GPS/AVL brings out the best in business
Fleet managers, public or private, can use automatic vehicle location systems to increase profits, reduce costs, improve customer service and protect workers, When operators can monitor vehicles using Global Positioning System technology, fleet managers can essentially, completely control their businesses.
Crescent Truck Lines recovered five stolen vehicles last November using GPS/AVL technology, saving nearly $100,000 in stolen cargo, in addition to an estimated $120,000, the value of the five vehicles. The Hayward, CA-based company had purchased a Teletrac fleet management system about two months before the incident. Less than 30 minutes after being notified by Crescent, Kansas City, MO-based Teletrac located the first of the company’s stolen vehicles in an industrial area of Hayward and reported the location to the California Highway Patrol’s Cargo Theft Interdiction Program (CTIP).
Crescent had implemented the Teletrac system only two months prior to the theft, to reduce operation costs. “We never anticipated it would play such a critical role in vehicle recovery so quickly after the installation,” said Chris Stafford, Crescent’s terminal manager for the Hayward and Santa Clara territory. Global Positioning System (GPS) and automatic vehicle location (AVL) technologies are helping private companies to increase profits and public safety agencies to save more lives. The vehicle fleet manager is gaining more control of assets than ever before as GPS/AVL systems supplement traditional voice communications.
John Kruse, chief executive officer of IDA, Fargo, ND, said, “Traditionally, there has been little direct control of vehicles away from the central office. Being out of the sight of dispatchers and supervisors, valuable company assets in the form of vehicles or equipment and company personnel were literally out of reach.” Now fleet managers can track vehicles via GPS for advantages such as quicker dispatch, driver safety, theft security and navigation guidance.
The navigation satellite timing and ranging (NAVSTAR) system, or GPS, was built and is maintained by the U.S. Department of Defense. The system uses 24 satellites that orbit 12,000 miles above the Earth, constantly transmitting the precise time and their position in space. Ground stations monitor each satellite’s orbital motion to instantaneously maintain precise positioning information. These positions form the basis for all GPS calculations. The signal travel time is used to estimate distance information. After determining its relative position to several satellites, a GPS receiver can determine its exact location using triangulation techniques.
GPS technology enables the receiver to determine location within 100 meters. Differential GPS (DGPS) can pinpoint locations within a meter in moving applications. DGPS may allow a dispatch center to pinpoint a specific address on a street, or a department of transportation to predict the arrival of public transit systems or a utility to coordinate maintenance teams on power lines.
A basic GPS/AVL system comprises three main components: the GPS receiver/processor, the RF communications link, and the central processing and displaysystem. The GPS receiver may operate on one to 12 channels. The satellite antenna used with the GPS receiver must be located on the vehicle so that it provides unobstructed aerial visibility and minimizes the length of the cable run to the receiver. The antenna receives signals from the GPS satellites, and a communications link transmits the location data from each vehicle to a central processing location. The communications link can be radio, cellular or satellite.
The central processing location or display station receives digitized information from the vehicles in the fleet via a radio unit. The radio is interfaced to a modem and communications controller. The controller will produce a data output, such as RS-232, which can be used to drive a fleet management processor. This processor compiles location data to create a real-time database of all vehicle positions. A dispatcher can then monitor the activity of the fleet by viewing equipment symbols moving across a digital map on a computer screen.
The Trakit GPS/AVL system from IDA can be configured to include terminal and text messaging over the data communication link, and the open architecture design allows the system to be customized to meet individual company needs. Systems are easy to learn. Kevin Burke, a principal at Data Express, manufacturers of Fleet Management 2000, said, “Your dispatchers will be comfortable in an hour or two. It’s that easy.”
GPS/AVL works for several fleet management applications. These systems can be used in business, public transportation services, police, construction, taxis, utilities, messenger services and wrecker services.
IDA is in the process of installing a Trakit AVL system for a beer distributor in Fargo. The distributor wants to measure the amount of time each delivery truck spends at each account or delivery destination. “They are very adamant about making their routes efficient,” said Kruse. The distributor actually assigns standard times for each account and a value to the number of minutes. The company can then perform a deviation analysis in a daily report.
“They did this on a selection basis before, where they would take a week out of the year and do a high level of manual data accumulation. Then they would project that over the whole year,” Kruse said. “This system gives them the ability on a dynamic daily basis to analyze activity of the fleet. For instance, they might sell a lot more beer in the summer than they do in the winter. And they can analyze the seasonal trends and apply them.”
Benefits beyond location
A business may be interested in saving time when making deliveries (such as in the example above) and a public safety agency wants to improve response time to emergency calls. Both can be accomplished through dispatch control. Trimble Navigation, Sunnyvale, CA, installed a GPS-based AVL system for the Schaumburg, IL, police department. Operators can now immediately dispatch and automatically track every vehicle in the fleet, helping police get to the scene quickly. Dispatchers can locate the closest available unit. Or if a car is delayed en route, the operator can quickly find the nearest available backup unit.
Having that much control over a fleet also helps to monitor progress on a task, and errors and mistakes can be observed and quickly corrected. For example, with a real-time map display, a dispatcher recognizing a vehicle taking a wrong turn can advise the driver.
The same theory can be applied to help drivers find hard-to-locate addresses. Seattle’s Shuttle Express started using an AVL system last year on all its 66 vehicles. It dubbed the system, installed by Corp Ten International, Baltimore its “Guardian Angel.” The system helps drivers find addresses when picking up passengers, and it helps dispatchers estimate when vans will arrive at SEA-TAC Airport. The system uses narrowband 220MHz radio technology, developed by SEA, Mountlake Terrace, WA, as the communication link to the base computer.
Driver safety is another GPS benefit. Emergency alerts are offered by most GPS/AVL systems. A driver can press a button that will immediately alert the dispatcher of an emergency, and the system will display and record the exact location of the vehicle. The real-time maps also allow the dispatcher to prevent drivers from entering high-crime areas.
Desert Empire Transfer & Storage uses Teletrac’s Fleet Director to ensure driver safety. The southern California trucking company manages a fleet of 26 tractors and 32 trailers.
“We can see if a driver is off-route or in an area of town he shouldn’t be in, and we can get him back on track and out of danger. Also, drivers can alert us to situations using a panic alert,” said David Etheridge, manager of operations.
A GPS/AVL system also helps to supervise personnel. “There’s also the inherent, what they call, ‘phantom supervisor’ effect,” IDA’s Kruse said. “The operators know they’ll be accountable for where those vehicles were and for how long. Drivers have more motivation to stay on task.”
GPS/AVL can also improve efficiency through post-performance analysis. Fleet managers can play back the activity of selected vehicles for evaluation. Corp Ten International’s Memtrak-1 tracking unit is made specifically for this type of analysis.
“The Memtrak GPS tracking system is designed for customers who want a mapped or text record of vehicle travel on a daily/weekly or monthly basis at a very low cost, without involving the expense and complexity of a radio or cellular network,” said Kamal Sirageldin, president of Corp Ten International. “Memtrak stores vehicle position reports to internal RAM memory and downloads it to a PC for viewing on our Memtrak-2000 position report mapping software.”
Geotek Communications, Montvale, NJ, manufactures the AVL PRO, which uses ETAK mapping software resident in the dispatcher’s office. The system records and plays back all vehicle activities, offers accurate vehicle location information and reduces mobile employee downtime.
The recorded data can also be used to schedule preventive maintenance. The systems can be programmed to alert an operator when a certain amount of time has passed, and that the oil needs to be changed or spark plugs need to be checked.
GPS/AVL allows fleet managers to improve their businesses with returns on investment with the efficiency gained from the technology. Quicker dispatch times for public safety agencies can save lives. Drivers and passengers are safer, and customer service is improved.
Companies can approach AVL manufacturers with their individual needs and challenges and can usually obtain a turnkey system complete with software, terminals and instructions.
Before you rush out and buy a GPS/AVL system, be sure to ask the manufacturer what will happen with the system on Aug. 21-22, 1999.
Everyone is rushing around worrying about the Year 2000 problem (MRT, August) affecting utilities, personal computers and banks. But GPS is facing its own time-based problem that you should be cautious of, as well, especially if you are a fleet manager already using a GPS-based AVL system or are contemplating purchasing one.
GPS time, which counts weeks, rolls over to 0 after every 1,024 weeks. On midnight, Aug. 21-22, 1999, the GPS week will roll over from week 1,023 to week 0000. On Aug. 22, 1999, unless upgraded, many GPS receivers will think that it is Jan. 6, 1980-the timescale origin (time zero) of GPS system time (its original birthdate). Older systems may crash as they try to interpret the two-digit “00” date code.
So all AVL manufacturers and fleet managers should be finding a solution, and fast!