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Why Mobile Video Telematics Systems are Replacing GPS Tracking Systems

In the GPS tracking and fleet telematics markets, there is a shift taking place, whereby businesses with field vehicles are replacing standard GPS tracking devices with mobile video devices. Mobile video devices can be in the form of Dash Cam systems or MDVR’s. (Mobile Digital Video Recorders) For purposes of this article, we’ll categorize those devices as VTS Systems or ‘Video Telematics Systems’. Until recently, live video telematics systems were not feasible due to insufficient wireless data speeds and costly wireless data service. However, with the advent of high speed 4G connectivity and declining wireless data prices, mobile video telematics is now becoming mainstream. Today, the ongoing monthly fees for a VTS system (which also provides GPS tracking) are very similar to what customers are typically paying for simple GPS tracking. Given the additional benefits that mobile video systems provide, the return on investment can be exceptional.

Dash Cam Configurations

The most popular type of mobile video telematics system is the 4g connected dash cam. The beauty of dash cam systems is that they are fast and simple to install, with all of the electronics and cameras contained in a small footprint housing that is affixed to the vehicle windshield with 3M tape. While simple in concept, manufacturing such a product is not a simple task, given the challenges of miniaturization and the excessive heat conditions under which they must operate. There is a great deal of technology packed into such a tiny housing and it must be able to survive and operate in the searing sun of an Arizona parking lot, where interior vehicle temperatures can rise to 160 degrees plus. Even the tape used to mount to the windshield must be specially engineered to remain secure under such temperatures.

Commercial & industrial grade dash cam systems use high quality, all-aluminum construction, designed for longevity in harsh conditions. 

Dash cam systems can be purchased in these configurations:

  • A single dash cam – typically includes a forward facing camera. Additional cameras can be added later.
  • A dual dash cam – normally includes a forward-facing camera and a driver-facing camera. If preferred, the driver-facing camera can be changed to a rear-facing camera that is 3M taped to the rear window, facing backwards or mounted at the back of a truck. 
  • A three camera dash cam. Normally, this would typically include a forward facing camera, driver-facing camera and a rear-facing camera.

Integrated Fleet Tracking

Real-Time GPS Tracking

Most commercial grade dash cam systems incorporate a 4G modem to allow for live video streaming and event-based uploading of unsafe driving over cellular data. As video transmission consumes significant data bandwidth, these products are normally bundled on a monthly plan that incorporates at least 500 MB of wireless data. Most dash cam systems also contain an on-board GPS receiver, so that all recorded or transmitted video contains companion location information. For these reasons, real-time GPS location tracking typically comes along for the ride as part of the monthly package, hence, the title of this article. As it turns out, the ongoing monthly costs for these systems are not far from the monthly costs normally associated with simple GPS tracking. Its therefore not surprising that fleet managers and owners are opting for this new technology.

Extensive Forensics Video History

In addition to acting as a real time tracking device, VTS systems provide a wide range of video related capabilities. This commences with on-board storage of all camera activity, 100% of the time the vehicle is in operation. Some of the more advanced systems combine high efficiency H.265 video compression technology with greater on-board storage capacity to extend the historical storage capacity. This is a critical benefit, providing superior forensics protection for past events that suddenly require review several days after they occurred.

Live HD Video Streaming

Most commercial grade dash cam systems allow for real-time viewing and listening of video and audio streams from the cameras, as well as the capture of picture snapshots from any camera on command. At any time, you may issue a command to:

  • Watch live video from any or all cameras
  • Listen to live audio
  • Record live video to the cloud
  • Pull historic video from the device to view and store it in the cloud

How AI is Used to Monitor and Improve Driver Safety

Systems that include on-board artificial intelligence (AI) based video processing scan the road and the driver to identify dangerous situations and risky behavior. The forward-facing camera focuses on the road ahead for ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance) based exceptions and the driver-facing camera focuses on the driver for DSM (Driver Safety Monitoring) based exceptions. When one of the predefined ADAS or DSM based scenarios occurs, (see below) one or more of the following outcomes will result:

  1. The driver is alerted, using sounds and/or voice announcements to capture their attention and avert a potentially dangerous situation. These alerts also serve as coaching aids -for example, forewarning a driver that they are engaging in risky behavior. As a result, the driver will quickly learn what is acceptable and can adapt to remain within those limits.
  2. Video, audio, snapshots and location information are uploaded to the Command Vision cloud automatically, for supervisory review and alerting.

ADAS, DSM and Behavior Events 

Systems with AI allow customers to configure pre-defined exceptions, such as those listed below. Each defined event, when triggered, can cause an alert and associated driving information to be uploaded to a cloud dashboard, where they can be reviewed by a supervisor.

For example, an event for hard braking could be configured to cause camera snapshots to be remotely uploaded to the cloud. Another event for Following Too Close could be created that causes a voice warning to the driver and the uploading of a few seconds of camera videos for review. A Pedestrian Collision or Driver Fatigue event could alert the driver, upload video and alert the Supervisor, all in real time. When a driver exceeds one of the defined thresholds, the associated pictures, video and audio are automatically streamed over 4G cellular to the cloud-based server, where they are stored for a number of months. From there, they may be watched over and over without any additional use of cellular data.

ADAS (Automated Driving Assistance) Compliance – using the forward facing camera, ADAS systems improve driving behavior by warning the driver and uploading video evidence to Command Vision when these events occur:

  • Lane Adherence
  • Following Too Close
  • Pedestrian Collision Warning
  • Collision Avoidance

DSM (Driver Safety Monitoring) Compliance – using a special driver facing camera, DSM systems improve driving safety by warning the driver and uploading video evidence to the cloud when these events occur:

  • Driver Smoking
  • Driver Distraction
  • Smartphone Use
  • Driver Fatigue

Harsh Driving Detection

Harsh Driving Compliance – most systems, even those without AI capability, provide harsh driving detection, using an integrated accelerometer. Pre-defined events can improve driving behavior by alerting the driver and/or uploading video evidence to a cloud dashboard when the driver engages in these events:

  • Rapid Acceleration
  • Sudden Hard Braking
  • Hard Left Corner
  • Hard Right Corner
  • Speeding

Input Monitoring – Most systems monitor a number of inputs, such as Driver SOS, SeatBelt, Door Open, PTO -activation of such an input can cause an alert and automatic uploading of video evidence to a cloud-based system.

Evidence Dashboard

Triggered events are automatically placed into a cloud dashboard for review. Each one can be viewed in high definition video right in the browser, downloaded as a local media file to the user’s PC or shared with an authorized party. Incidents can be downloaded as a Driver Report PDF report that shows the type of incident, driver and vehicle information, a map of where it occurred and details regarding the incident.

An example of a cloud-based dashboard is shown below. Clicking on any event will launch that event as an HD video, right in the browser.

Historical Access to Video Information

In order to conserve mobile data, only video that meets defined rules or criteria is typically transmitted over cellular to the cloud. The remainder of the non-event related video data remains recorded on the 4g connected VTS device. Occasionally, a situation comes to a manager’s attention that occurred several days previously and this situation did not meet the pre-defined criteria to be automatically transmitted to the cloud. For example, a driver getting a hard time from an angry motorist or customer would not likely have met any such criteria.

Like a building security system, an effective video telematics system should capture 100% of the video information from a vehicle’s activity on a day-to-day basis and store it, in order to resolve situations that may arise after the fact. Some systems do not offer this capability and only store event-based video information. Consequently, ad-hoc situations that were not caused by triggers may be unavailable for subsequent review. Its important when looking at the alternatives, that these types of differences are well understood.

Retrieve Video From a VTS Device On Demand

There are several ways to review video stored data on the vehicle, that has not been uploaded to the cloud: (Because the incident did not trigger any event) Of course, these methods are dependent upon the system chosen.

a) Stream it live or download it via cellular, right from dashboard. You simply choose the desired date and time range. This is only recommended for small clips.

b) Hop into any vehicle to search and review any stored video right from your smartphone via an integrated WiFi Access Point. With some systems, when the vehicle is first powered up with vehicle ignition on, the video device launches itself into WiFi Access Point mode for a couple of minutes. This allows a supervisor to join that hotspot from their smartphone or tablet and use the provided app to watch any stored video, audio and snapshot history. Often, systems with integrated WiFi also allow the unit to be re-configured or have any of its system settings changed. Note that this method does not require that you have a WiFi download site at your yard.

c) Another method is to go out to the vehicle with a laptop, plug it into the USB of the dash cam and copy any of the recorded video right onto the laptop, You can copy any of the files to your laptop that are of interest, or for that matter, the entire contents of the SD card.

d) Copy the SD card contents to a USB stick

e) Some systems include software to install a WiFi download site at your main yard(s) where the vehicles are parked. Once the truck is in WiFi coverage in the yard with its ignition on, you can search the entire contents of its SD card by date and time range, then stream it live. For example, a customer complains that your driver was yelling at him beside the vehicle last Tuesday morning. Search last Tuesday morning and watch exactly what happened from both cameras. You can do this from any PC browser, or from a provided Windows application or from a provided smartphone app. Once you locate the video for last Tuesday, you can watch it or download it. 

Benefits of Video Telematics Systems

The benefits of GPS fleet tracking are well known and accepted, with penetration rates expected to exceed 49% of all commercial vehicles in the next 2 years. This technology has proven to provide an exceptional return on investment due to benefits in customer service, efficiency, driver safety and so on…

Now, imagine when we take all of those benefits and add your Grandmother to the front seat of every one of your vehicles! Ever notice how well you drove as a young man or woman when you had to drive Granny home? I remember driving home like an idiot after dropping her off, but on the way there, I was impressive! Of course, part of the credit should go to her for prompting me whenever I went too fast, got too close or stopped paying attention. Well, as funny or true as that may sound, the closest you can come to duplicating this sudden safety enhancement is putting dash cams in your commercial vehicles!

Just knowing that their driving habits are being monitored will make an overnight difference in their driving safety. Imagine the impact when they receive their first couple of report cards itemizing the location, time, details and camera snapshots of their hard cornering or speeding event. Now, if we add AI powered ADAS and DSM alerts to the package, we just put all Granny right back in the front passenger seat! Better stop looking at your phone Johnny!, or Are you paying attention Johnny?

Modern mobile video telematics systems provide an exceptional return on investment to fleets, in the following ways:

  • Mitigate risks by using actual situations to provide more effective training
  • Reduce liability by maintaining accurate evidence of what happened on the ground
  • Increase driver safety through improved training, better awareness & safer practices
  • Reduce insurance claims through increased prevention & reduced risky behavior
  • Reduce fleet operating and insurance costs
  • Increase fleet and dispatch efficiency
  • Improved performance & customer service through quicker response & less errors

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