who weren't originally interested, and this will help to advance the technology.

Part 2: Fleets and connected mobility

The data gained from the fleet can certainly play a role in the connected mobility ecosystem but the main challenge in Driscoll's opinion entails finding the types of users who can benefit most from the data that is collated. "Fleetmatics has people trying to find a market for the extensive data they've collected over the years, and they are talking to governments and insurance companies," he says. He thinks that governments are logical users because they need to plan for all kinds of traffic management situations regarding roads and for the development of transport infrastructure that is impacted by traffic flow. "The business challenge is to work with these potential data users to educate them on what data is available and how they might benefit from it," he suggests.

Barnes adds: "I think – just like everyone else – more data is good but the challenge with the data is who owns it and this data can be used to continue to build better traffic and route management apps." This question of data ownership will gain more public attention once the ecosystem's players have worked out how it is to be transmitted (e.g. networks, DSRC, Wi-Fi, etc.). At the moment OEMs are "looking to develop better ADAS and autonomous systems as well as to leverage vehicle, sensor, and driver data to enhance their technology".

Data protectionists

OEMs see this kind of data as intellectual property and so he believes they aren't going to share this data "anytime soon, and it is not clear how this will ultimately get sorted but the data available has value". TSPs will nevertheless see the data as being core to their business focus in order to generate revenue, and they are working on achieving this today. Leitner says, in terms of IoT, there are TSPs involved with routing and mobile workforce management as well as other ancillary products. Only the large fleets are adopting the ancillary products though because smaller fleets tend to be very price sensitive. Their larger counterparts are pursuing more integrated and complimentary products.

So what can fleets do for the IoT transport world? The question was posed during the interviews for this article about whether the question should be flipped the other way around. However, Barnes underlines that fleets have been collecting data for years and comments: "Fleets can provide historic information on collecting and processing data, and by looking at what's being done by fleet management systems companies, we can collaborate to expand and build additional value, and add features that are needed by autonomous mobility today."

Anonymised data sharing

There is potential for TSPs to work together to pool anonymised data between each other for mutual benefit. It can, for example, be used to reduce turnaround times at shipping ports for fleets. "I think this data sharing is happening already and it can be replicated for ports, tunnels and bridges to provide speed and time data to more accurately assess port operation efficiency," believes Leitner who stresses that it has to be driven by the governing authorities. Barnes concurs that there are tonnes of opportunities for everyone within the ecosystem to work together. For example this could be to develop semi-autonomous functionality to reduce accidents at ports, to manage maintenance costs as well as to ensure safety and efficiency. Key to this is solving the issue of how to work together to encourage people to collaborate and to share data, experiences and knowledge.

Use case feasibility

Are these utilitarian use cases real or feasible? The answer seems to be yes. "I think the technology exists today", says Leitner before asking: "The question is about who is going to pay for it, how it is going to be monetised and who is going to drive it forward?" To a degree he thinks it is going to be driven by the government, OEMs and to a lesser extent fleet management companies. "I think it's absolutely feasible but it will take a decade for all of the parties to agree to co-operate," he adds.
Barnes concludes that fleet management can gain from IoT and fleet management can also give to it: "Fleet management has the opportunity to leverage the latest technology from IoT market and its suppliers; it's an exciting time for both groups to leverage new technology being developed by both groups because the opportunities are tremendous."

The move from ADAS to fully autonomous connected mobility will open up many new business opportunities in his view, and in turn this will create new opportunities to develop technologies that address needs such as reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions, monitoring driver health and to improve safety. In fact it seems that telematics integration and the connected mobility ecosystem has a prosperous future ahead.

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