Steve Jones's blog: How the connected vehicle offers solutions to today's fleet challenges
09 November 2020
Ever since the introduction of black boxes, which initially just shared a vehicle's live location, the technology within our fleets has developed beyond recognition. Fleet managers now have an unprecedented amount of data at their fingertips. This can include details such as the health of a vehicle's engine, how hard the driver uses the brakes, and even information on road conditions. And as the amount of data we're able collect from our vehicles grows exponentially year on year, so do its potential uses.
While our cars 'talking' to each other may seem like a thing of the future, it's actually already happening. The navigational systems we use, whether they are apps on our mobiles, or built into our dashboards, are constantly receiving data from other users to determine the quickest routes and flag any diversions. And this technology is only going to grow.
So, how can fleet managers leverage these technologies to meet their business objectives?
What are connected vehicles capable of doing at the moment?
Innovations in Advance Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are constantly developing and are now able to ensure that drivers maintain safe speeds and distances, stay in lanes, and even avoid drivers overtaking in potentially dangerous situations. In-car sensors and controllers can input and analyse data such as vehicle speed, steering-wheel angle, tyre grip, windscreen-wiper activation, and airbag triggering. The results of the analysis often reveal traffic conditions and can even detect hazardous situations such as ice, obstacles or accidents.
If a problem is detected, cars equipped with either 5G or Wi-Fi technology (ITS-G5) can send a warning message to the driver and other vehicles in close proximity who are also using the network. These warnings are then transmitted using a communication protocol via a Wi-Fi-like radio link that is specially engineered for use with moving vehicles and has a range of up to around 1,000 metres. Warning messages can be picked up either directly by other connected vehicles in the vicinity or by stationary communication units at the roadside, which in turn can send signals to vehicles and to a server that centralises information and updates it in real time.
For example, when a vehicle approaches an accident site it sends out a warning signal to the cars behind it. The warning signal can even be picked up by a stationary unit in the vicinity of any of these cars, and this unit automatically notifies the central system, which will then alert the emergency services. A similar procedure can be triggered for any number of potentially hazardous incidents such as animals on the road, temporary roadworks, traffic jams and even landslides. In time, it may even be possible for drivers to receive advance warning of motorcycles and tractors on the road.
But what does this mean for fleets?
Firstly, this data will help businesses to save money. By identifying peaks and dips in fuel efficiency, fleet operators will be able to plan more economical routes for their vehicles. Likewise, real-time data from sensors could help to identify mechanical problems before they turn serious, therefore reducing maintenance costs and downtime. In fact, a BVRLA Survey revealed 95% of respondents would be happy to share connected vehicle data if it meant that it could prevent vehicle faults.
But it's not just about saving money. Data will save something that's far more important - lives. Aside from identifying potential road hazards, the technology has the potential to determine, for instance, whether a driver is distracted or tired, their heart rate, and, ultimately, whether they are in a healthy condition to drive. With collision avoidance, journey time and fatigue monitoring, drivers will never need to be put at risk because their employer didn't know better.
The role of the fleet provider in storing and analysing data
Thanks to technology, we have now reached a connected age where our vehicles are increasingly able to exchange safety-critical information with other nearby vehicles and roadside infrastructure. This communication will play an essential role in helping to optimise road safety and reduce the number of accidents and casualties.
However, with different OEMs working on different solutions, and the generational gap between older and newer models widening, it's unlikely that all the data can be converged on one single platform or technology. Fleet providers will therefore play an important role in providing common platforms where the basic information can be held for all vehicles while allowing richer data from the latest models to be utilised.
What about self-driving cars?
Communication between vehicles and road infrastructure go hand in hand with the advancements in self driving cars, and these attributes will become more important as these vehicles begin to appear.
Self-driving cars will utilise information from cameras, lasers and even radar to create a 3D digital map of their surroundings. They'll also communicate with other cars around them to gain more information about whether they're going to make a turn, accelerate or brake. In effect, the ability to do this lets the self-driving car see through the ones around it and anticipate their movements. They'll also be able to get information from traffic lights, road signs, lane markings and roadwork sites to give drivers a heads-up about a traffic jam or sharp bend in the road before they can see it.
Many car makers and technology companies are working on creating self-driving cars, and we've even seen trials of some of these vehicles on roads in the UK. Some production cars already have some semi-autonomous capabilities that promote safety, such as automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and cross-traffic alert. In terms of a timeline, it's likely that we'll see motorway cruising as the first application, as motorways are a relatively predictable environment. This could be followed by parking - either in a depot or car park where there are no humans. City environments, where there are multiple hazards such as cars pedestrians, cyclists and cars stopping and starting, are much more complex and likely to come later down the line.
Now is an incredibly interesting time not only for the motoring industry, but for businesses operating fleets and fleet providers too. It's falls to them to understand the challenges, suitability and the real benefits of the technologies available. After all, company cars and business critical vehicles are a crucial component of our economy. So, who wouldn't want to make them work even better?
Steve Jones is future fleet solutions director at Leaseplan UK