When size really matters

Vehicle and related load theft continues to be a major issue in SA. According to CrimeStatsSA in 2019, theft of motor vehicles and motorcycles was at 48 306, truck hijackings were recorded as 1 179 and car hijackings were reported as 15 968.

For this reason, stolen vehicle recovery is still a major component in any telemetry service, says Wahl Bartmann, CEO of Fidelity Services Group, which recently launched its vehicle tracking company, Fidelity SecureDrive.

“Having a great recovery infrastructure of land and air support plus a well-developed crime intelligence network is simply not enough. The probability of recovery increases materially if the vehicle has a working telematics device that has not been found,” says Bartmann.

Fidelity SecureDrive boasts one of the smallest telematics and stolen vehicle recovery units, enabled with the latest in advanced communications and Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities, on the market. Advanced fitment techniques executed by PSIRA-registered security officers further improve the prospect of recovery.

Bartmann says it typically takes just minutes to locate and remove most devices resulting in poor stolen vehicle recovery rates. Furthermore, it takes less than an hour to strip most stolen vehicles for parts. Considering that this is the modus operandi for most stolen vehicles, rather than illicit export into neighbouring countries, time is of the essence.

“Robust covert installation processes limit this risk. Here the size of the unit is critical. The smaller the unit the easier it is to hide,” he says.

Bartmann does, however, caution that being small is still not the ultimate silver bullet. “Being compact with great hardware that allows for secure channel fitments while maintaining great communications is key,” he says.

Historically, the early-warning signs such as power-cut, towing or ignition tamper alerts could only be collected and used in managing theft risk where a wired device was used. Generally, self-powered wireless devices could only be activated once the vehicle was reported stolen resulting in lower chances of recovery. “Now, units, such as those installed by Fidelity SecureDrive, can be self-powered but provide the early-warning alerts of traditionally wired devices. The art lies in creating a small unit with big capabilities,” says Bartmann. 

He adds the accuracy of the recovery unit is another critical feature. Traditional Radio Frequency devices that are predominantly used in South Africa for stolen vehicle recovery provide as much as a 600m radius or a 36-block area to search when remotely positioned. Three-metre pinpoint accuracy is critical in effective stolen vehicle recovery.

“Using technologies that do not require specialised hardware, such as radio frequency receivers, dramatically increases the number of on-the-ground recovery agents within a particular network or area. Using technology that is not reliant on radio frequency recovery, such as that used in SecureDrive, is therefore critical in expanding the recovery net and aids in greater overall recovery statistics,” he says.

Fidelity Services Group is the largest private security group in South Africa with a geographically dispersed footprint of vehicles, officers and helicopters that can be activated and used in its recovery activities.

He says the use of AI in the software design process further improves the ability to recover stolen or hi-jacked vehicles. These units are able to wake up and go to sleep when they detect interference with their normal operation or communication.

“This technology was not available until very recently and most vehicles on the roads in South Africa currently will not benefit from these significant advances in hardware, software and communications technology,” concludes Bartmann.

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