Location technologies: Charting new directions for fleet tracking
Wireless mobile location technologies, particularly commercial and public safety fleet applications, are exhibiting more sophistication in accuracy, vehicle status and location context. Adoptions of commercial applications for automatic vehicle location (AVL) and location mapping are increasing exponentially. New hardware and software releases offer fleet managers additional improvements in safety, productivity and profitability. Some of that profitability can reflect back on the service providers as well.
This spring, users and suppliers of Global Positioning System (GPS)-based tracking systems finally came into their own. At midnight, May 1, GPS became, for all intents and purposes, a civilian technology. At that moment, the U.S. military, the titular owner of the GPS satellite network, was ordered by presidential decree to turn off the selective availability (SA), or signal scrambling, which limited the accuracy of non-military equipment. Because of SA, differential GPS, using ground-based reference stations to improve accuracy, has been used for years as a “workaround” to bolster accuracy. The elimination of SA increases existing receiver accuracy by as much as 10 times. The government has speculated that GPS readings will be more accurate than U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps.
Some estimates for the GPS market see it doubling in just three years, becoming a $16 billion industry. Accelerating the boom in the United States are the FCC’s phased requirements for accuracy in locating civilian wireless communications to enable E9-1-1 and emergency response.
Many technologies to enable E9-1-1 location will be GPS-based, but network-based, time-difference-of-arrival (TDOA) applications continue to increase. TeleCorp PCS and TruePosition, King of Prussia, PA, are currently conducting a market trial of TruePosition’s TDOA wireless location system in New Orleans. TruePosition’s technology has been deployed in analog 800MHz, analog/TDMA 800MHz and analog/CDMA 800MHz systems, but the New Orleans trial is TruePosition’s first deployment in a 1.9GHz PCS TDMA system.
TruePosition also conducted field trials with Bell Atlantic Mobile in Pennsylvania earlier this year. That study, with an 18-site CDMA system, resulted in location accuracies to 80m. Bell Atlantic is following up with further testing in New York City and a full-scale market trial in Philadelphia.
FleetASAP, a service of @Road, Fremont, CA, offers location to within 30m for monitoring, messaging, reporting and scheduling capabilities for business fleets. The system platform combines GPS, wireless communications and the Internet into an integrated network.
The basic need to establish a vehicle’s location is being enlarged with emphases on efficiencies in fuel, employee time, employee safety and loss prevention. This requires expanded features in software, including user-defined alarm or message functions. Vehicle operation characteristics can also be tied into AVL information. Some systems allow data downloads to create fleet activity reports.
Fleet Management 2000, for example, provided by Kansas City, MO-based Securicor Wireless, is software that supports vector maps, locates addresses and finds the closest vehicle to a target location. It allows customization of maps with buildings, boundaries and address points, and it can be set to search for street intersections. The software can change the color of displayed vehicle icons to correspond with status messages and activate an alarm when a vehicle is speeding, inactive or stopped. Alarms can also be triggered if a fleet vehicle is out of its assigned territory, or just off-route. Even collisions can be linked back to the alarm system.
Fargo, ND-based IDA has released its Trakit Smart Card for the capture of GPS-AVL data from vehicles. The card, which incorporates an embedded read/write computer chip, is inserted into either a vehicle activity logger or a real-time fleet monitoring unit, where GPS-AVL location and time data are recorded. Once transferred to an office computer, the card’s data can be processed to create fleet management reports as well as to provide front-end data for billing, costing, payroll and preventative maintenance.
IDA also released Fleetsync Trakit for use on Kenwood Communications’ Fleetsync radio systems. The GPS fleet management system incorporates Fleetsync status and text messaging. Real-time tracking of fleet vehicles on a digital map allows the dispatcher to assign jobs to the closest fleet units. Routes of fleet vehicles can be replayed on screen to review activity. Data records are captured at the dispatcher computer, or they can be downloaded from the buffer in the vehicle GPS unit to create fleet management reports.
Geiger Communications, Melbourne, FL, has introduced its G-Track GPS-AVL system, which includes mobile and base interface modules, 12-channel active antennas and a Windows-based G-Track software package. The proprietary software allows for the addition of multilayer maps to provide fleet managers with information such as visual vehicle location. The software creates files, storing all data for each unit for future reference.
The system can be interfaced with new or existing radio platforms, including conventional, trunked and cellular systems. Incorporated into the system are individual polling, group polling and address-find features. A mobile interface feature offers memory to store vehicle locations to help manage fleet vehicles that travel out of radio coverage. The system includes I/O ports to monitor or control various peripherals and an RS-232 port for additional mobile data accessories.
CES Wireless Technologies, Winter Park, FL, has also developed a number of fleet-management location products. These include GPS-AVL modules with integrated wireless data modems, combination GPS terminal and credit card validation modules, and combined GPS and alphanumeric messaging terminals. CES’ Power-Trak mapping software displays information for the dispatcher on a color-coded, high-resolution map. Real-time vehicle display is augmented by pan, zoom and scroll functions to change views from 100-mile regions down to 200-foot close-ups.
Although fleet tracking was initially perceived as cost-effective for only those operations with dozens or hundreds of vehicles on the move, more systems are being designed to be scalable. San Jose, CA-based Airlink Communications, for example, has designed its Airlink Tracking System (ATS) to accommodate fleets of as few as 10 to 25 vehicles.
ATS combines GPS and CDPD in an open system that allows simultaneous use of the in-vehicle device, Airlink Pinpoint, as a communications device for an MCT, a POS terminal or any MDT that uses an RS-232 serial line to send and receive data. The system can play back any log, vehicle or vehicle group record over a selected time interval. It also tracks vehicle velocity and allows the dispatch team to monitor traffic speed on major roadways. Dispatch can then divert drivers away from traffic congestion, which saves time and money.
Location in context
“I know where I am, but what else is here?” Simply knowing the Cartesian coordinates of a vehicle is no longer enough. The refinement of geographical information software (GIS) by groups like Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), Redlands, CA, and others, makes it possible to provide a context for a location. Mapping software can now incorporate political (boundary), topographical, hydrological, climatological and meteorological adjuncts. Locale-specific information, such as building configurations (as wireline or 3D representations) and the presence of hazardous materials, utilities infrastructure and other information is of obvious assistance to the dispatch of fire, ambulance and law enforcement fleets. In the case of law enforcement, crime frequency analysis mapping is now being tied into dispatch AVL functions to assist directed street patrol.
Map-centric software is increasing in availability for both civilian and emergency services use. Laval, Quebec-based AVel-TECH, for example, recently was awarded a contract to provide location software to the ambulance fleet of Nova Scotia Emergency Health Services. The software allows both the target location and the vehicle’s current position to be simultaneously displayed in the vehicle and at dispatch.
These new mapping applications will rapidly extend to commercial dispatch as well, linking fleets with resources and customer locations.
Location data mining
Finally, mandated location requirements can be turned into an advantage for commercial service providers. That is, the FCC’s phased requirements for E9-1-1 capabilities can be exploited commercially by cellular, PCS and CSMR entities. The usefulness of locating a vehicle is not restricted to emergencies. Location data can be used to plan future base station sites and to predict network load.
Companies such as Cell-Loc and Lucent Technologies have been advocating location-sensitive services, such as competitive billing structures, based on geographic service areas. Databases can be compiled showing users’ proximity to specific base stations, or cell sites, and frequency of use. This data mining can also be shared with other commercial enterprises. As new wireless application protocols (WAPs) and other Internet-related devices are rolled out, businesses, such as garages and truck stops, will be able to target fleet activity that frequents their geographic locations. This may encourage them to offer competitive rates for goods and services, to the benefit of both themselves and the fleet manager.