IN-CAR TOOLS: Easy does it
12 October 2010
New technology and innovation is increasingly making life simpler and safer for those high-mileage drivers that spend their life on the road, reports Rachel Burgess
The market for in-car solutions that ease life in the cabin is ever-expanding as businesses capitalise on increased demand from high-mileage motorists wanting to manage theirs lives while on the move.
Advances in technology mean many business drivers can run their office without having to step foot in one, while improved car safety and security, along with navigation systems, make journeys increasingly more comfortable.
Satellite navigation is a given to many drivers today, and is constantly improving, providing a much more interactive service than merely original route planning.
Trafficmaster has 5200 sensors on UK roads monitoring real-time traffic flow so that users of its SmartNav system keep moving rather than get stuck in congestion. Its TrafficMaster Companion product, compatible with a number of smartphones, works with SmartNav to provide route guidance and assistance in breakdowns or emergencies through so-called 'personal assistants'. The firm has also recently introduced International Rescue, which means drivers can receive help in the event of an accident or emergency abroad.
Mark Miller, Trafficmaster product manager, says: "We're particularly concerned at how the effects of driving stress last throughout many peoples' day, impacting their productivity and effectiveness at work and potentially having a negative effect on their overall health. Being smart about journeys can be critical in reducing stress in your life."
The company's telematics system, Fleet Director, also allows two-way messaging functionality, enabling real-time communication between fleet managers and drivers. Using SmartNav, it takes into account road speeds and traffic conditions, and the driver can save time because the fleet manager can send a route straight from a PC to the vehicle.
TomTom Business Solutions is also moving forward with its products, recognising that "the car's role as a mobile office is increasing in importance every year", according to Irvin Gray, UK marketing manager. "With internet access on the verge of becoming commonplace in vehicles, this trend is only going to grow," he says.
Its most basic telematics offering, vehicle tracking systems, allows the location of drivers in real time, enabling the efficient dispatch of work flow, says Gray.
"This benefit is enhanced when paired with the text-messaging communications capability," he says. "This allows a schedule to be entered at the beginning of the day and ad hoc appointments to be added without the need to ring back to the office - reducing the use of mobile phones, saving money, adding to safety and offering a more stable means of communication.
"When satellite navigation is added, addresses for appointments can be automatically uploaded saving the driver further time. Commitment to mapping and routing technology means drivers get to their destination in the quickest time avoiding unnecessary hold ups adding to the stress of their day."
Gray adds: "As all journeys are logged (with the option of using criteria such as personal or business mileage) there are taxation and duty of care benefits to the driver and employer."
Office on the move
BMW is at the forefront of the in-car office revolution with its ConnectedDrive system. A BMW spokesman said: "ConnectedDrive offers a number of features that will be of obvious benefit for the business driver. First and foremost is the introduction of ComBox to the UK. This allows, for cars with the correct specification, to display calendar items, tasks and notes in the iDrive display. Text-to-speech capability also allows for those important message to reach the businessman while he is driving.
"There are also various safety features, such as emergency assist, breakdown assist and day-to-day functions such as news and weather downloads, the call-up info service and information on your current location or destination. Full internet access is currently available in some European markets and this too will be coming to the UK in due course."
Other safety features include a direct link to the emergency services, and in extreme situations the crash or airbag sensor will automatically activate an emergency SOS call. In a similar vein, BMW has also created a direct link with its breakdown and recovery service, which tracks where you are through the car's satellite navigation system.
As well as these safety benefits, the carmaker has introduced Information Plus, which connects you to an operator who can find the details for restaurants, hotels, museums etc. The information is then sent to your car and can be used in satellite navigation, to plan a route or to make a call on Bluetooth.
BMW Assist customers can access a website from home from where they can send information to their vehicle - for example addresses, telephone numbers or short messages - which can also be transferred to the satnav or Bluetooth. Using the My Info service means you can also search Google Maps for business listings and send this information to the car.
BMW Assist also allows access to an in-car WAP-based browser, which connects to the BMW Online portal. The portal displays the latest weather forecast and extended news stories from categories such as world, business and sports. Through RSS news feeds, titles and short summaries of news items from websites will be visible directly in the control display of a BMW. This gives quick access to favoured news topics and enables drivers to keep in touch, says the carmaker.
And for the forgetful fleet driver, BMW's Remote Services can remotely lock or unlock your vehicle once you've activated this function on its website.
There are also a number of add-on products that can make life easier on the move, including in-car safes, power chargers and scanners.
Portable safe options are attached securely to the car for personal belongings such as mobiles, cameras and wallets. There are also laptop safes, which are typically bought by salesmen and high-mileage drivers, says Stephen Wylde, senior partner of Esafes.co.uk.
Company One For All has created two in-car chargers to make all electronic equipment accessible on the move. Its Universal In-Car Charger turns car cigarette lighters into a charging station and works with mobile phones, MP3 players, PDAs, digital cameras, satnav and game players, for example. Seven interchangeable tips are included in the pack for iPod/iPhone, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, MiniUSB (five-pin), LG, Samsung and MicroUSB.
The company also sells a Universal in-Car Power Socket that turns the cigarette lighter into a 220V mains power point "so you can safely charge anything from laptops and cordless drills to portable DVD players and hair straighteners when on the move". It also protects both your car and the device against overload and under/over voltage.
"These days we carry about with us a bewildering array of portable devices," says a spokesman for One For All. "The problem is, they all have different chargers, so you need to carry these around with you as well. With our universal in-car charger, you can charge the lot just by plugging it in to your cigarette lighter.
He adds: "Every businessman has a laptop or other form of portable computer in their briefcase. There's nothing worse than arriving at your meeting to find it's run out of battery. Our universal in-car power socket turns the cigarette lighter in your car into a 220V mains power point - so your laptop charges up as you drive along, meaning you arrive at your destination with a full battery charge."
Off the beaten track
High-mileage drivers should be stopping regularly for breaks on journeys. With motorway services renowned for overpriced food and fuel prices, fleet managers might do well to encourage their drivers to explore a little further afield, saving the company money and providing a better experience for wilting motorists. A book called Off the Motorway lists facilities near each motorway junction, such as petrol stations, cafes, hotels, toilets, service areas, cash dispensers, hospital and business meeting facilities. Just think: if you bought each of your business drivers this book at £11.99, it would take little time to recover the cost, thanks to lower fuel prices and cheaper sandwiches.