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TELEMATICS: Life with a little black box

Date: 21 March 2007

Over the past three months we have been secretly trying out a tracking and telematics device from Quartix, which we fitted to our long-term Ford S-max. Tristan Young reports

Having been bombarded by masses of tracking and telematics firms offering us a multitude of systems, we thought it was time to take up an offer and try one out.

We decided to try Quartix's system, and its installation was simplicity itself. A man in a van arrived at our car park and the device was installed in our long-term Ford S-max inside a couple of hours - leaving no evidence that the car had even been touched.

With the black box fitted we've been using the car normally ever since.

The system is web-based and so intuitive that anyone with a computer can use it. Managing and viewing data about where our S-max had been at any given moment was easily accessed from a PC [1], though it didn't work quite so smoothly from an Apple Mac.

Alongside being able to monitor your drivers live [2] online, the Quartix system also sends both daily and weekly emails in Excel software format to give a run down of what each vehicle's been up to, showing useful information such as maximum speed, journey times and distances, [3] and if you set an average mpg it will even show fuel usage in litres.

The journey times and speeds will be particularly useful for anyone concerned with duty of care and driving on work business. The system can also help drivers compare the merits of different routes to the same destination in terms of journey times and traffic flow. [4] Quartix can also set a huge range of alerts for driver and vehicle behaviour. (We set a two minute engine idle alert to track the large amount of time our drivers spend stuck in London traffic.)

The only difficulties we hit were that tracking didn't work abroad because the system, which uses the Orange phone network, wasn't set up for European roaming - although this can be resolved if a customer requests it. And a small software glitch meant we had to update the link between real vehicle location and what showed up on the map (an easy process), so that when we were actually parked in one particular spot the correct road name was shown. (A vagary of the mapping software, according to Quartix.)

Costs are always a sensitive issue, and based on three years/60,000 miles the Quartix tracking system will raise your running costs by 1.8 pence per mile. A not insignificant amount, but the duty of care benefits and minimising wasted mileage for both driver and vehicle could easily mean it's money well spent.

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