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Why Your Vehicles Should Tell You Everything They Do

Telematics — systems that mix telecommunications and IT with vehicles — offer companies the ability to track a wealth of detailed information about vehicles in real-time, allowing them to make changes related to fleets on the fly or based on analysis of past performance.

Telematics can also improve safety by monitoring seat belt use, if air bags go off and vehicle speed; Chris Jones, executive vp of solutions and services for logistics company Descartes, said that government mandates related to driver performance reporting is the main factor driving telematics adoption.

Speaking during "How Telematics and IT Are Reshaping Transportation," a webcast during's VERGE virtual conference, Jones said telematics used to be viewed as something to use solely for reporting, but it's quickly becoming a method for real-time monitoring.

Using telematics, companies can view various information related to what their vehicles are doing, where they are and the status of parts. 

Coupling real-time data with constant monitoring of vehicles allows companies to make both snap decisions or handle emergencies better, but also to look at historical performance and make changes based on that data.

UPS, for instance, has used telematics to cut nearly 29 million miles out of how far its trucks drive every year. That reduction comes not only from planning routes better, said UPS vice president of engineering and maintenance Mike Hance, but also from cutting down on truck idling.

UPS's drivers have reduce idle time on average about 15 minutes per day, adding up to a potential 1.4 million gallons of fuel a year.

The biggest challenge for a company of UPS' size, which has more than 92,000 vehicles and telematics soon in 42,000 of them, is the sheer amount of data that comes in. Telematics systems can sends thousands of pieces of data a day from vehicles; UPS's trucks each have more than 200 sensors on them. "The sensors work well, but what you do with that extremely important," Hance said.

Moving beyond business fleets, telematics will play a key role in the adoption and use of connected and autonomous vehicles like those being tested by Google, said Larry Burns, professor of Industrial and Operations Engineering at University of Michigan and co-author of "Reinventing the Automobile." But selling the idea of vehicles connected to a network to everyday drivers is different from selling to businesses.

"We have to focus on consumers and the total experience," he said. Consumer acceptable, along with issues around liability and privacy, will be the main constraints on building a market for cars that can drive themselves or share information with other vehicles.

But with promises that such vehicles will make commuting a more pleasurable experience for people by letting them use travel time to do something else, drive more efficiently, and improve safety, Burns expects that use of such vehicles will start scaling rapidly around 2018-2020. What more, nothing would need to be done with roads to bring autonomous vehicle in. "We think most, if not all, of this can be done without infrastructure changes," he said.

Photo by Goodwin Ogbuehi,

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