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What is Telematics?

Telematics is a disruptive automotive technology that utilizes IT and communication protocols to send, receive and store information pertaining to remote vehicles. The data is transmitted over a wireless network through secure means and an in-vehicle electronic device or smartphone is employed for establishing remote connectivity.

In this article, we explore the various facets of telematics and the key points to consider while developing a telematics system.

Here is an overview of the topics we are covering in this article:

How Does Telematics Work?

When we say that a vehicle is integrated with telematics, it essentially means that it is fitted with a crash-resistant black box with a complex electronic control unit inside. This black-box, also referred to as the T-Box in automotive engineering parlance, is a telematics control unit.

How Does Telematics Work

As indicated in the image above, the telematics device collects data from within the vehicle and relays it back to the IoT cloud through the communication channel. This information is then pushed to the telematics applications/back-office systems where it is analyzed, and business intelligence decisions are made.

Likewise, the back-end applications send data to the telematics control unit from IoT cloud through the same communication channel.

Telematics Control Unit & IoT Cloud Connectivity

An automotive telematics solution fundamentally has four building blocks:

  • Vehicle ECU Network – Inside the vehicle, there is an interconnected network of automotive ECUs, which are small super computers. These ECUs help the Telematics Control Unit to collect vehicle data such as engine temperature, vehicle speed, diagnostics information, etc.
  • Telematics Control Unit (TCU) – This control unit is the heart of the telematics device in the vehicle. It has communication interfaces with the vehicle’s CAN bus and the IoT cloud server. The telematics control unit collects vehicle data such as diagnostics information, vehicle speed and real-time location and transmits this information to the IoT cloud. The communication with the cloud server is established through a cellular, LTE or GPRS network. This information is stored in the IoT cloud and can be accessed by connected mobile or web apps in the IoT ecosystem.

    The TCU also manages the memory and battery of the telematics device. Additionally, it streamlines the data that is shared with the driver through the Human Machine Interface (HMI) device or dashboard.

  • IoT Cloud Server – The information that is collected by the telematics control unit is shared with the cloud-based telematics server through a highly secure GPRS or cellular network. These data packets are also configured as MQTT messages before they are transmitted to the IoT cloud.

    On the IoT cloud platform, the data is extracted and stored in databases for processing.

  • Telematics Applications – The data from the cloud-based telematics server can be accessed by authorized personnel through a web, desktop or mobile application connected to the IoT ecosystem. This data can also be fed into a business intelligence system for further analysis and reporting.

The following video explains this concept further.

Types of Telematics Systems

A vehicle’s telematics system can have a Telematics Control Unit or a Telematics Gateway Unit (TGU) based on the functionalities that the system is expected to perform.

  • Telematics Control Unit – A Telematics Control Unit is designed on a Microcontroller Hardware Platform. It is a low-power solution with low memory footprint. It also offers low data throughput. It can store offline data only for a small period of time.

    TCU can communicate over CAN and dual CAN. The hardware circuitry of TCU is less complex and it is hence, used as a low cost/entry level telematics solution.

    TCU facilitates vehicle tracking and management and remote vehicle diagnosis.

  • Telematics Gateway Unit – A Telematics Gateway Unit has a high-performing Application Processor Hardware Platform at its core. It offers various advantages when compared to a TCU. This includes higher data throughput and capacity to store offline data for a longer time.

    The TGU design, however, has high memory and power footprint.

    The complex hardware circuitry in a TGU enables it to communicate with multiple CAN networks and it also includes audio/video interface. It can also support vehicle ECU reprogramming; hence, it is important that the TGU is compliant with ISO 26262 Functional Safety Standards and has safety mechanism in place

Here is a handy guide that explains the differences between Telematics Control Unit and Telematics Gateway Unit – https://www.embitel.com/wp-content/uploads/TCU-and-TGU-Handbook-1.pdf

Telematics Use Cases

Telematics can be effectively used in various industries such as agriculture & forestry, construction, manufacturing, freight & delivery, retail, finance/insurance, mining, etc.

Some of the use cases of telematics in the automotive industry include the following:

  • Real-time tracking of your vehicle or fleet
  • Verification of driver using mobile apps
  • Driver monitoring and transfer of real-time data regarding over-speeding, theft, breakdown, accidents, etc.
  • Predictive maintenance of vehicle parts which include inspection and repair workflows

Let us classify these use cases and segregate them into the following broad categories:

  1. Telematics and Remote Vehicle Diagnostics
  2. Remote vehicle diagnostics basically includes monitoring remote vehicle status, collecting data and exchanging information in real-time.

    Remote vehicle diagnostics provides the following benefits:

    • Accident Notification and Roadside Assistance – The call center or vehicle monitoring authority gets notified of accidents, while the exact location of the vehicle is also shared. This enables the authority to take immediate action in the event of an unforeseen incident.
    • Non-crash Related Emergency Assistance – Remote diagnostics data also transfers non-crash related emergency signals to the monitoring authority.
    • Turn-by-turn (TBT) Navigation Assistance – The driver receives guidance through this technology while traversing unfamiliar territories. Traffic information on a pre-defined route is also easily available at the fingertips of the driver, courtesy of telematics technology.
    • Vehicle Health Report – The diagnostics data provides actionable intelligence on potential vehicle problems, root cause of automotive failures and how these issues can be fixed. This concept of monitoring vehicle parameters, comparing it with historical data and determining the chances/timelines for failure is commonly known as predictive or preventive maintenance. This enables the vehicle owner to pre-empt vehicle issues and take corrective measures in a timely manner.
  3. Telematics and Fleet Management
  4. Telematics is a necessity for effective fleet management. Crucial fleet information is gathered by the telematics system using sensors, GPS and engine diagnostics and this data is transmitted to the cloud. This enables the fleet manager to get information regarding the vehicle’s location, speed, and direction of movement. It also provides driver monitoring assistance and detects activities such as sharp braking, dangerous cornering, etc.

    In a nutshell, the advantages of using telematics technology for fleet management are as follows:

    • Telematics enables fleet managers to send/receive data to/from vehicles in real-time and eases the burden of managing large fleets.
    • It facilitates a magnified level of transparency in communication between the fleet manager, driver, and customer.
    • Vehicle health updates from the telematics device helps in preventive maintenance, which in turn, reduces operational costs.
    • The fleet efficiency improves tremendously as drivers have access to optimized routes.
    • Real-time location tracking and driver/vehicle monitoring activities boost the safety of the fleet and crew. Telematics devices are often installed with SOS buttons that enables the occupants of the vehicle to send emergency alerts and receive timely assistance. Remote locking/unlocking of the vehicle is another feature that prevents vehicle thefts.
  5. Telematics in the Insurance Industry
  6. Telematics car insurance is a form of vehicle insurance that has been steadily gaining popularity in recent years. One of the greatest advantages of opting for telematics insurance is that the insurance premium is based on the usage of the vehicle and driver behavior – and this data is collected by the telematics device. So, if you are a safe driver, chances are that you will be paying much lesser than what you would normally pay for your car insurance!

    Often referred to as usage-based insurance, smart box insurance or black box insurance, telematics car insurance works on the data collected by an electronic app installed on the driver’s smartphone or a telematics device fitted in the hardware of the vehicle.

    • Information regarding the roads traversed, time of the day, adherence to speed limits, smooth braking and acceleration, etc. are collected by the device and transmitted to the IoT cloud.
    • This data is stored in the cloud database and used by insurers to derive intelligence on the driver’s behavior and driving history.
    • This translates into the insurance premiums that are offered to them at the time of policy renewal.

    Another benefit of using the telematics device is that the insurer will be alerted of accidents involving the vehicle so that they can record crucial and accurate data for the claims process. This also averts any fraudulent claims by the policyholders.

Benefits of Telematics

The concept of telematics is not a recent introduction in the automotive industry. It was prevalent from 1996, but remained an untapped technology at that time due to the high investment cost for infrastructure setup and lack of consumer demand. However, the rise in popularity of vehicle connectivity has given telematics a new leash of life!

Some of the key benefits offered by the implementation of telematics are:

  1. Navigation – Telematics provides turn-by-turn navigation assistance to guide drivers easily to their locations. When drivers are able to access shortest routes to destinations, they are also able to save on fuel costs.
  2. Safety – Telematics devices collect safety-related information such as call for assistance during a crisis, emergency requests, stolen vehicle tracking, etc. and provide timely help to the vehicle occupants. Telematics also collects driving behavior data such as sharp braking, acceleration, etc. This information can be used to educate drivers so that they stay safe on the roads.
  3. Vehicle Performance – Users receive important vehicle health reports through the telematics system. This information can be very useful for fleet managers, as they can then schedule vehicle maintenance accordingly.
  4. Vehicle Visibility – Telematics empowers organizations so that they can track the location of their vehicles. Fleet managers can use the vehicle location data to make timely route adjustments while responding to traffic congestion, weather conditions, etc. This way, they can switch resources around and ensure that there is no delay in deliveries.
  5. Connectivity to Internet – The driver and passengers in the vehicle can utilize live weather forecasts, news bulletins and even information from social networking apps.
  6. Reduced Administrative Costs – Administration and compliance is simplified as telematics devices can be integrated with third-party apps that generate various types of reports.

Telematics for After Sales Revenues

The competition in the automotive industry is perennially growing. And OEMs need to find innovative ways to deliver value to customers and stay relevant. This has resulted in the usage of telematics for after sales monitoring and update of vehicles.

  • Business-to-product value add – The integration of telematics gateways in vehicles enables OEMs to wirelessly collect a large amount of data related to vehicle usage. This helps in generating insightful reports on vehicle maintenance and upgrade requirements. This information is shared with the customers and it enables them to keep the vehicle in great shape – a win-win situation for both parties.
  • Business-to-consumer value add – Telematics technology also enables OEMs and their partners to deliver useful content to the vehicle owners. This includes information such as traffic condition updates, maps, weather forecasts, stock updates, entertainment, etc.
  • Business-to-business value add – The data that is collected from the vehicles by the OEMs can be utilized by third-party businesses such as insurance companies, web portals that stream audio and video content into vehicles, fleet management companies, EV charging companies, etc.

There are various styles of delivery of telematics technology by OEMs:

  1. One approach is where the OEM provisions for the complete unit in the vehicle itself. The OEM also earns incremental revenue from the subscriptions taken by consumers. Support for third-party software and services will be available at an additional cost.
  2. In the second approach, along with the telematics device, smartphones also play a crucial role. In-auto systems need not have all the desired features, as these can be augmented through smartphone apps.

Do All Cars Have Telematics?

With the advent of connected and autonomous vehicle technology, more and more vehicles will be equipped with telematics technology in the future.

A report from Berg Insight clearly indicates how the aftermarket car telematics space is set to see phenomenal growth in the coming years. The report estimates that the total number of installed aftermarket car telematics systems worldwide was 58.7 million in 2018, and it will grow to 150 million in 2023 – an annual growth rate of 20.6 percent!

Telematica Annual Growth

Image Source – Berg Insight

Types of Vehicles in Which Telematics Can Be Used

Telematics devices can be fitted in all types of vehicles – Cars for personal use, fleet of trucks, buses, trailers, personal and cargo boats, tow trucks, etc.

Today, telematics control unit hardware is commonly found in commercial vehicles like buses and trucks. The telematics device helps in tracking these vehicles while they are at remote locations and also streamline fleet management requirements.

Telematics in Trucks

OEMs across the globe are integrating high-end telematics systems in their trucks, as it is now a necessity for such heavy vehicles to stay connected.

The IoT engineering team at Embitel have recently worked on the development of a Telematics Gateway Unit (TGU) for electric trucks. The primary purpose of the TGU was to facilitate Over the Air (OTA) updates by connecting with the vehicle manufacturer’s cloud infrastructure.

  • In case there is a need to update the software in the truck ECUs, the TGU receives this data from the cloud and it installs the updates. Hence, the telematics gateway unit acts as a gateway/master device to the rest of the components in the truck
  • The TGU also collects all the diagnostics data from the truck and transfers this information to the cloud. This crucial information is then used by the vehicle OEM and third-parties (such as fleet management companies) for optimizing the performance of the vehicle.

Based on project requirements, it is possible to configure the TGU and other vehicle dashboard components (such as digital instrument cluster) on the same hardware platform.

Telematics for Driverless Cars / Autonomous Vehicles

Although autonomous vehicle technology is still at its nascent stages, a large global market is observing the latest self-driving vehicle trends. There has also been a huge amount of investment made in developing technologies that fuel autonomous or partially autonomous vehicles.

One of the biggest aspirations in the industry is that self-driving vehicles will be able to reduce accidents and make the roads exponentially safer. For autonomous vehicles to be able to achieve this feat, it is crucial that the underlying telematics systems are empowered to be able to collect vehicle and location data seamlessly and utilize it for boosting the driving performance.

Modern-day telematics systems collate a large amount of information such as insights on fuel usage, vehicle speed, real-time location of the car, etc. All this information will be relevant even when autonomous vehicles become mainstream. In fact, it is estimated that the dependency on telematics to gather all this crucial information will increase when self-driving vehicles enter the roads.

  • Telematics devices help in determining when the autonomous vehicles are due for maintenance procedures through predictive maintenance.
  • In the event of an emergency, telematics devices can also send distress signals to the cloud from where it is redirected to emergency response teams for immediate action.
  • There will be increased demand for technology such as route planning and route optimization, as these are essential for self-driving vehicles.

All in all, the usage of telematics in the autonomous vehicle economy will be more pronounced than it is now.

Telematics Control Unit Architecture

As indicated above, the telematics control unit is a central part of a vehicle’s telematics system. It manages a host of functionalities such as:

  • Collection of vehicle data from the CAN Bus port
  • Managing the data collected over multiple communication interfaces
  • Battery and memory management of the telematics system
  • Streamlining two-way communication with the cloud server
  • Managing the communication with the HMI device

We will now take a look at the hardware architecture of the telematics control unit:

Telematics Control Unit Architecture

The various components of the TCU hardware are as follows:

  • Global Positioning System (GPS) – This module tracks the location of the vehicle (latitude and longitude).
  • Central Processing Unit – This module has data processing and memory management capabilities. If there is a requirement to have an advanced display-based telematics product, then Linux OS is preferred for the processor. For basic telematics products, Android OS is deployed on the processor.
  • CAN Bus Module – This unit manages all communication with the vehicle ECUs. The Telematics control unit exchanges information with the vehicle ECUs through the CAN Bus. It may also use K/Line Bus for specific functions such as theft alerts, remote locking of vehicle, etc.
  • Memory Unit – The memory unit stores information when there are disruptions in the network. It also stores vehicle information for future use. Advanced functionalities such as speech recognition are all managed by this unit as well.
  • Communication Interfaces – These interfaces support multiple communication channels such as Wi-Fi, cellular, LTE, etc.
  • GPRS Module – This module facilitates data connectivity and voice-based communication with remote devices. It often has an ordinary SIM card, e-SIM or plastic SIM card along with the GPRS modem.
  • Battery Module – The in-built battery module facilitates power management. It is a cost-effective source of backup for Real-Time Clocks when the automobile’s engine is off. It also helps in locating and recovering stolen vehicles by tracking telematics data even while the engine is switched off.
  • Bluetooth Module – This module enables connectivity to nearby devices like the user’s mobile phone.
  • Audio Interface – A microphone with audio interface facilitates hands-free calls and voice-based commands. It also helps in playing media files from the vehicle’s audio system.
  • General Purpose Input/Output Interface (GPIO) – This unit consists of I/O type interfaces for connecting lights and buttons.
  • HDMI port for HMI – The HMI is the place where information such as maps, fuel usage, vehicle speed, etc. are displayed to the driver. The HMI is connected to the TCU through an HDMI port.

Telematics Software Components

The telematics system in vehicles usually have the following software components:

  • Bootloader software stack for booting
  • Real Time Operating System (RTOS) and BSP modules
  • Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) software that assist in vehicle tracking in real-time
  • Multimedia device driver software
  • Automotive Framework Classes that enable applications to access telematics functionalities
  • Software that helps in data analytics which alerts the driver about fuel usage, vehicle servicing, etc.
  • Over the Air (OTA) update software
  • Security software that ensures multi-level security is maintained through data encryption, user authentication, device verification, etc.

Telematics System Development Considerations

During the design phase of a telematics system, it is important for the engineering team to lay out all the basic considerations and requirements. This could include security features to be implemented, flexibility of the design so that various communication protocols are supported, optimization of power consumption, reinforcing the system performance, etc.

The engineering team also has to consider the cost restrictions that outline the scope of the project. In other words, the engineers should be able to find the most suitable hardware components and software development methodology that optimizes system features, while staying close to the estimated budget.

It is also important to consider the regulatory compliance or certification requirements for the telematics product. Apart from this, the memory and power footprint optimization aspect should be given a serious thought.

Another important aspect to consider is the design of the telematics cloud server. The cloud database design, web server and application server design, and user role definitions and management are crucial aspects to consider during the telematics product design phase.

Telematics and IoT Security

The key to the development of a secure telematics system is planning during the design phase. We have an elaborate three part IoT security series on how to develop IoT systems/applications using holistic security principles. Some of these design principles can eliminate common design flaws and present you with a secure IoT product.

Listed below are some essential practices that will ensure that you build a secure telematics product:

  • At the beginning of the design phase, it is important to come up with a security architecture. This architecture should be the baseline when defining key interfaces and data flows.
  • Threat analysis and risk assessment is essential throughout the telematics system development journey. The functionalities that will reduce risks should be clearly highlighted.
  • During the software development phase, standard security best practices should be followed. Code reviews and testing should also consider the security aspects so that all hidden vulnerabilities are unearthed early on, in the project life cycle.
  • Include activities that address known security vulnerabilities in third-party components/libraries.
  • Do not allow additional privileges for system components and limit CAN Bus access, as much as possible.
  • Pay close attention to the security of communication channels.

Telematics and OBD

On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) is a mode of communication between the ECUs in a vehicle. OBD II is an international standard of communication written and regulated by the International Standards Organization (ISO) and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

All modern cars support OBD II protocol. With an OBD port that is fitted in a vehicle and an OBD connector, a technician can access the critical vehicle parameters in the form of Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC).

Initially, OBD II was predominantly used for vehicle engine diagnostics, but today, it is useful for various other purposes:

  • OBD II helps in analyzing vehicle speed and RPM
  • Through OBD II, it is possible to identify the fuel level in the vehicle
  • It also provides data on the time since the engine started
  • Throttle position is another OBD II parameter that may be useful to the end user
  • Idling time, engine health, distance covered, hard-braking, over acceleration, speeding and fuel efficiency are other parameters that can be recorded via OBD II.

In the beginning, most vehicle tracking devices were based on GPS. These systems transmitted data related to vehicle location so that companies could track their fleet. The introduction of OBD in vehicle tracking opened up a world of new opportunities to fleet managers.

Companies now had access to driver behavior information such as vehicle idling time, over speeding, sudden braking, etc. This enables them to discontinue unsafe driving practices.

Vehicle tracking devices that use OBD data are also able to notify the company when there is a problem with the engine.

To summarize, OBD enhanced telematics provides so much more information to fleet managers than GPS alone. It helps them stay up to date with the location of the fleet and also have a grip on the vehicle condition and driver behavior. Additionally, they can use the information received from each vehicle to lower fuel costs and improve the overall fleet efficiency.

A telematics solution can be connected to the OBD II port of a vehicle quite easily. An adapter can also be used, in case the vehicle does not have an OBD II port. Although the installation is quick, the data it collects is vast and extremely useful for fleet management.

How GPS Tracking Differs from Telematics

GPS is the use of satellite technology to track and trace the location of a vehicle or a device. It is useful for drivers who are seeking the way to a particular destination.

On the other hand, telematics is more than just GPS.

GPS is essentially a part of a telematics system. As explained above, telematics devices transmit data related to the location of the vehicle and also various other details such as driver behavior information, vehicle status, etc. The telematics device transmits all this information to the cloud in real-time.

AIS 140 Compliance

Automotive industry Standard (AIS) 140 is a set of regulations that are published by the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) for all commercial vehicles. It aims to build an intelligent transportation system in the country.

As per AIS 140, it is mandatory for all commercial and public transport vehicles to be equipped with vehicle tracking systems. These telematics systems are also required to have emergency buttons and camera surveillance for the safety of the vehicle’s occupants.

Some of the advantages of complying to this standard are given below:

  • Through AIS 140 compliance and the integration of tracking devices in commercial vehicles, the Indian public transportation sector is at the cusp of a technological transformation. This may be the cornerstone to more advanced automotive technologies such as ADAS, in the future.
  • If a vehicle meets with an accident or any other emergency situation, the transport authority will be able to locate it and send timely assistance.
  • In case some passengers in a commercial vehicle are in distress, they can easily send an SOS signal to the transport authorities.
  • AIS 140 compliance also enables authorities to monitor driver behavior – rash driving, sudden brakes, vehicle mishandling, etc. This helps in ensuring that safe driving practices are followed by public transport personnel.

Since the AIS 140 standard has been mandated by the Indian government, it becomes all the more important for the associated IoT architecture to be up to date. The transport authorities also need to have stringent surveillance and management mechanisms for the emergency requests from vehicles.

Telematics Implementation and Challenges

Some of the challenges faced by fleet management companies after the implementation of a telematics system are as follows:

  • Data Aggregation – Some fleet management companies deploy different telematics systems for each of their vehicle lines. For instance, a specific ready-to-deploy solution may be implemented for a line of trailers, whereas the trucks are fitted with another telematics solution. The biggest challenge that the company would face here is consolidating all the different data from the telematics devices. The act of generating cohesive reports after consolidation of data can itself become quite cumbersome. Companies can either use aggregation models to solve this issue or implement a custom-designed telematics solution that is integrated with a dedicated IoT cloud and end-user fleet management software. Although the investment on this front may seem a little higher initially, such an end-to-end solution will facilitate future scalability and provide better ROI in the long run.
  • Data Sharing – Ready-to-deploy telematics solution providers may have various clauses associated with the data sharing policies. It is best to clearly understand who owns the data and its security, before investing in such a solution.
  • User Acceptance – Drivers do not seem to favor the use of telematics as it encroaches into the territory of privacy. This has been a persistent roadblock in the adoption of telematics for fleet management

    Insurance companies are also facing similar challenges when convincing customers to opt for telematics-based insurance. Many insurers had to sacrifice some margin while introducing telematics, as they were offering discounts for customer acquisition. However, this is expected to even out over time, as customers will be more aware of their driving behavior and opt for safe driving practices. Gradually, accidents and claims will reduce, and the insurer margins are likely to improve..

The Future of Telematics

Telematics has been on the path of exponential growth in the automotive industry. These days, companies manufacturing heavy vehicles and luxury passenger cars opt for high-end telematics systems, complete with a telematics gateway unit.

The insurance industry is also embracing telematics in order to differentiate themselves from competition in the market.

Fleet management companies have recognized the need to integrate telematics technology in their operations to boost accountability, control costs and be compliant to government regulations. Fleet managers have also benefited immensely from the technology as it easily integrates with other software related to ERP, workforce management and business management.

Telematics can cater to a large list of use cases that we could have never imagined before. By leveraging the vast amount of data transmitted to the IoT cloud by telematics systems, it is possible to determine actionable insights for a variety of business scenarios.

For instance, the telematics cloud data can be used for urban analytics for smart cities, fleet performance benchmarking, predictive maintenance and suggestions for vehicle spares, to name a few.

All in all, telematics is poised to become an integral part of all future automobiles and we are certain that this will bring about a paradigm shift in the automotive industry. Exciting times ahead!


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