What are vehicle telematics and vehicle tracking?


Every few years a new technology appears that forever changes the way people communicate and do business with each other. GPS vehicle tracking systems arose from the evolution of personal computers, mobile phones, the GPS global positioning system, and the Internet. All of these 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 improve the functionality, productivity, and safety of both vehicles and drivers.”

A prominent part of many vehicle telematics solutions is vehicle tracking. Typical vehicle tracking systems are made up of two main parts; tracking hardware (also known as a Vehicle Tracking Unit or tracking device) and vehicle tracking software. The tracking device is usually installed with cables in the vehicle. For a simple vehicle tracking product, installation consists of fitting the device using a simple three-wire connection; power switch, battery and ground. Tracking devices using SIRF II or similar GPS receiver technology require the use of an antenna, external to the device, installed in line of sight to the sky to receive optimal GPS transmissions. A second antenna is used to transmit the data out of the device, typically using a mobile data network such as GPRS. State-of-the-art GPS receivers can mean installation dispenses with the use of an external GPS antenna. As stated, typical tracking hardware for a fleet management solution uses GPS to identify location. Updates are transmitted at a regular time interval, or after and including a trigger event, such as ignition on/off. The service provider typically makes this location/trip data available to the user via a website, where a secure login allows viewing of fleet activity live or historically, using digital maps 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. The entry-level “Live (or real-time) vehicle tracking” generally refers to systems that are simply configured to update at regular time intervals; 1 minute, 2 minutes or 5 minutes, etc. These short update intervals are used while the ignition state is on and once the vehicle is parked, with the ignition off the device will often go into hibernation or standby mode, transmitting updates intermittently or upon awakening by the next ignition or input from a motion sensor connected to the device.

Facing increasing competition and falling prices, many telematics service providers are eager to prove that telematics can mean more than just vehicle tracking. The advent of combined two-way messaging and satellite navigation products is one example of this product development. Fleet managers can choose to do more than just 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 the drivers, while the onboard navigation device automatically creates a travel route and sends the estimated time of arrival to the job dispatch office. This can lead to more jobs being completed per day, reduced travel times, saved fuel, and improved customer satisfaction.

When used in a commercial setting, vehicle telematics can be a powerful and valuable tool for improving the efficiency of an organization. Fleet activity can be analyzed and decisions can be made based on real information, not guesswork. Key performance indicators, including travel times, fuel economy, and driver hours, can be improved.

The challenge is finding the right tracking and telematics solution and then using the information it provides to ensure maximum return on investment is achieved.

Other terms used in connection with vehicle telematics may 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 UK Telematics Online website.

As vehicle telematics technology has developed and become more widely used, an increasing number and variety of vehicle tracking systems are becoming available to small business users.

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

vehicle tracking

Vehicle tracking is the technology of monitoring 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 a GPRS modem, which is installed in the vehicle. Tracking software is then used to view the data, available as a PC-based or web-based mapping and reporting application.

trailer tracking

Trailer Tracking is the technology of tracking the movements and position of an articulated vehicle trailer unit, by using a location unit installed on the trailer and a method of returning position data via mobile communication network or geostationary satellite communications, for use via PC or web-based software.

fuel saving telematics

The typical car, commercial vehicle or heavy vehicle built in the last few years now comes standard with on-board engine diagnostics. This information can be accessed through aftermarket products that capture data directly from the vehicles communication network. This communications network (CANbus) passes information through the vehicle connecting all the elements of the vehicle; engine performance, fuel usage, diagnostics, etc., various items of which can be captured and then streamed out of the vehicle for user analysis. Being able to show the driver that they are accelerating too much, not using cruise control enough, driving too fast, not using gears efficiently, etc., can improve fuel economy and reduce vehicle emissions. In addition to driving performance monitoring, vendors are beginning to offer ECU remapping to optimize vehicle performance. When combined with the ability to monitor vehicle performance and driver behavior, ECU remapping is promoted to deliver fuel economy savings of up to 10%.

GPS satellite navigation

GPS satellite navigation technology uses a GPS and electronic mapping tool to allow the user to locate a position, then plan the route and navigate a journey.

Mobile data

The use of wireless data communications using radio waves to send and receive real-time computer data to, from, and between devices used by field personnel.

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