VDO Fleet’s Timo Ketterer offers insight into tachograph tech developments
Photo: VDO Fleet

VDO Fleet’s Timo Ketterer offers insight into tachograph tech developments

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Gregor Gowans

Gregor Gowans

Journalist Trans.INFO


VDO Fleet’s Timo Ketterer offers insight into tachograph tech developments
Photo: VDO Fleet

It’s no secret that tachographs are changing, as are the regulations that determine what they should do and how they should be used. These developments are in turn shifting the way fleets operate and the manner in which lorry drivers work. Naturally, this makes the evolution of these devices of great interest to drivers, hauliers and logisticians alike.

In light of this, we tracked down a tachograph specialist to learn about how tachographs have changed and may evolve in the future, as well as the applications and services that connect to these devices.

In this interview, Timo Ketterer, Head of Service Product Management at Continental, reveals how Continental company VDO Fleet has developed its tachograph and fleet management offerings, and what kind of developments may be on the horizon when future generations of tachographs hit the market.

Timo spoke to Trans.INFO ahead of the launch of VDO Link, which allows fleet managers to remotely retrieve and process vehicle and tachograph data in real time via a plug-and-play solution.

The solution means there is no need for permanently installed telematics modules in the vehicle. It also allows fleet managers to access data on a vehicle’s current location, cargo space and weight to accept additional freight orders. The integration of toll services will also be possible in the future. Another feature of the service is a “talking tachograph” that can be activated via the drivers’ tachograph card, tachograph and smartphone.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Timo. How do you feel the development of tachograph technology is and will be received by lorry drivers?

We are not directly involved in the way new tachographs will develop in the future, as this is decided on by lawmakers. However, we do see that certainly through regulatory initiatives, there has been more data collected by tachographs and thus more ways to monitor drivers.

So taking into account the first few stages of regulatory initiatives, it would seem at first that there’s more disadvantages for drivers with the new tachograph generations. Even so, I think especially with the last evolution of tachographs, the smart tachographs that were introduced in 2019, as well as the 2nd version smart tachograph coming next year, there are many things that will help drivers with their daily work.

If we take the DTCO 4.0 from the 2019 smart tachograph 1st version for example, driver consent was introduced. When drivers insert their card, they are requested to confirm that their personal data can be shared with other units connected to the tachograph. So there’s now a standardised way the truck driver may agree to share his personal data or not. On top of that, when it comes to control mechanisms, there’s more and more going into new tachographs.

The biggest noise may come from the drivers who perhaps see disadvantages with things like remote control technology, which allows road inspection authorities to read the tachograph data without the vehicle stopping.

If you have a lot of infringement in your data, for sure, it could be a disadvantage. That said, I think for the majority of the market, they believe this is an advantage because they are pulled over less for inspection when it appears they are compliant with the law. The data from the remote check would have to be something severe for a truck to be really worth stopping.

At first sight, this just looks like more monitoring. Nevertheless, it also makes the monitoring more efficient. It is really only the drivers deemed a risk to road safety that are stopped. Drivers that behave according to the law can follow their route as planned, and I think there are also some benefits of that.

Drivers have a lot of work to do with tachographs at this moment in time. How much will things be automated in the future? Will it be necessary to register border or sea crossings for example?

Yes, there’s been a lot of confusion currently among some drivers on how to act so as to fully comply with the Mobility Package. Like you said, it’s now mandatory for drivers to register a border crossing via their tachograph very soon after the border.

It’s a manual task that they need to do, and it requires stopping the truck. In the past, it was quite complex as there’s a list of 28 countries that the driver needs to cycle through to find the right one.

In our current 4.0e upgrade to the tachograph, we introduced automatic country detection, which means the driver just needs to confirm the country on the display when registering a border crossing. As a result, the driver has no need to go through the entire list of countries. So that’s one way we made the work of a driver more efficient within the scope of what is legally required.

Besides that, there are also solutions on the market that help fleet managers contact their drivers if they sometimes forget these border crossings. This is important because such mistakes can result in a high fine in the event of an inspection by the control authorities.

The fleet manager can see when the driver is crossing a border and making an entry, and if the driver is really doing that entry or has a habit of forgetting to do so. So this helps fleet managers train their drivers via our TIS-Web DMM 5.0 tachograph data analysis system.

Looking into the future with the new types of tachograph, the smart tachograph version 2, the entry the driver has to make when crossing the border will actually be automated. It’s officially written in the regulation that the tachograph must support automatic country recognition so that border crossings are automatically stored in the tachograph.

As this will mean drivers need not make an additional stop after crossing a border, I think it’s something they will be supportive of. There will also be less interactions with the tachograph, which will make their lives easier.

As for sea crossings, that would be a consequent next step, not to mention a very good one. It would make things less complex. There can often be confusion about when is the right moment to make the entry in the tachograph when driving onto a ferry. It’s also hard for the police or control authorities to check.

The law still says you need to manually do this entry, but it would certainly be a very interesting next step to automate that – particularly with the aid of the more detailed map data that we could have in tachographs. That would require further evolution of the legal regulations though.

In the meantime, mobile apps can help here. These can also be enhanced in the future when tachographs have Bluetooth or if their fleet makes use of our coming offer to connect their tachographs via our VDO Link. The drivers could use these apps to remotely control their tachograph and make that ferry crossing entry. This again would make life easier for drivers.

At the moment, we nonetheless still need to keep to what is defined in the legal regulations. As it stands, the driver has to register a ferry crossing manually. I do hope that this could change with the next set of regulatory developments.

What key learning points have you made over the years when it comes to the user experience of tachographs and the learning curve associated with their operation? Have you incorporated feedback from customers in later designs for example?

Definitely. The foundation for this has already been laid with the apps we have today on the market. I also expect the next generation of intelligent tachographs with bluetooth will spawn more of these apps.

Nowadays, you still need to have an external Bluetooth dongle. This entails an extra cost which means not many drivers have this function today. That said, I see that this trend is strongly growing now via the smart tachograph generation with Bluetooth inside and also when our VDO Link concept will hit the market and tachographs then can be connected to a fleet´s backend automatically.

What you mentioned in the question is interesting. It’s very difficult to onboard new drivers and get them used to the tachograph user interface. It is just a few buttons, which is very different to touchscreen devices and other gadgets you would usually expect to see today.

Another thing we just recently introduced as an upgrade to our VDO Fleet software is a tachograph data analysis system that will calculate scores and indicate when a driver has a lot of infringements. In addition to that, we also want these scores available on the app so the driver has direct feedback. They’d be able to see how many infringements they have, how often they are being stopped on the road, and so on.

The app would make drivers more aware and also help with digitalising training. We’d like to support drivers with digital video content explaining how to use the tachograph too. This can simplify things and facilitate a more efficient driver onboarding process.

Finally, I hope that a more state-of-the-art user interface in the app can flatten the learning curve of using a tachograph and help new drivers.

Can it ever be in a manufacturer’s interests to produce a device that is somewhat vulnerable to manipulation?

Well, I think it’s in our deepest interest as a tachograph manufacturer to have a very secure product. We’ve achieved a very high level of security in the tachograph

During the development phase, we go through a very intense security certification. Also, in development cycles, especially when there are new regulations due to come in, such as those concerning smart tachograph 2.0, our key priority is to get a device onto the market that not only meets the legal requirements, but is highly secure against any kind of manipulation. Trust is important. We also continuously work on trust in the tachograph system by providing secure systems.

Another point is that the European Union has slightly changed the way they regulate tachographs. In the past, you could make a security certification for a tachograph that had no expiration date. Nowadays, since the introduction of the first smart tachograph version, we need to recertify the products every two years for security.

Over the last year, our focus on security has increased even more. It’s not enough to provide simply what is required at this moment in time. We endeavour to go a step further in terms of security so that we can also pass these reassessments in the future.

I think it is truly in our interest to produce a really secure device and to avoid any kind of tachograph manipulations. We always monitor what’s happening in the market to see where there may be room for improvement.

Besides all that, it’s now mandatory for all tachographs to be able to receive software updates. So if something were to come up, it could be reacted to quickly with a new software update.

You also provide fleet management software. What in your view have been the most significant developments in this area in recent times, and what kind of improvements can we expect in the future?

The most significant change in the last few years has been the strong collaboration between different software companies. It’s not just a case of a tachograph recording data anymore. You download the data and see what you can do with it. The mindset has strongly changed in recent years because more and more people are seeing the value that can come from tachograph data.

So nowadays, I think compliance solutions like the one we offer are an essential part of a proper fleet management solution.

For example, we’ve integrated with a lot of other telematics providers or fleet management providers in the field. Even if a fleet has a truck with an OEM telematics system already installed, or a 3rd-party telematics system, they can now also use our services at the push of a button. Then there is not the real need to ever again have telematics installed in the truck. A first and important step will be the introduction of our VDO Link that will enable tachographs to connect to backends directly. I think there has been a change of mindset over the past couple of years whereby systems have become more and more integrated.

Our Tachograph data analytics system produces a lot of reports for fleet managers regarding driver activity and infringements. Now we want to go a step forward and make it more intuitive so the process of analysing these reports is less time consuming. For instance, the scorecards I referred to earlier will identify where the fleet needs to focus its driver training so as to reduce infringements.

This is where those connections come in, because fleet management systems often have their own KPIs. We’re sharing these KPIs on things like infringement scores so that the data is going back and forth between the systems.

The ultimate goal here is to be able to inform the fleet manager about where he/she is at the moment and provide a tool that actively reduces fleet infringements.

Also, if you look beyond compliance, TMS providers can benefit a lot from tachograph data, for example from remaining driving and rest times. This, I hope, will be one next wave of partnerships for us.

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