….or – Everything you need to know if you are thinking about equipping your fleet with cameras.
Vehicle cameras and what they do.
As I explained in the last article, I am not going back over old ground in order that the lazy ones amongst you can skip the earlier articles by reading a quick overview here.
In fact, if you haven’t read the previous article about SD cards then stop right now and go back and read it. It is by far the most important article in this guide and if you only read one article in this series, skip this and go read that one. If you don’t, and you subsequently buy cameras, I guarantee it will cost you more money than you expected, and give you unnecessary headaches down the line.
So, now we get to the hardware. I’m going to give you an overview of the main camera types and then, in the next article, I’ll take you through the features that you need and help you to understand what the different specifications mean and what type of camera you need for your fleet.
Types of camera and service.
Dash-Cams, Accident cameras, Insurance cameras are all different names for the same product set, ie a video camera that, in its most basic form, points outward from the vehicle, records the road ahead and stores the recordings onto its memory which is almost always an SD card.
The cheapest devices are ones with rubber suckers to attach them to the windscreen and a button to turn the device on and off each journey and these are not recommended for fleet applications.
For the purposes of this article I am discussing devices that are intended to be professionally fitted and hard wired, that automatically record as soon as the vehicle is turned on, continue to work until it is turned off, incorporate an accelerometer to detect harsh events and accidents, and require no driver intervention. Any less and they are fine for a consumer in his or her own vehicle, but pretty much worthless in a fleet environment.
The most popular cameras in recent years, and the first to the market, are the stand-alone forward facing cameras. By stand-alone I mean they do not connect to, nor are they integrated to anything, other than the vehicle’s ignition. They record videos onto their SD Card and to get the videos, you have to retrieve the card from the camera and insert it into your PC or other device capable of playing the video file.
When you turn the ignition on they start to work and they continuously record short video files, generally around a minute long, one after the other, and these recordings are stored on the SD card. When the card is full, then they overwrite the oldest recording first.
As the original reason for these devices was to record accidents, these cameras also incorporate an accelerometer that measures g-force and, by this method, they can detect an abnormal event such as sudden braking, harsh acceleration or severe cornering. Each time such an event is detected the camera software creates a video starting from several seconds prior to the incident so you can see the events leading up to it, to several seconds after the event so you can see the aftermath, and it stores this video on the SD card.
There is usually a separate folder or partition on the SD Card that is never overwritten by normal videos which is where these harsh ‘event’ videos are stored.
Just about all cameras now also include a GPS receiver so that the camera can record the exact location of the event and calculate the speed of the vehicle at the time the event occurred and this ‘telemetry’ information, combined with the video, will usually provide enough evidence to determine liability following an incident.
Schoolboy error note.
Something your provider will (hopefully) warn you about but…
Remember to never remove an SD card from a camera (or anything else for that matter) when the camera is powered. Always turn off the ignition and make sure all the lights are extinguished (or whatever the light sequence is that indicated the camera is sleeping) before you remove the card. If you don’t do this, there is a very good chance you have just corrupted the card and lost some or all of your videos that were stored on it.
Some cameras come with software for viewing videos that incorporate telemetry information, some let you fend for yourself and you have to use generic video playing software. If you are a technophobe, or expect that everything you need will be included with the camera, then check if you get video playing software with the system.
These stand-alone systems are good and (with all the proviso’s I have made) work well. However, stand-alone cameras require you to have physical access to the vehicles to retrieve the video. If you have vehicles that operate remotely, or just have a large number of vehicles that are not easy to get to, then it will always be a chore to retrieve the videos when you need them.
Don’t worry, there is a solution; read on.
Remote access camera systems.
You may be thinking from all that I have said about SD Card based camera systems that I don’t like them and that I advise against buying them.
That’s absolutely not true. We have sold thousands and we have many happy customers using them. Providing that you are aware of their limitations, manage them correctly and implement a maintenance strategy (the one that I keep going on about like a broken record) then they are great. Nothing wrong with them at all.
However, let’s say you are responsible for a fleet of vehicles spread across the country that never returns to base and Mrs Miggins has just called to say that one of your vans has bumped her shiny new, pink Nissan Micra and driven off without stopping.
Now you need to somehow get the SD card back from that van. You also need to get a spare SD card into the van so the thing doesn’t constantly beep or flash at the driver because the card has been removed. (This is all assuming that someone has the authority/access/keys to remove the card from the camera). You can then review the video and get back to Mrs Miggins – eventually.
Maybe you don’t have the time, manpower or wherewithal to do this and getting to a vehicle to remove an SD card to retrieve videos is hugely inconvenient or just not possible.
The solution is remote access cameras.
These devices have an internal (or sometimes external) GRPS modem (as in a mobile phone) and each time they detect a harsh event they can usually automatically notify you (or whoever you nominate) by text, or email that something untoward has happened. (You can set the threshold at which they do this so you are not bombarded every time Mick in Bristol puts his foot down, but we’ll explore event thresholds in part four).
All you have to do now, is click on the link in the email you received, or log onto your secure server or telematics system if it’s all integrated and you can instantly view the incident. Even while Mrs Miggins is still on the phone you can confirm what happened, and tell her exactly where to go (to download your compensation request forms).
These cameras do have an additional cost because they use the cellular networks to transmit the large video files, the data has to be stored securely on servers and this requires people to support it all so expect to pay a monthly service charge. However, the added convenience and return on investment (ROI) should cover the additional cost and calculating ROI is covered in part Five.
An important point
When you choose a camera, remember that part of its job is evidentiary, if there is a future dispute it will provide the evidence needed – but only if it can’t be tampered with. Therefore I would personally discount any camera that lets the driver, or anyone who may get access to the cab, turn off the camera, either by switch, or by pulling the removable power cable out.
Likewise, if the SD card is the sole storage of the camera, it should be similarly inaccessible – for example some have physical locks that secure the SD card others may have serialised cable ties that can’t be replaced to identify tampering.
Remotely monitored services.
There is one more service that is offered by some providers for those truly time constrained and that is a proactive monitoring service.
If you have lots of vehicles generating events, then the information from those events are valuable (If Norman the driver achieves five harsh braking events each day for a few days you should probably classify him in the ’Accident waiting to happen‘ category and bring him in for de-briefing and probably even retraining).
However, the sheer volume of events in a large fleet may be overwhelming, so some providers will monitor them all for you and highlight dangerous events, or sequences of events for you so that you just get the ones that are important and can take the necessary action.
You can derive this information yourself but, if you like to be spoon fed, this service could be for you although again, add a little more cost for this one.
Fully integrated cameras
Probably another topic in itself but telematics providers now integrate cameras into their systems at many different levels. From the simplest, where the telematics box triggers the camera event, to the most complex where common hardware may be utilised and the data is amalgamated in a single system.
This is all available to different degrees from different suppliers (including ourselves Roadsense, of course, – shameless plug). If you already have telematics, then this route could mean you are paying for something you already have. However, if you are looking for both cameras and telematics this might be worth considering as there are usually savings in to be made by purchasing a single system rather than two separate ones.
Next time’s topic is camera specifications, what to look for, what do you actually need and what will it do for you…
About the Author:
Andrew Tillman is one of the foremost experts in the tracking and telematics industry and has advised on a number of mergers and acquisitions. He is currently Managing Director at Roadsense Technology Ltd, a telematics company for fleets who require a more flexible approach to that provided by larger providers.
Between 2006 and 2011 he was Strategic Development Director at Masternaut, the largest vehicle tracking systems and mobile workforce management solutions provider in Europe, responsible for global applications development. He was also CEO of Masternaut-Three X, the developer of mobile field worker systems for the service and delivery sectors having led the acquisition of the business from GE in 2006.
Prior to this role, in 1996 he was a founder of Minorplanet plc, the first commercial fleet tracking business and the pioneers of fleet telematic systems in the UK. He was responsible for the development of the company’s products and was instrumental in the growth of the business through a full listing on the LSE, following which he served as a plc board director, and a growth to 2,000 employees in 14 countries before leaving in 2005. During this period he was also President of @Track, a telematics company that was quoted on the NASDAQ.