Telematics, now ubiquitous in the trucking and transportation industry, have evolved greatly since their introduction. Early systems revolutionized how fleets visualized route networks, managed operations, and connected to drivers. Over 40 years, capabilities have improved drastically, enabled by key technologies, and prodded forward by key pieces of legislation.
Each stage of this lifecycle brought about new benefits and challenges. I’ll argue that we’re in the last part of the third “maturation” stage of telematics and already transitioning to the fourth stage—”extension.” Let’s review the stages and their characteristics and look forward to what’s next.
Stage 1: Foundation
Vehicle tracking started in the late 1960’s with experiments by vehicle OEMs to track vehicle distribution through early mainframe computing technology. The world got desktop computers, making computing power accessible to businesses and consumers. Early solutions like RoadNET pioneered automation of routing. Qualcomm set the stage for telematics with its CDMA wireless data standard enabling mobile connectivity with its in-cab devices.
Stage 2: Expansion
The second stage of telematics was ushered in by several critical technologies in the early 90’s. In 1995, the US government made GPS available for commercial purposes. Simultaneously, cellular data networks became truly viable. The protocols and physical connectivity for accessing data on heavy and light vehicles was also a key catalyst for telematics. Standardization of the OBD port in light vehicles, driven by mandate from the California Air Resources Board, happened in 1994. The OBD-II standard became mandatory for all cars sold in the US in 1996. The SAE J1708/J1587 standards were adopted in heavy vehicles in 1995.
Congress accelerated the conversation about available technologies to address driver fatigue. The FMCSA was established in the 2000 and an early requirement for electronic HOS logging was drafted (killed by court order in 2004).
Stage 3: Maturation
The third stage of telematics started around 2010, when technologies for cellular data, location-based services, and vehicle data access had matured. Mobile phone ownership reached a critical mass, and the launch of app stores made it easier to distribute apps. The number of companies creating solutions for vehicle tracking, maintenance, asset management and other applications (many using OBD-II dongles, web portals and mobile apps) exploded.
The FMCSA announced the universal ELD mandate. In 2010, ELDs became required for fleets with serious safety problems. In 2012, Congress passed the MAP-21 Act, establishing the mandate for ELDs along with a study on how to implement them. In 2015, the final mandate passed, defining requirements for compliant ELDS, and adoption timelines in all trucks that met the requirements.
Stage 4: Extension
The ELD mandate had a massive impact on transportation technology, driving a critical mass of heavy CMVs to get connected to the cloud and providing a steady stream of data. Tapping this incredible wealth of data (along with that from light vehicles) is the defining aspect of the “extension” stage of the telematics lifecycle. This is already taking shape—connectivity between the telematics platforms and back-office applications and third-party services used in managing trucking operations is commonplace. HOS and location data are pulled into TMS solutions for dispatch. Drivers have complete mobile apps with stops, navigation, and tools to capture service and delivery data. Data from braking systems is added to video and other driver behavior data to help improve coaching and safety event investigation.
Here are a few areas where the extension of telematics data has taken hold, or may take hold in the future, that could change the industry in interesting ways:
Leveling the Playing Field: I traced a recent purchase from the time my order was received, through manufacturing, into fulfillment, and into the logistics channel. It ended with a picture of the box at my front door. This is truly remarkable, in that the logistics network covered number of third parties, including the final mile, all linked together. This isn’t just big well-equipped fleets like it used to be. Small fleets and O/Os can get here, and it’ll get easier over time.
Adjusting route networks: telematics has had a major impact on global manufacturing by enabling lean process and JIT. A self-feeding cycle of optimizations to manufacturing/assembly facilities and distribution hub/spoke systems is influencing route network design and fleet composition, with regional hauling growing by strong volumes.
Adjusting fleet composition: Data on load volumes and types, traffic and route timing are helping fleets get the best vehicle in the best position, reducing time in traffic, fuel burn and carbon footprint. Finding the right places to use big trucks, small trucks and even e-bikes in urban centers is having a big impact on efficiency. And because of data sharing, this can be contracted to third parties—so big fleets don’t have to maintain electric bikes.
Better data on roads and traffic: We have enough data and enough cameras on our roads that we’ll soon be able to get better picture of what our truckers experience in terms of road infrastructure problems. Organized data sharing and modeling will improve how road construction projects are prioritized and funded.
Better safety guidance for drivers: The same infrastructure data can be combined with weather, traffic, and accident records to enable proactive safety guidance to drivers in real time. A driver may not know about an exposed area for high wind, a tight curve that becomes dangerous in certain circumstances, or road conditions that present unplanned hazards. But he or she should—just as airline pilots have early detection systems for wind shear and traffic, so will our truckers.
These are just a few areas that the extension stage of telematics will have on trucking. There are many more—automated vehicles, platooning, global supply chain visibility, improved ADAS. While the first stages of telematics were about hardware and data capture, the next stage is about harnessing and unleashing that data, bringing about new challenges—privacy, workforce relations—but also new benefits—including enhanced safety, operating efficiencies, and new business models.