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Telematics trends in transport

01 July 2008

Telematics - a combination of wireless telecommunications and ‘informatics’, commonly found in GPS based vehicle tracking and navigation systems - can do more than just manage vehicle fleets, says Alexander Bufalino

The use of telematics based systems is becoming increasingly complex, and their applications are proliferating. Until now, the main and most common uses of telematics developments have included vehicle fleet management (navigation, positioning, tachograph queries, invoicing and so on), truck tolls, vehicle security, goods surveillance and remote device operation. Nowadays, however, many more applications are joining this list.

While telematics has to date been used chiefly as a high-end application in the business-to-business sector, there is now a growing trend towards the mainstream. Telematics applications in the consumer sector are on the rise. In recent years the most notable example of this is without doubt the field of vehicle navigation systems.

Personal security applications are also very much in vogue. Not only can vehicles be located, but also their drivers. For long-distance lorry drivers on long stretches, this means greater personal safety when they are away from their vehicle. eCall is a new technology that is expected to be available in new vehicles from 2010. This triggers an automatic emergency call with precise positional data if the car should be involved in a serious accident. Several EU states, as well as Switzerland and Norway, have signed up to an initiative intended to set this project in motion.

Future opportunities
Telematics developments in the transport of the future include car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication. The vehicle itself becomes the sensor and can - to a certain extent - ‘look around the corner’, like a real person. It warns drivers with audible or visual signals in good time about potential accident situations, traffic jams or slippery road surfaces before the drivers spot these themselves. It also transfers this information to the telematics modules of other vehicles in the area or to traffic management centres, so that everyone can reduce their speed as they approach the hazardous area.

Another scenario is conceivable in the future for rescue services; using telematics modules, they can make traffic lights that also feature the relevant technology turn green. Insurance companies are increasingly relying on telematics to determine individual insurance premiums and policies for vehicles. Either the policy limits the area in which the insured vehicle can travel and the company checks this against the precise vehicle data that the telematics module reports, or they check where the vehicle has been and calculate the costs accordingly on an individual basis. The aim of these systems is to facilitate low-cost, personalised and on-demand insurance policies.

A mass product
Thomas Leipoldt, chief executive officer of Falcom Wireless Communications, the provider of tracking equipment for vehicle, people and property tracking, sees a further trend in the development of telematics towards mainstream applications. “The upper price limit for telematics mass products in the consumer sector is of course much lower than for high-end applications,” he says. “All in all, there has been a drop in price in the telematics sector with the move to the mainstream sector. In order to achieve the same turnover, units sold need to increase by 30 to 50%.”

However, the demands in the consumer sector are in some cases not quite so exacting. Telematics products in this sector generally do not need to withstand extreme temperatures (-40º to +80ºC) and they make fewer demands on the equipment in which they are installed, in terms of sturdiness and compatibility. Generally, consumer sector products require less elaborate equipping with software and interfaces than they do in the B2B sector. Here, it is also often important that the devices can be used anywhere in the world, in other words they must be able to cover all possible mobile radio frequency bands with quad band technology. Many high-end applications also need to be watertight and equipped with batteries that have an extremely long service life.

Technology trends
A number of trends are beginning to surface. Telematics devices work in a web-based way without any special, proprietary software, thus creating the high level of compatibility that users seek. Key functional parameters should be designed in the same way, but customers want to be able to control their specialist requirements themselves using flexible, individual parameter settings. Software updates should be possible via remote technology in order to maintain an application’s maximum value over the course of its entire service life. Wireless systems specialist, Telit has a novel solution to this in the form of its Firmware Update services, which were unveiled at the 2008 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year.

For the majority of telematics applications, the trend is heading towards smaller devices that, ideally, are concealed; this is especially important for personal tracking. The heart of every telematics device is a machine-to-machine (M2M) module that facilitates communication via GSM, GPRS, UMTS, and so on.

“The wireless world, especially in the entertainment sector, is driving the telematics market forward,” observes Mr Leipoldt. “We need M2M systems of the highest quality with an optimum price/performance ratio for our telematics products.” Companies like Falcom Wireless therefore tend to rely on the M2M experts for component innovation. Telit’s modules, for example - particularly those that feature the ball grid array assembly concept - facilitate direct connection to the PCB without need for plugs or cables. This not only reduces material costs, but also ensures that these modules are kept extremely small, thus saving assembly time because they are small enough to be installed using pick-and-place robots.

- Alexander Bufalino is senior vice president, global marketing, Telit Wireless Solutions

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