The fastest-growing segment in aftermarket telematics is video telematics, riding strong tailwinds. From an increased awareness of the value derived from a video-based safety system to the availability of hardware across a spectrum of functionality, form-factor, and price, connected dash cams are becoming increasingly prevalent in commercial vehicles of all types and sizes, globally. While the choices keep growing, so does the complexity of the decision a fleet needs to make to ensure it has the right solution for its needs. A paradox of choice, but we are here to help.
We take a deep dive into the 4 key factors to consider when looking at fleet dash cams while considering the main use-cases and workflows that need to be covered – form factor, specs. (and resulting functionality), installation and connectivity, and integration with existing telematics solutions. Please note that the focus of this article is primarily on the hardware components of a video telematics solution. For a more holistic overview of video telematics, refer to our other articles that cover functionality, workflows, and more.
As far as dash cams are concerned, form does follow function. A single road facing camera, loop recording video throughout a trip, and providing evidence for accidents and other incidents in front of the vehicle is the most common category of dash cam present in commercial vehicles today. They typically include some onboard storage, expandable through an SD card. Simple cameras with just basic video recording functionality are usually smaller, compared to cameras with more capable chipsets for AI and other advanced processing tasks, which need to be designed around a larger physical footprint and consider heat dissipation and other factors. Road facing cameras usually have a wide field-of-view (FOV), sometimes up to 140 degrees, ensuring that incident videos cover the maximum context around a vehicle.
With an increased focus on the effect of driver behavior inside the cabin as a causal factor in accidents, dual camera systems with both road and driver camera views have started becoming popular. They come in 2 variants:
- Monolithic systems with the road and driver camera in one unit. The advantages of such systems are that they are easier to install with fewer moving parts, and can provide a view of the entire cabin (including passengers) by having a high FOV. They are usually mounted centrally, to provide an optimal view of both road and cabin.
- The driver camera is a separate accessory, with a wired connection to the main unit containing the road-facing camera. The flexibility of mounting the driver-facing camera separately means that they can be placed near the driver with an almost frontal view of the driver’s face, which is desirable for AI algorithms providing DMS features like driver distraction and drowsiness alerts. Such cameras though are designed to capture only a narrow view of the driver, and typically have a smaller FOV.
An important factor when considering driver-facing camera systems is the availability of illumination sources at nighttime and under low-light conditions inside the cabin. Infra-red (IR) illumination in the form of LED’s near the driver-facing camera are common, providing illumination inside the cabin while not causing a distraction to the driver.
Systems that provide 360-degree video coverage around a vehicle are an expanding sub-segment of the video-telematics market, driven by the need for fleets to ensure coverage against liability from all kinds of incidents, including rear-end collisions, side-swipes, and more. The principal use-case these systems are built around is the continuous loop recording from 5 to 6 cameras installed around the vehicle, and consequently, they need a significant amount of onboard storage, sometimes of the order of 1 TB or more. Physically they usually take the form of a black-box recorder subsuming storage, compute, and connectivity, with multiple cameras wired in.
Specifications and Functionality of Dash Cams
- Systems that primarily support video loop recording (DVR) and event generation based on G-sensor processing require modest computing resources. Chipsets that support such systems provide HD video encode/decode functionality, LTE/Wi-Fi for connectivity, and minimal compute for processing of G-sensor data on-device.
- Systems that support edge-based AI for ADAS and DMS, in addition to the standard video telematics functionality (DVR, G-sensor events). Such systems require more powerful chipsets and rely on GPUs to off-load AI inference workloads from the CPU (chipsets from Ambarella, Qualcomm, Mediatek, and Intel are popular among AI-enabled dash cam solutions). Edge-based AI allows real-time driver coaching in the form of audible or visible alerts (LEDs), preventing potential incidents from happening. Some of the alerts generated by such systems are:
- Speed limit compliance
- STOP sign compliance
- Following distance monitoring
- Lane drift monitoring
- Driver distraction (looking away from the road)
- Driver drowsiness
- Multi-camera systems consist of a central computing unit/ECU, consisting of onboard storage, connectivity, and input ports for multiple accessory cameras to stream and record video. Typically used in larger vehicles with big blind spots, the cameras can provide a view of the road, blind spots on either side, the rear of the vehicle, and a view inside the cabin. The FOV of such camera systems are typically large (150 degrees or more), together covering all the space around a vehicle. Optionally such systems also provide a display showing a live feed of the view around the system, especially important for trucks with large trailers that navigate in and out of tight spots. More advanced systems provide software to stitch the multiple views around the vehicle into a seamless 360-degree panoramic view.
Installation and Connectivity of Dash Cams
The complexity of installation is important for fleets to consider as they look at the total costs involved, and need to be mapped to the level of functionality desired from a video telematics system:
- Self-installable systems typically provide power input/GND cables that need to be wired to the vehicle’s power source. In most installations wiring for ignition, status is also supported, which is critical to implementing automatic start/stop of video recording. Cables with cigarette lighter port adaptors are usually not popular with commercial fleets and are more popular in consumer-focused video solutions. Forward and driver-facing cameras are typically mounted on windshields, with a mounting bracket using adhesive VHB tape from 3M or other suppliers. Windshield mounting of cameras has to consider both relevant laws and regulations in different geographies, and the optimal performance of ADAS and DMS algorithms.
- More advanced single and dual-camera systems provide vehicle bus ports and J1939/OBD/J1708 connectivity, ensuring that video telematics solutions can also consume triggers from the vehicle bus to automatically capture event videos. This also helps provide accurate vehicle velocity and other vehicle parameters like braking status, that can be consumed by ADAS and other advanced applications running on the device. Professional installation is usually recommended for such systems.
- Multi-camera systems require extensive wiring in and around vehicles to plug different cameras to the ECU/telematics box and are either professionally installed, or come factory-fitted as an optional extra on new vehicles.
Connectivity options on dash cams typically consist of the following:
- LTE/4G, which is becoming the de-facto standard in most standalone solutions, given the data payloads around video telematics.
- Wi-Fi, which supports 2 main use-cases:
- In systems where the data upload from the dash cam is via a telematics black-box or an external mobile device like an ELD tablet with 4G connectivity, dash cams connect and transmit data locally over Wi-Fi.
- Mobile apps for installers and drivers to interact with and configure cameras over Wi-Fi – especially relevant for cameras without displays and other native UX options.
- Bluetooth, which can be useful in having peripherals communicate to the dash cam, e.g.:
- Telematics black-boxes transmitting triggers generated from the vehicle bus to the dash cam for initiating video capture.
- Smart BT-enabled buttons that the driver can use for on-demand video capture.
Integration with existing solutions
Dash cams (and the data they generate) don’t exist in a vacuum, and integration with the existing telematics solution that the fleet already uses is critical to their acceptance. This has two main aspects:
- On-device integration with the vehicle bus to trigger videos around existing events, and also receive high-fidelity data streams around speed and other relevant vehicle parameters. In-dash cams with vehicle bus ports, this is supported natively. In other instances, Wi-Fi, BLE, or RS-232 connections between a dash cam and an existing telematics black-box form the basis for deep integrations. If none of the above are feasible, shallow integrations are an option: a connected telematics device uploading triggers to the cloud, which in turn communicates down to a dash cam over a separate LTE/4G channel. The latter implementation, however, due to the round-trip communication path, suffers from issues around connectivity to the cloud in the field.
- Backend integration, with videos, driver scorecards, and other meta-data integrated into existing fleet dashboards. This is usually in the form of secure REST APIs provided by the video telematics application and consumed by existing frontend web applications to augment conventional telematics data with a layer of video and associated analytics. A standard example of this is overlaying incidents and event videos on vehicle route maps, and there are many other views and workflows that can also be enabled.
The key first step in creating the right video telematics system is selecting the right hardware, and it can only be achieved by looking at dash cams holistically, within the entire framework of a fleet’s requirements. We hope this primer helps you navigate the different options available and get started on creating a world-class fleet safety solution.