This is an introductory post on the topic of Telematics and how it could be used in Pakistan. Telematics refers to the convergence of telecommunications and information processing in the context of automobiles. Services which are enabled by telematics include safety and security (get help after a crash, ask for help with a dead battery, stolen car alert), convenience (traffic alerts, find an address, remotely unlock a door) and other (download content to car, book a hotel room). Telematics used to be offered by expensive car makers but it is now becoming mainstream rapidly.
Lets take a look at what components and technologies are involved in building a telematics solution.
ØHardware – TCU (Telematics Control Unit) – a box which is placed in the car and has GPS
ØConnectivity for voice (call center) and data (GSM or CDMA for sms and TCP/IP data)
ØSoftware (server-side platform which manages the entire solution)
ØServices and applications (e.g. speech recognition, POI data, call center)
Overall building a telematics solution is very much like a systems integration work. From connecting the hardware to data centers, managing the wireless data and voice, providing the information to a specialized call center and coordinating the response with different types of providers (emergency, police, roadside assistance, insurance etc). Protocols are defined to communicate between different components and to handle messages in SMS format or to handle packet data.
Most common scenario of telematics is when a car is in accident. Modern TCUs can sense the crash and send the data automatically to the system, alerting a call center about the crash severity and the location. Emergency help can thus be sent. Other scenario is when a person gets stranded on a road and needs help, then the SOS button in the car is pushed and a call is initiated to the call center from the car. Of course a wireless signal is needed for the TCU to dial out. Similarly a call center can call back the car.
Fleet tracking (commercial vehicles – taxis, buses, company vans, trucks etc) is another big area where the cost of telematics is justified because of business advantages.
In developing countries, services such as stolen vehicle alert and location could be useful. Since a vast majority of the cars do not come with the hardware, retrofitting of cars with TCU/GPS units will be most common. Once there is connectivity and a way to send data over the air, many different solutions can be built. You can have a geo-fence application which can alert you if your car moves out of a certain radius. Parents can track the movement of the car when their kids are driving. Of course the modern cars have many sensor built into the car so one can imagine all kinds of automobile data being sent over the air. Vehicle data can be used for troubleshooting, diagnostics and maintenance alerts.
In Pakistan there are a few companies and groups working on telematics (perhaps as distributors of foreign hardware makers) but the market is not ready for massive adoption – most probably due to hardware cost, complexity of building solutions and the limited number of people who are willing to pay for such service. It usually takes the car makers a few years to plan out a complete telematics solution so we might see something in the next 2-3 years in limited models. At least a good and affrodable telecom and wirless infrastructure is in place in Pakistan to support the telematics services. There is plenty of activity in this area in India.