Interview: Edward Kulperger, Geotab

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With a growing global customer base, Canada-based telematics company, Geotab, reckons there’s untapped value for vehicle data that goes far beyond the traditional fleet-focused use case, as vice president of business development, Edward Kulperger, explains.

Edward Kulperger, Geotab’s vice president of business development

What was the thinking behind data.geotab.com?

It started around six years ago. We were accumulating a lot of data, and we only had 150,000 units in the field, so we collaborated with the University of Toronto and created a project internally, looking at the data, indexing it and storing it in a way we could retrieve in a quick manner.

We now have just under 1.2m vehicles providing approximately 2.5bn data points per day, and we recognised that this is adding a lot of value. So two years ago we started using that as a self-improvement tool, and every department has a data subject matter expert. Once we understood its value within our organisation, we realised it would valuable externally.

We had been working with a couple of municipalities, as well as a number of different organisations, over the past 18 months to aggregate and anonymise that data and overlay it with their datasets. Then we provide it to smart cities that have a thirst for understanding what’s happening within their communities.

 

Which cities have you been working with?

It’s available globally. We have an office in Las Vegas, and we have started working with the City of Columbus, Ohio in North America, and Barcelona and we have an office in Madrid. We provide [the data] free, because the socioeconomic benefit is greater than letting it sit there and accumulate. We see it as a wave of the future, with regards to how transportation and mobility will evolve based on the data.

Down the road, if it will enable fleets to lower their costs because they are subsidised by municipalities using their data, we see that some kind of balance will happen in due course. I think we’re at the tip of the iceberg, understanding the true value of data and this digital economy as we transition towards it from a global perspective.

 

What can that data tell you?

Nine months ago we published a story looking at Barcelona’s accident blackspots, as we have a number of units travelling through those intersections and could look at the behaviour of those vehicles. So speed going in, seatbelt usage, and what’s happening with the accelerometer – so are people standing on the brakes. We were able to extrapolate some interesting information and provide that to the city who can overlay that with whether to put ‘Slow Down’ signs near those intersections to curtail accidents. There’s a huge socioeconomic drain on society due to accidents.

We’re getting to unique and novel areas, such as understanding when vehicles are circling looking for parking. We can provide that information back to the city as well, suggesting where they need parking facilities based on machine learning and looking into our datasets. So we’re providing that under data.geotab.com with the tools necessary to go in and grab that data, overlay it with other subsets and provide that insight to cities.

We also understand every time a vehicle is being serviced, and when a diagnostic tool is being plugged in. We showed an OEM the services that happen in a month, and said here are the areas where you should have a service centre because they aren’t going to your dealerships. We had no idea that would even be of value.

 

How does acquiring hybrid and EV specialist FleetCarma fit into this?

FleetCarma evolved out of the University of Waterloo, and a couple of smart chaps there working with the OEMs to help them with their EV drivetrains. It’s a unique proposition, because they understand the data flowing from an EV; when it is getting charged and what that does to the grid, and they provide this information to utility companies. As more fleets and consumers start adopting EVs, utility providers will need to balance the loads so there are no issues with brownouts.

We’re understanding not only how vehicles can be used and how fleets can transition to EVs, but helping utilities and fleets manage that current draw to charge their vehicles. We’re not buying telematics companies, as others have done, we’ve looked for complementary technologies and similar organisations that bring these future competencies. It really broadened our understanding of EVs, as we think that’s going to be of great desire as the technology accelerates.

Can you integrate other devices – and connected cars – into your back-office?

We have. Five years ago we built our software development kit that enables fleets to integrate that data with maybe a logistics or maintenance app. Then we started working with telematics companies to bridge their data into our system, and ours into theirs. We do see that convergence will happen.

On the OEM side we are working with a few now. Ford vehicles will flow into MyGeotab, so if there’s a large leasing or rental organisation that has a mixed fleet, one of the great challenges around telematics is the cost of the hardware and installation of the deveice. If we can take that out of the equation, then it alleviates that issue.

But with Geotab you’re getting an incredible amount of data. We use a curve-based algorithm that flows the data from the vehicle in a smart way. Most telematics companies and vehicle manufacturers send it on a time-basis, or every 100 metres, so the data is not the same. Some fleets might not need that wealth of data, but we feel it will be important in the future. Emergency services need real-time data, maintenance services need real-time data, and we would love it if everyone sent data the way we did.

 

How could this change the role of telematics companies?

We are in the early stage of a transition, where you will still need hardware as a necessary component of a telematics service. But the data will go to a cloud environment, which will be non-monopolistic, and application providers such as a TSP, service centre or insurance company will access portions of that data in a unified way.

We need to work as an ecosystem, as the good it provides – not just fleet, but congestion, safety, the weaponization of vehicles, parking and greenhouse gases in cities, getting emergency services routed to an accident in real-time – this will all be depending on data. Fleets, OEMs and other telematics companies need to start understanding this, or the alternative is change will happen and if you don’t evolve you’re going to become a Xerox or Kodak for example.

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Alex Grant

Trained on Cardiff University’s renowned Postgraduate Diploma in Motor Magazine Journalism, Alex is an award-winning motoring journalist with ten years’ experience across B2B and consumer titles. A life-long car enthusiast with a fascination for new technology and future drivetrains, he joined Fleet World in April 2011, contributing across the magazine and website portfolio and editing the EV Fleet World Website.