Video is the New GPS with Vehicle Camera Systems

Vehicle camera systems have been traditionally used to track the location of any vehicle, and other data from the vehicle bus (CAN, J1939, etc.). In the present day, however, the ambit of telematics data has grown to include a wealth of information with respect to the vehicle and its driver. The use of vehicle camera systems has not only assisted fleet managers to reduce operational and maintenance costs, but also increase overall fleet safety through both offline and real-time driver coaching.

Vehicle camera systems are becoming a de-facto norm in the commercial fleet space, and with good reason. While telematics data provides information regarding when and where an incident occurred, augmenting vehicle camera systems with a dashcam has proved to be a game-changer. Using video, fleets can ascertain the exact cause of an accident, exonerate themselves when not at fault and avoid its recurrence in the future through the institution of driver coaching programs. 

Fleet owners and Telematics Service Providers (TSPs), globally, are investing in video telematics solutions to safeguard their drivers and assets and also gain a competitive edge in the marketplace. In the coming years, the global market for telematics is expected to grow at a torrid pace of more than 50%, with video driving a lot of it. It goes without saying that video telematics systems have opened up a new realm of performance, safety, and efficiency for fleet owners. Let’s dig more into it, and the value it can bring to TSPs and fleet operators.

How Vehicle Camera Systems Works

In a typical video telematics installation, multiple cameras could be installed in a vehicle depending on the preference of the fleet owner – road-facing, driver-facing, blind spots, load monitoring, and backup camera options. These cameras simultaneously record video in a rotating buffer, and if an incident of interest is captured automatically or requested manually from a fleet portal, the relevant segment(s) of the video is generated, uploaded and presented for review on the fleet dashboard.

Vehicle camera systems work by combining video data with vehicle data, and the camera system is usually connected to the vehicles’ diagnostics port or telematics black-box through hard-wired connection (RS232), WiFi or Bluetooth. The system captures real-time video and combines it with other vehicle-specific data such as time, location, speed, g-forces, speed, and a variety of other data from the vehicle’s diagnostics port. This data is encrypted, and an onboard modem enables upload to the cloud via a cellular network or satellite communication, for storage and retrieval on demand. The TSPs fleet portal, or apps optimized for tablets and smartphones, surfaces videos along with all the relevant associated meta-data for a fleet manager to review.

The first generation of video telematics systems was essentially connected DVRs, giving fleet managers the ability to manually request snippets of video around accidents and other incidents that had been reported from the field, primarily for driver exoneration and faster insurance claim settlement. These were essentially passive video recording systems, with minimal engagement by the fleet manager in day-to-day operations. The voluminous video content and the manual effort to identify coachable events from GBs (if not TB’s) of data meant that the data was used only for exoneration.

Moving forward a few years, we start to see the emergence of systems that automatically curated video for review based on high G events. For example, if a driver braked too hard (above a pre-set threshold), a fixed duration of the video (from one or a composite of multi-camera streams) around the event was captured/curated. In some instances, automatic curation of the video was augmented by the human curation of coachable incidents and used as part of a driver training and improvement program.

In the present day and age, the rise of video analytics and AI has accelerated the pace of innovation in this space. Dashcams have transitioned from cameras that simply record, to powerful sensors that can process video in real-time and provide Advanced Driver Assistance  System (ADAS) and Driver Monitoring System (DMS) based alerts. This has led the transition from post-hoc coaching (reactive) and review to proactive intervention before an accident can happen (preventive). Features like forwarding collision warning, driver distraction warning, etc. are increasingly being seen as critical to the day-to-day safety of fleet operations. Advanced vehicle camera systems today include ADAS and DMS based triggers to provide in-cab alerts, automatically curate video, and also generate driver and fleet scorecards and other safety analytics.

Benefits of Vehicle Camera Systems

The single biggest benefit of any video telematics system is the ability to see things that were not possible earlier. While conventional telematics only provided answers to the when and where video provides answers to the why and the how around accidents and other incidents. Vehicle camera systems puts a fleet manager in the driver’s seat (no pun intended) in ensuring better safety for both drivers and vehicles. Enumerated below is a list of the unique benefits that reinforce the use of this technology and help take fleet operations to the next level:

Provides the bigger picture around incidents

For accidents, conventional telematics systems only provide information regarding the time, location and speed of the vehicle. Questions like “Was the driver paying attention?” or “Was the deviation in path intentional?” or even “Who was at fault?” still remained unanswered. With the aid of video telematics, fleet managers could get a clearer picture of an incident and ascertain the root cause. In instances where a driver is not at fault, video helps exonerate the driver, thus saving fleets millions of dollars in legal fees, liability and significant reputational damage.

Facilitates steady improvements

The ability to actually see things around incidents leads to a better understanding of root causes, and an enhanced ability to take necessary actions to prevent their recurrence. Using videos from real incidents as part of a driver training and improvement program, helps drivers become aware of their blind spots and enhance their skills and awareness on the road. The advent of AI-driven real-time coaching takes this a step further and is akin to every driver having a personal coach with them at all points of time, helping inculcate better driving habits. 

Helps reduce operational expenses

In addition to enhancing safety, there are significant cost savings that fleets can realize through the implementation of vehicle camera systems. Even beyond the obvious savings in cases of accidents where drivers are exonerated, significant savings are realized through reduced traffic violations and associated fines, lower vehicle maintenance costs, and reduced insurance premiums. There have also been numerous studies done that show a high correlation between safe driving habits and increased fuel efficiency.

Improves driver engagement and retention

While video telematics solutions were initially implemented to capture accidents and other incidents of rash driving, it has since evolved to create driver scorecards and positive recognition programs inside fleets. From being a purely punitive system, driver scoring and gamification allows a fleet to drive positive behavior across its cohort of drivers. In instances where drivers show extraordinary skill to avert accidents, rewards, and other incentives help create a culture of safety and compliance. The change from a ‘Big Brother’/surveillance mindset, to one of using technology as an aid to help drivers, is key to getting driver buy-in and engagement.

The Future of Video Telematics

Vehicle camera systems are about to witness explosive growth in the near future and are already the fastest-growing segment in aftermarket fleet telematics. The value proposition and return on investment of this technology are making it a de-facto standard in the safety checklist of most fleets.

A few broad trends are already emerging that will shape the future of this still nascent technology. From being a pure aftermarket play, there is a gradual shift towards direct OEM installs, wherein a fleet gets vehicles pre-installed with video telematics capabilities when they buy them. A significant advantage of such installations is a much deeper integration of video with data from the vehicle bus and other sensors to create a comprehensive solution suite for the end-user. This trend is only going to accelerate going forward, with OEMs getting more involved in recurring revenue services they can provide fleets after the initial point of sale.

AI-on-the-edge is going to pervade all aspects of vehicle camera systems, providing real-time alerts and automatically curating videos for review from cameras around the vehicle – forward-facing, driver facing, blind spots, rear-facing and more. This will drive the adoption of 360 degree systems that can integrate with 5 or more cameras and record, process and upload them from a central hub. Going hand-in-hand, advanced analytics on fleet and driver performance will help in generating actionable insights and more effective driver coaching programs. Some of this data will end up with insurers, who will use these along with their other data sources to create incentivized pricing for fleets with advanced video telematics.

Last, but not least, advanced video telematics will cease to be the sole purview of large or enterprise fleets, and pervade the entire breadth of the commercial fleet market, from owner-operators to small and medium fleets, as the benefits across the board become apparent – in other words, video will be the new GPS. Some of the strong tailwinds driving this would be the advances in AI on the edge, availability of inexpensive hardware, cheaper data plans, and attractive incentives provided by commercial vehicle insurers.

There are rare moments in the history of a sector, where monumental shifts occur and the entire paradigm shifts. Commercial vehicle telematics is at such a juncture, and while any such change can bring its own challenges, the benefits of riding this wave early are manifold. The time is now, for TSPs and fleets to make the leap into the brave new world of video.

© 2020 Autolync Pty Ltd, trading as Kynection

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