Munich, Germany - Telematics started in motorsport, as a way for the car to tell its pit crew exactly what it, and its driver, were doing, particularly as most racing drivers are too busy staying in front of the next guy to make clinical observations of the car’s behaviour.
But the technology has since found its way into the transport and logistics sector. At first this was on a purely technical level; by remotely monitoring the level of metal swarf in the lubrication system of a long-haul truck, the fleet manager can tell when it’s due for an oil change and fit the service into the truck’s busy schedule.
More importantly, a sudden rise in metal pollutants can warn of impending bearing failure, enabling the manager to get the truck off the road before it breaks down and arrange for another truck to pick up the trailer and deliver the load with the least possible loss to time.
Controversially, it can also allow management to monitor overloading (this is a hot potato because drivers often insist it is management that insists on exceeding load limits) and driver performance. This facility is now also being used by insurers to measure the proficiency of their clients and reward smooth, law-abiding driving habits with money back or lower premiums.
Big brother is right there in the cab with you
Orwellian though it sounds, with the advent of satellite tracking it is also to tell where the truck is, whether it is ahead of or behind schedule, how much fuel the driver is using and whether or not he is taking the prescribed breaks. Sloppy drivers hate such monitoring, experts regard it as a challenge.
But as in the early application of any technology, each supplier had its own version, which was not compatible with any of the others (think video recorders, computer operating systems, cellphone chargers).
Now however, Volkswagen subsidiary Rio has released a new cloud-based ‘black box’ fleet data system that it says is compatible with all systems and manufacturers. And one of its first customers is German truck and bus specialist MAN, which is now including the Rio Box as standard on all new Euro 6-standard truck series in Europe, laying the foundations for a future infrastructure with services that can link up the entire transportation and logistics industry.
A security server based in Germany transmits the data encrypted by the Box before making it available to the customer via the platform, enabling it to offer additional functions, including the analysis of vehicle data such as engine revs, speed, fuel level or brake usage by the driver.
The Rio Box is not only compatible with all systems and manufacturers, it’s designed specifically to be used in mixed fleets, so a small business with two bakkies and three different delivery trucks can also become part of the logistics network. In the future, says Rio boss Markus Lipinsky, retrofits for fleets with existing fleet management systems will also be possible, and you’ll be able transfer your existing data onto the Rio system in encrypted format so that not even Rio can pry into your business without your permission.
You, the customer, can decide what information you want to share on the Rio platform and how much you want to benefit from the platform’s digital solutions. And while we can understand the frustration of some drivers at being so closely monitored, hopefully it will also protect them from exploitation through brutally long shifts and impossible scheduling.