Consat evolves to manage electric buses


Consat Telematics’ managing director talks to ABC magazine about its latest electric bus technology

Consat evolves to manage electric buses
Consat Telematics is continuing to evolve its systems

Originally Consat sold telematics products for public transport vehicles. But now the company has evolved to provide telematic and electric bus solutions that lead the way in the emerging market of zero-emission buses that are always connected.

Consat Telematic’s system presents as a small screen next to the driver’s dashboard. It sits just next to the steering wheel, easily missed by passengers when they climb aboard a bus. But behind this monitor is a high-tech computer, cables and antennas that form Consat’s world leading solutions. The tap of a finger on Consat’s monitor can control the entire bus system and beyond.

The telematics company provides the hardware and software as part of its solutions, and what it can do with its technology is mind blowing. Consat relies on an open interface mantra that means it can integrate telematics data to do some amazing things on public transport vehicles.

The depth of Consat’s technology starts with the ability to glean the schedule of electric buses in a public transport fleet. With this knowledge, it can prioritise the charging of certain buses so that the vehicle is fully charged and ready to drive when it heads out on its first route of the day. It’s enough to excite Consat Asia-Pacific managing director Lachlan Mackay.

"There are other cool things we can do too," Mackay told ABC magazine.

"If the bus is in a place where the ambient air temperature is high, like Queensland, then our technology can turn the air conditioner on in the bus while it’s still on charge.

"This means when the bus leaves the depot it’s already at a comfortable temperature and it doesn’t have to waste battery to cool it down – we call it preconditioning."

But Consat’s technology doesn’t just control on the bus. With electric charging infrastructure growing quickly, Consat has updated its solution to turn electric chargers on and off automatically when a bus stops to charge.

Mackay said that this technology has many benefits for electric bus operators. It includes eliminating electric bus range anxiety, as telematics data can issue accurate range predictions, as well as making electric vehicles safer and more comfortable for everyone onboard.

Alongside these new technological possibilities on electric vehicles, Consat can use its telematics solutions to provide an unimaginable amount of data. With its geofencing technology, Consat can also map different sets of data to ensure buses avoid low bridges, high-traffic areas or weight-restricted bridges and roads. It goes to such deep depths that it features a state-wide map of New South Wales’ school zones to alert drivers if they are speeding in a school area – all in the name of safety and efficiency.

When it comes to charging, it can now integrate and control electric bus chargers offline using standard protocols like OCPP, VDV 261, VDV 461 and VDV 463.

The proof of Consat’s telematics capabilities is in the pudding. In only five years of operating in Australia, the company has worked with large clients including Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) and Victoria’s Department of Transport.

"Our largest client is TfNSW – most in the industry know of the partnership we have with them," Mackay said. "We’re rolling out our solution to all 3,000 rural and regional buses in NSW.

"We’re a bit over a third of the way there at the moment, with around 1,300 buses live running our solution."

Consat Asia-Pacific program manager Kirsten Townsend said the company’s largest Australian project with TfNSW has proven that integration and the ability to adapt quickly is crucial. She added that Consat’s Australian partnerships stay true to its goals to interact openly and adapt to the changing nature of public transport technology.

Other current projects include working with Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) to provide it with real-time data off new electric vehicles. Consat is also expanding to provide solutions to body builders like Volgren and others

so that new buses are pre-fitted with its solutions. It also works with operators such as Kinetic to fit its technology onto pre-existing public transport vehicles.

But Consat’s team isn’t just there to install the solutions. The company’s experts can also troubleshoot issues and help maintain the quality of on-board technology.

Mackay said that he has come to truly appreciate the depth of his team’s experience in telematics and how valuable it is when it comes to providing evolving solutions for customers.

 

"We only have a small team but they are very experienced," he said.

"Our experience in telematics and integration on public transport vehicles is second to none. We regularly diagnose issues on chassis FMS or body CAN that have been missed by others.

"I remind my team – we often forget the depth and level of our experience, having that in-house capability we’re able to support our local customers."

Consat’s telematics technology may look simple when it appears as just a monitor on a bus driver’s dashboard, but its solutions are incredibly in-depth.

Consat’s expertise comes from over 30 years of providing solutions to the public transport industry. It all started in Sweden in 1989, when Consat was using VHF radio systems to report onboard bus data back to a central system.

With technology evolving, Consat has also expanded as a company. The telematics provider now operates in Canada and North America, Norway, Middle East and Brazil. It made the decision to open business in Australia in 2017. Mackay said Consat has been on an incredible journey so far.

"Thirty-three years is a long time in IT and an even longer time in public transport," Mackay said.

"We may be relatively new here in Australia, but we aren’t a new company and our solutions are cutting-edge."

Although Consat’s solutions provide operational safety and efficiency for electric buses, its technology is also suitable for a wide range of public transport vehicles. Buses, trams, trains, ferries, garbage trucks and snowploughs all have Consat solutions operating on them right now.

It’s all enough to surprise Mackay when he sits back and looks at the evolution of Consat Telematics over the past 33 years.

"We’ve seen a huge change in technology since we first started in Sweden," he said.

"We were built from the ground-up for public transport, so our foundation is solid. This enables us to adapt over time to changes in technology, transport operations, even customer behavioural changes.

"We are continuously developing and enhancing our solutions – it’s a living system."

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