While many have experienced the Internet of Things (IoT) in everyday lives—automatic lighting and smart refrigerators, for example—a connected vehicle is the most noticeable IoT device. Even though certain carmakers have been launching connected cars, a connected truck is already here, and in some aspects it’s more advanced than a connected car. “Trucks are for business use, for which productivity and timeliness are very important. These can only be ensured if a truck is connected,” says Vinod Aggarwal, the MD & CEO of VE Commercial Vehicles (VECV). Today, all commercial vehicle (CV) manufacturers offer some or the other kind of connectivity solutions.
The company has been offering a telematics solution called ‘Fleetman’ on its vehicles since 2014. It has about 2 lakh M&HCVs plying on Indian roads with factory-fitted telematics units, providing features such as track & trace, driver behaviour monitoring and geo-fencing. “With the transition to BS6, we are taking our CV offerings to the next level by enhancing the value proposition for our customers, and our offerings are moving from track & trace to diagnostics, efficiency and utilisation improvement,” says a Tata Motors spokesperson. Traditionally, connectivity in CVs was achieved through external SIM cars, including for Fleetman. But the new generation of Tata connected trucks get the eUICC (embedded SIM).
In terms of core technology elements, there are a lot of similarities between a connected car and a connected truck—be it the IoT platform or a gateway like a telematics control unit. Tata Motors has developed a common solution architecture for both. “From a use-case point of view, there will be differences between connected cars and connected trucks despite similar technology,” the spokesperson says. The connected car technology in Tata Nexon EV is called the ZConnect, but for CVs it is not yet branded. A connected truck can reduce total cost of ownership for an operator/driver. The spokesperson says that connected truck data, when combined with other data points, offers significant potential in improving asset utilisation, tracking consignments and deliveries in keeping with customer commitments, asset health monitoring, driving behaviour, real-time fuel-efficiency reporting, fuel-level monitoring etc.
Aggarwal of VECV lists four types of advantages of a connected truck.
Track & trace: One can remotely access the route the vehicle took, the places where it stopped, how long the halt time was, and so on.
Vehicle-centric services: One can capture data from vehicle electronics—this can include fuel-efficiency data, and also detect if fuel pilferage has taken place.
Driver performance: Driving data for each driver, driving-related data on different terrains and different times of the year, and similar data points can be captured.
Uptime services: Aggarwal calls uptime services the next level in connected truck technology. The company had recently inaugurated India’s first uptime centre with 24×7 service support and remote diagnostics. For the operator/driver, this centre can offer predictive maintenance data and diagnostic-related advice. “We can get to know how a vehicle is likely to perform in the future,” says Aggarwal. For the technician, this centre can provide real-time guidance on how to deal with modern technologies the company’s CVs are equipped with. VECV’s connected trucks, which fall under the Eicher Live umbrella, are fitted with an eSIM provided by Vodafone, but with a number portability feature. If, let’s say, the CV is being driven in an area where Vodafone network is not available, data from another telecom provider can be accessed. In the company’s heavy duty trucks, the connectivity solutions provider is AT&T.
Technology services come at a cost, and in case of VECV vehicles the user will be charged Rs 4,000-5,000 per year. Going ahead, VECV is expected to introduce connectivity features as standard in most of its models, and is likely to offer subscription free for the first year.
The company recently launched its range of modular trucks called AVTR, which has some advanced connectivity features. Venkatesh Natarajan, chief digital officer, Ashok Leyland, says that telematics is not new to the automotive industry. “In 2005, we set up a telematics division, and our vehicles fitted with track & trace technology were available on demand,” he says.
Earlier this decade, as engines got more advanced, the company started capturing data from vehicle usage patterns. This data was then used to monitor vehicle health. Its CVs have now gotten so advanced that, God forbid, if an accident happens, data related to vehicle speed, location, which gear it was being driven in, etc, can be captured. “Today, all CVs we manufacture are smart CVs,” adds Natarajan. “Every day we capture 1 terabyte of tracking data.” Ashok Leyland’s connected vehicle technology is called iAlert. The beneficiaries, Natarajan adds, are five Cs:
Customers: Providing insights on driving behaviour, including how to increase fuel efficiency and productivity of a vehicle, and insights on fuel pilferage (our trucks are fitted with fuel sensors), etc.
Channel partners: Dealers can track vehicles when these are transported from the manufacturing plant, so that they can take better customer delivery decisions.
Company: All BS6 CVs that were tested generated a humongous amount of data, and that was captured by engineers to further improve upon these vehicles, so the company benefits. Ashok Leyland is now launching an uptime solutions centre.
Collaborators: These could be transporters, who can use this data for anything; Ashok Leyland can also monetise this data.
Community: The company can share this ‘clean data’ (with appropriate masking) with institutions, who can then use it for, let’s say, research or training purposes.
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