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Smartphone telematics essentials #1: automatic trip detection

19/06/2020 • Anthony Corbeaux

How can a smartphone detect and analyze a driver's trips without any action on his part? Here is the first article in a series that aims to explain the most essential aspects of smartphone telematics and how a mobile telematics app works.




The role of the telematics application


Smartphone telematics is a universal solution that makes it possible to connect all vehicles using their driver's smartphone. There is no need for telematics equipment or dongle. To do this, drivers install a mobile telematics application on their smartphone and grant the necessary permissions for the app to access their position and the phone's sensors. It is then able to detect all trips made by the driver without any action on his part, even when it is not open. This analysis is carried out with a very low impact on the battery and mobile data consumption of the smartphone.

White-label telematics apps developed by DriveQuant as well as those that embed the DriveKit SDK allow choosing among several automatic trip detection modes depending on the use cases. It is even possible to set up several vehicles for the same driver, each using a different trigger mode in the app.


Telematics mobile apps and smartphone compatibility

One of the challenges in creating and maintaining a telematics mobile app is the ability to provide a consistent user experience across different phone models. At DriveQuant we continuously test our services on a maximum number of models (more than 1000 models tested to date) and OS versions to ensure full compatibility on iPhones and more than 95% compatibility on Android models (100% on the top 50 best-selling models in 2019).


Multiple trip detection modes for different use cases


The natural automatic mode (GPS)


The automatic GPS mode is the most natural method to detect a trip and the mobile application detects all trips. The driver is informed in real-time via a notification when the analysis of a trip has been triggered and is in progress, and has the possibility to indicate if necessary that he is not the driver via the notification. It is not necessary to open the application in order to trigger the driving analysis, it can run in the background (this is true for all detection modes presented in this article).

mobile_telematics_app_trip_detection_modesThe application analyzes data from the phone's sensors to detect trips using optimized triggering mechanisms that do not consume the phone's battery outside the driving context. To do this, the application identifies the phone's movements that are characteristic of motorized trips:

- on Android, the application uses the accelerometer, which is a low-energy sensor to detect acceleration that can be achieved in a vehicle. Then the application will activate the GPS to validate that the speed is similar to a vehicle trip;
- on iOS, the application uses triangulation with respect to the GSM antenna to identify that a significant movement has been made and that it is likely to be a motorized trip. Then the application activates the GPS to validate that the speed of the trip is similar to a vehicle trip.

Our services are also able to detect non-motorized mobility: train, bicycle, or boat for example.

Use case

The GPS automatic mode is used, for example, for the operation of the LÉA by DriveQuant application to improve work-related road safety. This solution can then be deployed in fleets of drivers equipped with smartphones to help employees reduce road risk on their professional trips, as well as on commuting journeys between home and work.


The automatic mode with Beacon


When our partners need to identify a driver/vehicle pair, a Beacon can be used in addition to the mobile telematics application so that only the trips made in a specific vehicle are recorded.

beaconA Beacon is a small tag transmitting a Bluetooth signal to be placed in the vehicle (e.g. glove box) to detect the presence of the smartphone. With the Beacon mode, the analysis of a trip is only triggered if the driver enters the Beacon's signal transmission area.

The Beacon has several advantages: a low cost and an autonomy of about 4 years. In addition, it protects the user's privacy by only recording the trips made in a given vehicle. Finally, trip detection is faster than with detection based solely on the phone's sensors (GPS).


Use case

This trip detection mode is very relevant in the context of a usage-based insurance (UBI) program. This is for example the case of Altima by MAIF's 'Auto insurance by the minute' application, a "Pay-when-you-drive" connected insurance product developed under white-label by DriveQuant.


The automatic mode with Bluetooth


The latest vehicles are equipped with a native Bluetooth system for drivers to make hands-free calls or play music on the audio system from their smartphones. We have developed an automatic detection mode that uses this system to trigger a trip analysis. Like the automatic mode with the Beacon, the Bluetooth mode allows vehicle identification to avoid recording other motorized trips. It is also compatible with the Bluetooth systems of two-wheelers' helmets.

The mobile telematics application is able to detect that the vehicle's Bluetooth system is switched on and paired with the driver's smartphone. The app uses this event to automatically trigger a trip analysis when the driver enters the Bluetooth signal area of the vehicle (or helmet).


Use case

We developed the automatic Bluetooth mode a few weeks ago after months of testing. You can also try it yourself via our DriveQuant application (see below).


Try our automatic trip detection modes for free


If you wish to try by yourself the different modes of automatic trip detection presented in this article (as well as all our services), we invite you to install our demonstration application DriveQuant:

Our demo app requires an access right that we will provide you free of charge. Please contact us to get your team name: