The word “telematics” stems from the combination of telecommunications and informatics, and it was the joining of these two sciences that resulted in the field of telematics.

In its broadest sense telematics actually includes the internet itself, since it combines telecommunications (phone lines, cables, etc.) with informatics (such as computer systems). However, the term is now more commonly used to apply to vehicle telematics, where location information is used in different business applications. This article will focus on vehicle telematics, since it is one of the primary uses for this technology. We will consider how the technology originated and developed over the years.

Telematics — The early days

Telematics developed alongside the internet. As computers became smaller and more widespread, the need for an easy way to exchange data grew. This is when telecommunication technology was used to connect computers and telematics was born.

The actual term “telematics” was coined back in 1978 by Simon Nora and Alain Minc in their report titled “L'Informatisation de la société,” which was prepared for the French prime minister in response to the development of computer technology and the dawning of the information age.

Since that time, computer processors have become smaller and more ubiquitous, while telecommunication networks have become widespread and effective in transferring data, regardless of where the computer is located. Whether it's on a truck driving through the remotest parts of Alaska or a delivery van in Chile, GPS units with onboard computers can use either GPRS (cell phone networks) or GPS (satellite constellations) to transfer real-time data to central offices for effective fleet management.

Telematics — Today

Today there is practically no limit to the different applications for telematics. The world is becoming more connected every day, and new ways to use location-based information are being developed constantly.

A popular option for modern-day fleets is to utilize fleet management software (a branch of telematics) to coordinate the hundreds or thousands of vehicles they manage. Everything from fuel consumption to current speed and location can be viewed on a central dashboard. Fleet managers or VPs can get a birds-eye view of the entire fleet, checking the overall health, profitability and productivity of the fleet.

Some different applications of vehicle telematics include:

  • Vehicle tracking — Vehicles can be tracked using a combination of GPS satellites, GPS receivers, GPRS (cell phone) networks and cloud computing. A GPS receiver downloads information on its current location from GPS satellites, processing it for use with applications such as driver navigation, as well as transmitting that information via GPRS to the web servers (cloud computing) used by office-based staff for activities such as dispatching the nearest driver to a new job.
  • Trailer tracking — Long-haul fleets often attach GPS trackers to articulated trailers to make sure they don't go missing, and these same devices can route pick-up drivers directly to the stationary trailer. Truck drivers can tag the location in their GPS unit when unhitching a trailer, and those GPS coordinates can be easily passed on to another driver, allowing them to route directly to the trailer. The GPS system can also be setup so that should the trailer be moved without authorization, an instant alert is sent to a fleet manager's mobile device.
  • Insurance risk assessment — Insurance companies can use telematics to monitor driver behavior, allowing them to more accurately determine their risk factor and adjust their insurance premiums accordingly. GPS units can also report when a vehicle is used in a location outside a designated area (known as a geofence), a capability that is useful in situations such as offering specific 'off-road' farm vehicle discounts.

These are just a few of the many different applications for vehicle telematics, but it gives you an idea of how the technology is being used in practical business applications.

Telematics — The future

Vehicle telematics is poised to keep growing exponentially as computer applications are developed to take advantage of the growing number of GPS units, increased processing power and widespread use of mobile devices. Growth since 2007 has been in double-digits as more and more fleets recognize the necessity of monitoring fleet activity closely to control costs and ensure compliance with government regulations.

The future of telematics will largely be determined by the needs of fleet owners who continue to look for ways to cut costs, boost productivity and improve accountability. Vehicle makers are likely to capitalize on this growth by installing OEM telematics solutions as they continue to develop smart cars that use telematics technology to deliver better results for customers.