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How weather telematics can drive safety and productivity

US weather technology provider Baron Services has highlighted some of the ways in which integration of real-time data on road weather into telematics systems can help yield advantages for fleet operators.

“This data enables pre-planning of employee schedules, supply chains, and assets that could be in jeopardy when there are dangerous road or weather conditions,” said Baron Services’ Glen Denny.

“New technology is available that can easily integrate weather data into next-generation vehicle telematics platforms – including navigation, routing/planning software, mobile apps and other in-vehicle deployments.

“Specific weather data can also be integrated with smart vehicle safety features as part of the development of autonomous vehicles.”

Consumers in general recognise the importance of weather data for their connected vehicles, Denny contends.

“While a recent study of 14,000 car owners showed that map apps are the number one choice for those with connected cars, 49 per cent of survey participants cited weather apps as the second most important type of vehicle app,” he continued.

“Being informed about the weather helps people plan ahead and feel prepared, even scheduling work days based on predicted conditions.

“Drivers need guidance regarding how the weather will affect them moment to moment in transit. After all, weather is the second largest cause of non-recurring congestion and accounts for 25 per cent of all delays.”

Denny cites statistics from the US Federal Highway Administration suggesting that nearly one billion hours are lost each year due to weather-related delays. Safety was also a major concern, he said.

“ Last year, 7,000 people were killed and more than 800,000 people were injured on our roads as a direct result of adverse weather conditions…

“Even with the advent of satellite radio and in-car apps, delivery of weather guidance to drivers hasn’t changed much since the first radio was installed in a vehicle 94 years ago.

“Drivers get very little actionable weather information, with the exception of the radio presenter providing occasional guidance during breaking weather events. There is definitely room for significant improvement in terms of providing real-time updates on weather affecting driving conditions.”

Road weather has been a part of vehicle telematics platforms for some time, Denny points out; for example, nearly a decade ago, Baron developed patented roadway weather information that is focused on identifying location-specific conditions based on a vehicle’s current location.

“A version of this technology is deployed in the SiriusXM NavWeather service and has been adapted for use in onboard entertainment or navigation systems in more than 30 automotive makes and models,” he explained.

“The basic information includes up to three days of forecasts, with watches and audible alerts that let drivers get the information without having to take their eyes off the road to view a display. Other similar weather systems have been developed for use in several major automotive manufacturers’ vehicles, as well as a major national fleet management and transportation technology firm.

“As broadband and cellular service became more widely available, interest began to move from the one-way data streams offered by SiriusXM to two-way, connected car applications. The proliferation of OEMs that are including 3G, 4G, and proposed 5G wireless mobile technology services in vehicles only increases the availability of road weather safety features. “

While improved data pathways are available now, vehicle designers are still trying to determine the best way to interface with newer navigation systems, says Denny.

“Interest is high in providing drivers information on what road conditions would be several days from now – or a mile ahead of them. To meet this need, Baron developed Baron Telematics Weather, building off its proven weather telematics technology.

“ The platform makes use of an exclusive eight-year road weather archive and offers real-time and archived traffic incident data. It provides accurate forecasting of conditions that allows planning to avoid bad roads three days in advance.

“The unique 72-hour forecast conditions and half-mile resolution covers all atmospheric threats that affect vehicles, including winds, hail, and heavy rain, as well as road surface conditions like ice, snow, and ponding.”

The new Baron telematics technology makes use of a proprietary land surface weather model that analyses conditions from at and below the surface, taking into consideration the surface type. It also shows temperature changes to provide information on whether the temperatures are warming up or cooling down such that ice might be forming.

“The minute-by-minute updates provide drivers with intelligence on what is down the road and what they are going to encounter,” said Denny.

“Availability of more preemptive data – in advance –will enable drivers to better plan to and ultimately improve productivity. For example, if black ice is causing accidents and delays ahead, the driver can be alerted to its exact location and provided alternative routing. The information can be delivered via map form and an audible alert.”

Access to the data in the Baron Telematics Weather API allows developers to easily integrate the service into navigation, routing/planning software, mobile apps, and in-vehicle deployments, he adds.

For example, Baron recently announced a partnership with Total Traffic & Weather Network (TTWN). The service is for terrestrial digital radio enabled vehicles (including Toyota, Lexus and others) and delivers information in a variety of pathways, including over-the-air broadcasts, HD radio, satellite radio, and Internet-connected distribution systems.

“In the future, there will likely be multiple delivery methods for weather telematics based on the vehicle’s price range,” he continued.

“These will range from 4G systems, one-way narrow pipelines into a vehicle like Sirius XM enabled receivers, API/two-way Internet connected data connections, and the TTWN terrestrial base. Wherever there is connectivity or radio broadcast, there will be a pathway for weather telematics.”

In addition to providing access to weather data for driving planning purposes, a robust weather telematics platform has a major role to play in the future of autonomous and/or smart vehicles, contends Denny.

He cites various smart-vehicle features which he says are made safer with high resolution weather data – such as lane-keep assist, with which: “the side-view cameras used to detect lanes are rendered useless when roads are snow-covered”.

“Weather telematics can provide data to warn the driver and disengage the feature before entering snow-covered roads,” he said.

Electronic stability control (ESC) was another potentially problematic area.

“ ESC works great in slippery wet or icy conditions, but in heavy snow where vehicles get stuck the ESC system can make it very difficult to drive or get the vehicle out of deep snow. Weather telematics can alert drivers of heavy snow-covered roads and turn-off traction control in those conditions.”

Likewise, with adaptive cruise control (ACC): during heavy precipitation, radars used to detect traffic just ahead or behind the car can suffer signal loss (attenuation), says Denny, rendering the system nearly useless.

“Telematics data can be used to warn the driver of heavy precipitation just ahead so the ACC will disengage. Data on current road conditions can also be used to adjust the distance between cars and speed.”

Collision warning systems (CWS) also struggle to operate usefully during heavy rain, he added.

“ Telematics data can be used to warn the driver of heavy precipitation and the CWS will disengage. The data can also be used to adjust the CWS timing based on current road conditions.”

Denny concluded: “Unique patented technology is now available that constantly analyses all roadway conditions in the continental United States and provides location specific information and conditions.

“This technology can be easily integrated into a variety of telematics platforms to improve driver response time and increase safety. With the new technology, drivers can keep their eyes on the road while receiving critical information on approaching conditions.”