Telematics is the general term referring to any device or system that uses telecommunications to create, store, find, share, or manipulate data.   Today’s vehicles rely more and more on this type of technology for both performance and convenience.

For example, telematics can monitor the location, movement, status and behavior of a vehicle. Telematics can tell you know when a vehicle starts and shuts down, as well as its idling status, location and speed.  Telematics can also be used for “infotainment” purposes.  And, all the talk these days is about the use of telematics in vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.

For enterprises relying on fleets of vehicles to move their goods or people, the rapid growth of vehicle connectivity presents opportunities and challenges.

Telematics opportunities

Telematics play an important role in the repair and servicing of vehicles.  Wireless technology permits remote monitoring of the health and safety of a vehicle’s systems while it is on the road and in the garage.  There is a range of data available for monitoring, including, among other items, odometer reading, engine hours, diagnostic trouble codes, fuel level, battery voltage, and oil pressure and level.  A vehicle’s telematics system also has the ability to wirelessly receive services and software updates, as well as send information regarding a vehicle’s operational status in real time.

Telematics also allow for real-time vehicle location on an electronic map.  This function also allows the capture of such information as vehicle speed and direction, as well as the creation of a “snail trail” for a specific time period to review a vehicle’s recent locations and activities.

Pre-trip and post-trip inspections of vehicles can be facilitated by telematics. These inspections are required by numerous jurisdictions for certain size trucks.  A smartphone, tablet or terminal can be part of a telematics system to make these inspections easy, with data transmitted in real-time.

“Looking toward the future, telematics is quickly becoming an important part of the “smart” connected vehicle.”

Telematics can ease compliance with federal regulations requiring drivers to track and keep logs of their hours of service. If fleet sustainability is an organizational goal, telematics can be used to track or reduce idling, monitor the carbon footprint and even encourage eco-driving. Well-managed fleets put a premium on safety and telematics can monitor driver behavior in order to identify, restrict or eliminate behaviours like texting and driving that increase risk.

Looking toward the future, telematics is quickly becoming an important part of the “smart” connected vehicle.  This will likely provide significant safety benefits by enabling vehicles to communicate with each other and with the roadway network, as well as quickly communicate to authorities the need for emergency assistance.

Challenges of telematics

In 2016, the FBI and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a warning to the general public and manufacturers of vehicles, vehicle components, and aftermarket devices “to maintain awareness of potential issues and cybersecurity threats related to connected vehicle technologies in modern vehicles.”

The bulletin further advised, “Modern motor vehicles often include new connected vehicle technologies that aim to provide benefits such as added safety features, improved fuel economy, and greater overall convenience. Aftermarket devices are also providing consumers with new features to monitor the status of their vehicles. However, with this increased connectivity, it is important that consumers and manufacturers maintain awareness of potential cybersecurity threats.”

The interaction between vehicle systems, wireless communications, and diagnostic ports provide portals through which adversaries may be able to remotely attack vehicles’ controls and systems.  In addition, OEMs have concerns that third-party devices connected to the vehicle through the diagnostics port can introduce vulnerabilities by providing external connectivity.

Other challenges associated with the increased use of telematics involve increased liability and being forced to change existing operating procedures. If an organization CAN access information related to driver behavior or safe driving practices, they may be liable for information that they could have and should have accessed, even if they DID not.  Also, the legislated use of options such as Electronic Log Books means many trucking and delivery organizations have to fundamentally change their operating procedures.

One industry group, NAFA Fleet Management Association, is working with OEMs, federal and state governments, suppliers, and the auto care industry to develop solutions to take advantage of connected vehicle technology while protecting the vehicle.  NAFA has also developed a list of recommended actions with regard to vehicle security, individual privacy, access to the onboard diagnostic port, and ownership of the data collected from vehicles (see sidebar).