Author: John Challen, Commercial Motor Magazine – August 2019
The world may be used to technology start-ups becoming overnight successes, but in the transport business, it’s not so common. However, connected vehicle camera and video telematics specialist VisionTrack, led by MD Simon Marsh, has certainly had a meteoric rise. It was founded in 2016, launched its internet of things (IoT) software platform in 2017, and is now an industry leader, working with some of the biggest fleets globally and winning 12 technology and industry awards along the way.
Its success has been built on years of hard work, tenacity and Marsh’s ability to understand the needs of the market. VisionTrack wasn’t just an idea that popped into his head; it was a chance to approach video telematics his way, after a previous life as a fleet owner that gave him a good handle on what his customers want and need.
“I’ve been involved in logistics since 1993, using telematics since 1997 and in-vehicle cameras since 2006, so I’ve evolved my business to be technology-led because I saw the benefits of doing things this way,” says Marsh. “My background working in the biopharmaceutical sector, where there is no room for error, led me to challenge everything and continually check to ensure something is fit for purpose.
“In the 2000s at my previous company, we wrote the rulebook on biopharmaceutical temperature-controlled and thermal mapping – we knew that when we sent a vehicle to, say, Turkey or Russia, we could maintain the temperature. But also, we could send the temperature data in real-time, so the large biopharmaceutical companies would know their high-value loads were safe, while reducing the need for them to be checked in quarantine, saving time and money. We were so successful the business is now owned by a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical distributor, where the technology is used globally on a daily basis.”
PREVENTION IS THE CURE
A turning point in Marsh’s career came when an HGV in his company’s fleet was involved in a fatal crash. It took over a year for the coroner’s report to come through and clear his driver of any wrongdoing, concluding that the driver of the other vehicle involved may have been distracted. “I’d always been massively into safety – introducing driving training and licence checking in the 1990s and drink and drug testing in the early 2000s,” he says. “When the fatal incident occurred, I was driven to find out exactly what had happened and why, but the telemetry data only gave me ‘dot on map’ so was completely inadequate. I became fascinated, almost obsessed, over how to protect my drivers and other road users, which is why VisionTrack is all about prevention.”
Marsh says one of the reasons VisionTrack has grown so quickly is the presence of a strong platform, which he describes as “Netflix on wheels”.
“Effectively our platform is designed to be infinitely scalable and handle thousands of videos a second, while the devices can alert drivers in real-time to any impending dangers, because you never know when an event could happen,” he says. “A driver’s reaction times are a lot longer than they would think, even more so when distracted. People don’t realise that driving is still the most dangerous thing they do, or that in a split second, their life can change. We are able to set up a system that will alert a driver when they are about to have a collision, are distracted or become fatigued, because it’s about informing and engaging with them about how to improve what they can do.”
As well as the driver, Marsh explains that fleet managers need to be aware of potential dangers, so the platform allows them to see how someone is driving in the real world and take appropriate action. “Today’s near-miss could be a horrendous incident the next day,” he comments.
This type of data sharing might not be new, but VisionTrack is going further. “We’re doing computer vision, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI),” reveals Marsh. “With our algorithms, we can work out the propensity to crash, analyse video and detect an impact. We’re producing over 300,000 videos a month that are being monitored and there is a good reason we are taking a lot of data in – it’s all about learning, so we can help significantly reduce the risk of incidents happening in the first place. There has never been a more exciting time in this sector with regards to prevention, because of the huge strides we are making with technology innovation.”
DEALING WITH DATA
Reducing incidents might be the overall goal, but when they happen, Marsh also believes the process for dealing with them should be as quick and efficient as possible. He says insurers who handle big fleets are pushing for the technology because it means their claims departments can process things more quickly. “Using video for first notification of loss (FNOL) means decisions can be made instantly and we are seeing some claims on average saving several thousands of pounds.”
One insurer VisionTrack is working with has seen an 18% reduction in the cost of claims and a 24% drop in frequency, he says. And that is just now – there is still a lot of potential for further improvements.
“If you’re using the technology to its full potential, you will see a reduction in costs, but it’s also about the costs that aren’t explainable,” adds Marsh. “If you think a claim just costs your excess, you’re wrong. There are additional costs in taking the driver off the road; the time of two or three people in writing a report; potential damage to your reputation; and ultimately the vehicle being off the road.”
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
From its headquarters in Tunbridge Wells, Marsh says VisionTrack is starting a global expansion, to the US, Australia and elsewhere in Europe. With the computer vision, AI and machine learning, he believes there are huge benefits to come for fleets. “A camera is a sensor, ultimately. It is picking up a lot of data, which can be used for all sorts of positive things. You can see the time of day and weather, and identify tailgating, fatigue and lots of other scenarios.
We are a data company that has a mission to reduce incidents and save fleets money. We’ve moved into an age where prevention is becoming a reality and fleets get it. “We are starting to talk to some OEMs with engagement from some of our bigger fleets because they want a single platform to use, as very rarely does any transport business run a single-manufacturer fleet. Also, because an OEM’s product cycle to put something new into a vehicle is typically four years, by the time that product comes to market the technology has more than likely moved on,” says Marsh. “Fortunately, we’ve been very successful in people choosing us because they’ve seen what we can offer and the difference it can make.”
A FAST TRACK TO VISIONTRACK
VisionTrack is Simon Marsh’s second foray into the world of video telematics – he was also involved in the launch of a different vehicle camera provider, becoming MD of the business in 2013. “While I was away on a business trip I got talking about my experience in using vehicle camera technology with someone from a CCTV firm,” he recalls. “I told him I thought it was the next big thing because while telematics could tell there was an issue, it didn’t say what the issue was.
“This CCTV firm created a vehicle camera company and I later joined as MD and took advantage of my contacts within the insurance sector,” he continues. “We grew it quite quickly, but I was much more driven by software – the hardware tells you what happened, but the software can work on how to prevent the incidents in the first place. Ultimately we had different visions for the business, so I ended up leaving and forming VisionTrack.”