Research firm Gartner G2 of Stamford, Conn., puts the figure as high as $40 billion. "This means there is a need for commercial telematics applications," says Gartner G2 researcher Nicholas Klemz. This year, Klemz completed a study of 150 motor carriers with the American Transportation Research Institute of Alexandria, Va., (atri-online.org) that found that real-time position tracking is used by about half of the biggest trucking fleets.
But he also found that only about 10 percent of fleets use wireless Internet or other mobile data systems.
And more than one-third of fleet operators seeking new vehicles would like to buy them with systems that tie into the Internet and offer safety and security features. Delphi already offers fleet operators a combined business and safety system called TruckSecure.
The hardware/software system, launched last year, works through an instrument-mounted truck computer that Delphi and partner MobileAria support.
MobileAria (mobilearia.com), of Mountain View, Calif., is partly owned by Delphi. TruckSecure, which was conceived as a fleet management tool, helps drivers follow a schedule, find their next load and communicate with the home office.
The system uses encrypted satellite-based transmissions in remote areas, secure cell calls in developed areas and local wireless network communications at places such as truck stops or warehouses.
But the system can constantly monitor the interior of cargo compartments, observe door openings and closings and keep track of truck positions. It also lets operators create a boundary along a route. If the truck tries to cross the boundary, telematics controls stop the truck, disabling its en-gine until police arrive. If a truck hauling dangerous cargo was hijacked, the system could make the truck useless to the hijackers, Schumacher says. Other companies recognize market potential. Last year, Kenworth Truck Co. (kenworth.com) and Heil Trailer International (heiltrailer.com) unveiled a concept truck with a biometric system that denies access to unauthorized users and tracks and monitors vehicles.
Televoke Inc., (www.televoke.com) a Virginia telematics software company, this year demonstrated an emergency notification system intended for haulers of hazardous materials.
The system is meant to notify police and fire departments in case of an accident.
But it also uses standard telematics features to track or disable a stolen, hijacked or speeding vehicle.
Such developments point to increasing investment in technology meant to thwart terrorism and improve emergency response.
Neil Schuster, CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, says that the attacks in New York and on the Pentagon did not disrupt surface transportation, although security measures did slow border crossings. But an attack on transportation hubs could be devastating, particularly if radiation or biological agents were involved.
"The incident itself is bad enough, but the impact that unfolds over the next days could be even worse," Schuster says of a contamination.
ITS America (itsa.org) coordinates and investigates issues that affect transportation and highways.
The possibility that terrorists would plant a so-called "dirty bomb" in cargo containers or trucks has been cited repeatedly during the past two years.
Schumacher, the Delphi executive, and others say 17 million cargo containers enter the United States each year, but fewer than 2 percent are inspected. Even without explosives, terrorists could wreak havoc with substances already on the road.
Schumacher cites figures of 500,000 chemical shipments daily, 850 million tons per year, including acids, compressed gases and oxygenates.