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Credit: Photo: Qualcomm Inc.

With onboard computers, drivers and dispatchers share information like load assignments and hours of service while vehicles are out in the field. Here, a driver has pulled over and is consulting the mobile terminal installed in his truck's cab.

In addition to two-way text messaging, the system offers point-by-point routing maps, vehicle location, and continuous updates on vehicle performance parameters. It also can automatically display arrival and departure information.

San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc., provider of the Global TRACS satellite and Omni EXPRESS cell-phone-based telematics systems, is working with Moline, Ill.-based John Deere Construction and Forestry Co. and West Fargo, N.D.-based Bobcat Co. to include systems on new equipment or mount them retroactively.

Global TRACS monitors run-time and up to four parameters of engine health, such as fuel use or oil pressure. The Omni-EXPRESS cell-phone-based system is just like sending an e-mail, according to Qualcomm senior sales director Michael Baker. “You can send a message according to a preset format or a free-form message that you create,” he says.

Not surprisingly, the cost of a telematics system increases with the amount of information customers want.

The system Qualcomm is developing for Deere, for example, offers four levels of service available for a monthly fee ranging from approximately $11 to $35.

“Standard” service provides machine location, service hours, and location monitoring. “Advanced” service includes dash indicators and fuel and equipment use information by monitoring engine load. The “ultimate” level adds current and stored monitoring of component pressures and temperatures, fuel consumption, transmission gear selection, and diagnostic information retrieval. Finally, “direct” service enables customers to download machine operating history and diagnostics to a laptop.

— Brown is a freelance writer in Des Plaines, Ill.