With fuel prices hitting $4 in many areas across the United States this spring, telematics solutions providers have seen a spike in interest for their offerings. Yet suppliers are quick to note that fuel efficiency is just one of many concerns addressed by their hardware and software portfolios. The latest telematics advancements report and monitor nearly all aspects of distribution, including mapping, driver safety, vehicle health and efficiency.

Telematics solutions present the opportunity to capture data on the various elements of distribution, which could have far-reaching effects, notes Chris Ransom, director of sales engineering for Networkfleet Inc., San Diego.

“It’s really about squeezing additional minutes, not only hours, but minutes out of a day, in order to increase efficiency,” Ransom says. “If you can get an extra delivery on each vehicle every week, maybe you could do with one less vehicle, and think of all the costs associated [with that] between the driver, the vehicle itself, the vehicle maintenance and insurance.”

Cyndi Brandt, vice president of marketing for Roadnet Technologies, Towson, Md., notes that a top priority is safety. “Our customers that are putting in telematics, their No. 1 initiative is to make sure that every driver gets home back to their family every day safe,” Brandt notes.

The company designed its Roadnet Telematics solution to address four key components: fleet health and maintenance; risk and safety management; productivity; and compliance. Its hardware is equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) as well as an accelerometer. Roadnet’s portfolio also includes its CheckMate software, which collects data from Roadnet Telematics’ hardware.

Roadnet Technologies’ MobileCast product is able to take real-time GPS information from the hardware and combine it with the plotted route, Brandt says. This provides customers with the information on whether their drivers are where they are supposed to be relative to the route plan, she notes. The company’s next innovation is around vehicle health alerts, which Brandt says is the next logical, proactive step for telematics.

More than maps

Earlier this year, Miami-based Ryder System Inc. launched RydeSmart 3.0, the latest version of its telematics product releases, which is offered as a Web application, or software as a service (SaaS). The updated version includes a mapping feature in which users can create and view clusters of vehicles and landmarks, follow the movements of multiple vehicles simultaneously, overlay traffic information in a four-color intensity code, and play back the last 48 hours of a vehicle’s history, says Krish Inbarajan, senior director of telematics for Ryder System. RydeSmart 3.0 also has an analytics capability that provides extensive fleet, safety and travel data for some or all of a fleet’s vehicles, Inbarajan notes.

“With this feature, fleet managers can pull reports on individual vehicles or a group of vehicles to see how a fleet operates in terms of certain key metrics, [such as] total miles driven, total travel time, idle time, speed, etc.,” he says. “Managers can then use this information to coach their drivers and teams on delivering better efficiency.”

Ryder System’s program facilitates regulatory compliance for fleets through paperless trip reporting for interstate fuel tax calculations and also provides electronic driver logs, reports and alerts to facilitate compliance with U.S. Department of Transportation Hours of Service regulations, Inbarajan says.

Also operating a SaaS model, Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Telogis provides a number of telematics solutions, including a route-based option that allows customers to conduct strategic planning and route optimization, says Sean McCormick, product manager of Telogis fleet Progression and Mobile. Enabling customers to compare planned routes with actual routes, Telogis Progression allows customers to make decisions and changes based on real-time route information.

In addition, Telogis also offers solutions that communicate engine diagnostics as well as integration with third-party fuel card providers in which the customer can overlay fuel card transaction data with location information. With this data, a management team can be made aware of how fuel is being used within a fleet, including tracking average miles per gallon as well as comparing transaction and vehicle location information in the event of fraudulent charges, McCormick notes.

In-cab communication

Teletrac, Garden Grove, Calif., recently launched its Fleet Director 9 and Fleet Director Tablet program advancements. One of the updated features of Fleet Director 9 is an optional highly functional in-cab display and messaging unit, explains Lisa Chiranky, director of marketing for Teletrac. A vibrantly colored screen provides drivers with access to software capabilities including on-board navigation with turn-by-turn driving instructions and lane guidance; hours of service with eLogs; and two-way messaging technology in which drivers can see incoming messages from dispatch while in navigation mode, Chiranky notes.

The company’s latest release also offers fast, detailed interactive mapping that is rendered in tile mode, which gives dispatchers the ability to view multiple maps on the same screen while retaining individual control of each tile, she explains. It also organizes safety information into dashboards providing real-time data on an entire fleet, a user-selected group of vehicles or individual vehicle. Fleet Director 9 also enables users to interactively trend variables including miles per gallon, speed violations, driver incidents, exceptions, fault codes, utilization, idle time, miles driven, engine and travel time, Chiranky notes.

Offering additional synergies, Teletrac’s Fleet Director Connect lets users seamlessly integrate existing software with Fleet Director and the real-time data it generates, such as dispatch, route scheduling and fuel tax reporting, she says. The updated software also uses a drag-and-drop feature to select a variety of metrics for custom analysis and report generation, Chiranky explains.

The most recent launch from Seattle-based Zonar Systems is a driver feedback device equipped with a 1-inch LED screen that visually signals alerts to drivers. Connected by a wire to Zonar Systems’ telematics hardware, the driver feedback device allows management or dispatchers to send real-time visual alerts to a driver regarding driving behavior and vehicle health, explains Chris Oliver, vice president of sales and marketing for Zonar Systems.

The driver feedback device is an extension of the company’s alerting suite in which fleet managers can set acceptable parameters for a variety of behaviors and data. When a vehicle or driver operates outside of those acceptable parameters, the alerting suite sends a notification via text message, e-mail or screen pop-up within the software. Additional levels of notification also are available to alert more personnel if the item is not addressed within a pre-determined amount of time, Oliver explains.

Zonar Systems’ telematics solutions also constantly monitor the health of the vehicle, a feature that also can be set up to issue real-time alerts regarding performance issues.

Integrating extras

Innovation is the cornerstone of Atlanta-based NexTraq, which offers telematics solutions with such features as Google Maps, communication through Skype and fuel card integration, explains Alain Sergile, director of product management at NexTraq. In addition, NexTraq’s solutions are able to send dispatch information to a driver’s personal navigation device and provide alerts regarding vehicle sensors, he notes. In the last year, the company also added the ability to overlay informative maps onto its existing route maps.

“If, for example, you are a distribution company that serves several states and you can see some of these weather systems coming across, you can overlay a National Weather System map onto our map,” Sergile says. “So you can see that a driver that’s going down I-85 might encounter some storms in Tennessee and advise him of that proactively. [You’re] also able to see construction that is occurring on a stretch of highway and you can set up appropriate detours for that.”

The company also created a driver identification accessory that requires a key fob to be swiped in a vehicle prior to operation. This allows NexTraq’s telematics to associate a driver with a vehicle for tracking purposes and adds an extra element of security, Sergile says.

“A lot of our customers have assets that get stolen and these types of technologies enable them to essentially put their vehicles on ice until the right person has the right key fob,” he explains. “It’s essentially another key to the vehicle, and we’re helping our customers reduce theft.”

With solutions built around its custom-designed, durable hardware and software, Networkfleet aims to help its customers transform their businesses, Ransom explains.

“Let’s say after two years of using Networkfleet [customers] want to look at their operations and say, ‘Our entire operation is totally transformed because of telematics,” he says. “ … I don’t even recognize the way in which we operate. Our fleet is smaller. We have fewer drivers. We drive way fewer miles. We make more deliveries.’”

In line with that end-goal, Networkfleet designs solutions that provide more information, such as job and stop reporting as well as access to past data for more lengthy reporting periods, to its customers in easier-to-obtain ways, Ransom says. It also is planning the upcoming launch of its comprehensive safety reporting suite that will go beyond monitoring speed and idling and into measuring fuel usage through the vehicle’s accelerometer. In addition, the new suite will be able to monitor whether a driver is actually wearing his or her seat belt.

With so many factors going into efficiency and safety, Ransom predicts increased growth for telematics in the next 10 years.

“The industry is barely scratching the surface with telematics,” he explains. “The penetration rate is still around 25 percent, maybe a little bit lower, and with that in mind, most of the industry is still looking for that first-line functionality. They haven’t even had a chance to take advantage of that normal mapping, idling, speeding and trip-reporting stuff that’s kind of basic telematics. For most companies, we’re still looking at how do we get you into telematics so that you can start taking advantage of the most obvious and easy things?” BI