Keep on trucking

28 Apr 2008

Intelligent transport technology using telematics is set to transform the logistics world forever.

It’s 3am in the morning as the Irish truck driver passes Rouen and spots a sign for Le Havre. “Not long now,” he thinks, as he envisions a meal and some shut-eye on the voyage home. His reverie is disrupted by a call from an operator at the supply hub back in Dublin.

“Jimmy!” the operator beckons. “Will you cool it on the speed. You’re doing over 120km per hour. You’ve been driving non-stop for the past few hours. Be careful or you’ll kill someone. Slow it down!”

This scenario sounds futuristic, but the technologies are in place to allow businesses keep an eye on assets such as trucks using a combination of mobile technology and internet mapping systems.

The field of expertise, known as telematics, is being used by businesses to boost efficiency, security and also to eliminate road injuries and even deaths.

Vehicle telematics systems can be used for a variety of purposes from managing road usage, pricing vehicle insurance, tracking fleet vehicle locations to cold-store logistics, retrieving stolen vehicles and accident prevention.

Telematics systems are also increasingly being used to provide remote diagnostics: a vehicle’s built-in system will identify a mechanical or electronic problem, and the telematics package can automatically make this information known to the vehicle manufacturer service organisation.

The telematics monitored system is also capable of notifying any problems to the owner of the vehicle via text message or email. Other forthcoming applications will include on-demand navigation, audio and audiovisual entertainment content.

Few realise, however, that a Galway-based company is at the cutting-edge of innovation in the field of telematics and counts major businesses including Balfour Beatty as customers.

Celtrak, a spin-out from Connaught Electronics Ltd, is eight years old and regarded internationally as a pioneer in the field of telematics and intelligent vehicle management technologies, beginning with its inaugural FleetWatch system and more recently with its DataPod system that vehicle manufacturers will place in new vehicles.

“Using the latest internet-design principles, combined with fleet management technology, the aim is to deliver systems that provide a benefit for companies in terms of logistics and operational management,” said Celtrak managing director, Padraig Kenny.

“The technology can be used to enable security and asset protection, ensure customer service delivery and also guarantee health and safety for company employees.”

Kenny continued: “We have developed on-board units that go into vehicles and take the GPS co-ordinates, and collect information from other sensors within vehicles using mobile phone GPRS technology.

“Information gathered would include driver information, vehicle speed and geographic location to name a few.

“We collect the data through our data centre and then present that information to businesses using web-based applications for real-time deployment.”

Celtrak’s latest product, Festino, is a telematics-based IT solution designed especially for the operations management needs of companies involved in the distribution and maintenance of utilities — electricity, gas, water or telecommunications — as well as waste management and road maintenance.

Kenny said the worldwide phenomena of utilities liberalisation, market deregulation and technology innovation has resulted in profound changes for these industries. The new competitive pressures are also encouraging customers to demand fixed-price contracts for projects and service relationships and to insist on higher standards of service.

Telematics contained in Festino enable companies to streamline processes, increase coordination and optimise the utilisation of remote and mobile assets.

“It’s really all about asset utilisation these days, such as to reduce fuel costs or insurance costs. For example, by giving a clear picture to insurers of how a vehicle is being used, including idling time, this could bring down the cost of insurance.”

In terms of providing customers with better services, geo-sensing enables firms to give customers an accurate picture of delivery times. “It can also have cost benefits insofar as firms can manage turnaround times in a delivery depot, how long it takes to unload or load a truck, and also generate alarms if the vehicle is speeding.”

Linking telematics in with existing IT systems, Kenny says, will become increasingly common. “Businesses can integrate telematics with work and project management systems or enterprise resource planning systems to give them a holistic view of their operation by getting real-time information.”

Looking to the future, Kenny says that telematics will become standard in vehicles including private cars from 2012. “Truck manufacturers such as Volvo have been putting telematics into their vehicles for some time, but expect them to become standard in all vehicles within the next four years,” he concludes.

By John Kennedy