What's Happening?

A glimpse into the future of telematics



The rapid take-up of telematics in South Africa in commercial and private vehicles speaks of a future of minimised risk and reduced premiums. And it’s the constant improvement on technology developments that’s going to bring this future into the present.

“I’m very passionate about technology,” says Francois Stols, Principal Technology Consultant at Netstar. That passion is evident, looking at how technology has driven Netstar’s telematics expansion in South Africa.

Stols talks about the future prospects of this dynamic field; the concepts on the horizon that are likely to be part of the telematics landscape soon.

Developments in dashcams

“Dashcams have been around for a while, but it was more a novelty and I don’t think the insurance industry took it seriously as a means to manage the risk of a vehicle,” Stols notes.

The insurance industry will have to start taking it seriously now though, as the premise of fixing a camera to your car is being adopted all over the world.

Last year, the global dashboard camera market was valued at over USD 3 billion – and it’s predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 9.5% between now and 2030.

But it’s not just the production statistics that are astounding, it’s the effectiveness of these gadgets where it counts: mitigating risk.

The Journal of Safety Research recently released a comprehensive study that shows a staggering 86% reduction in the cost of vehicle crashes when implementing a dashcam solution with driver feedback. This is more than enough reason to install an extra eye on your journey.

“With more powerful processors in the camera systems, we can now use artificial intelligence in the camera systems,” says Stols, explaining that these processes will be able to analyse in real time whether a driver is distracted, such as using a cellphone while driving. 

If the driver is getting fatigued, we can create alerts in real time, he adds. That phrase, “in real time” is crucial. It illustrates how dashcams have moved from being useful after the fact (such as providing video evidence following a collision) to being useful right now, by preventing a potential collision. 

Worth noting is that the astounding results from the Journal of Safety Research came from studies that feature driver feedback. “The technology is already being adopted by the commercial fleets and I think it will find its way into the private vehicle owners as well,” says Stols. “I think a more successful sort of approach would be for the insurance companies to encourage their customers to fit that kind of technology because driver distraction and driver fatigue are probably the main causes of serious accidents.” He’s right; research of Arrive Alive shows that driver fatigue accounts for 60% of accidents in the long-distance trucking industry.

Artificial Intelligence and privacy

“The jury is out on whether the insurance industries will be able to repudiate the claim of driver distraction on AI with the POPI Act and the focus on privacy of information,” Stols points out.

The Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI Act) sets some conditions for parties when it comes to the lawful processing of personal information of data subjects. The most affected industries by these conditions are financial services, healthcare and marketing.

But while the intricacies of the POPI act are being ironed out, AI sophistication is advancing and there may well be a stage where these concepts can comply with and assist each other.

Electrical evolution

The promise of electric cars is an exciting thought, but does it fit the uniquely South African reality of a temperamental power supply? “Everybody says with Eskom’s current inability to generate electricity it’s probably not on the very near horizon – I think that’s wrong,” says Francois Stols. “I think it will come a lot quicker than we think.”

The desire is there. AutoTrader South Africa and Smarter Mobility Africa recently released their Electric Vehicle Buyers Survey, and the findings show that 64% of those surveyed want to purchase an electric vehicle within the next five years. Of these potential consumers, 72% are willing to spend up to R600 000 on an electric vehicle.

“The large fleets have already done their studies by putting up their own solar infrastructure along the major routes,” says Stols. “They’ve already figured out their payback period on fuel savings will be as little as two to three years. I think the same will happen with the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) industry so it’s coming.”

Is this relevant to vehicle telematics though? “Yes, of course,” Stols insists. “Electric vehicles will still be stolen and driver’s behaviour is still there, so I think we’ll embrace that technology when it comes.” In other words, all the variables and data that telematics records is still part of the process. 

Destination driverless

“Everyone talks about autonomous vehicles or driverless vehicles. A lot of money is being ploughed into that technology and telematics sits at the heart of that as well,” Stols notes, explaining that, “you need very accurate telematics to be able to have a driverless vehicle but what’s also important is you need vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems, because that’s a way that you can build accident-avoidance systems.”

He says the systems are already being put in place in some industries. “We’re already building accident avoidance systems based on inter-vehicle communication in South Africa in the mining industry. Maybe we should do the same for the private vehicle industry.”

A better journey

Ultimately, telematics form an integral part of the technology advancements that guarantee a safer ride. “Vehicle telematics is a technology that can create a symbiotic value proposition for all the stakeholders,” says Stols. 

And ultimately, it’s road users who will benefit, more than anyone else, he believes. “The penetration rate into private vehicles is actually quite high: it’s sitting at 37 percent, but I believe it will grow exponentially, especially now that the OEMs are starting to drive the technology. This will allow all of us to carry on innovating new services on top of this very exciting technology and hopefully make our customers’ driving experience a safer and more affordable one and a safer one.”