GPS based fleet management system: Different alternatives

GPS based fleet management system: Different alternatives


Premal Mehta

Pavitra Aggarwal
Project Manager
[email protected]

Puneet Sharma
Deputy General Manager
[email protected]

Reena Shukla
Software Engineer
[email protected]

RMSI, A-7, Sector – 16, Noida

One of the most exciting domains today is LBS or Location Based Services. Location Based Services deliver geographic information between mobile and/or static users via the Internet and/or wireless network. LBS received impetus with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) mandate (E911) that by the end of 2001 all US wireless operators will begin to provide the location of mobile emergency callers to safety officials and emergency dispatchers. According to Strategy Analytics’ research location based services are expected to generate over $16 billion in revenue worldwide by the year 2005.Hosts of services have emerged under this umbrella like mobile yellow pages, enhanced safety calling and roadside assistance, location sensitive billing, personal navigation and tracking services.

Fleet Management Systems, is a technologically advanced method of remote vehicle tracking and monitoring. It has emerged as a widely used LBS application in developed countries and it has had a major impact on the conscious of developing countries like India.

Fleet Management Systems help to manage a fleet of vehicle by gaining control of travel records and time. They eliminate the time-consuming task of manually completing mileage logs, trying to track down missing data or verify hand-written information. These advanced systems could help to manage fuel consumption, velocity, load balancing, vehicle positioning. Once data collection of the Fleet activity is automated and accurate, depicting it as comprehensive reports is easy, giving way to effective management and business efficacy in a highly competitive industry scenario like today.

Fleet Management Systems are primarily based on location finding techniques because geographical location converted into meaningful X, Y at a point of time, is the prime data here. Invariably the success, accuracy and economics of a Fleet Management System is dependent on the type of location finding techniques used.

Architecture of an AVL System using GSM Links

Why GPS?
Location finding techniques are of various kinds with each technique implying impacts on requirements like accuracy, coverage, location determination, speed and ultimately, costs for the operator, just to name a few.

Location finding techniques can be broadly divided into Network based techniques, use of smart devices at fixed locations and GPS based techniques.

Network based positioning relies on various means of triangulation of the signal from cell sites serving a mobile phone. It uses various techniques to determine location like:

  • Cell-Id
  • Time of Arrival (TOA)
  • Angle of Arrival (AOA)
  • Enhanced – Observed Time Difference (E-TOD)

Overview of RMSI Case Study

The basic advantage of using network based techniques is that one uses existing Cellular towers and base stations, therefore there are relatively low costs involved in using this technology. In India, mobile network has infiltrated the cities to a wide extent and Fleet Management within the city could use the existing network-based infrastructure.

However, the hindrance for effective Fleet Management is the accuracy of location data. The accuracy of the location data is greatly dependent on the cell size (the smaller the better) or the number of /visibility of Location Measurement Units for Cell-ID and AOA/TOA/E-TOD respectively. The congestion of the urban areas and the reflection caused by presence of buildings etc can also cause severe problems to these technologies. Besides this, all mobile service providers may not provide these services.

The use of Smart Device is another technique that can be used for Fleet Management. Smart Devices are planted at fixed locations and once the vehicle (also having some sort of smart device) comes within its range required parameters are recorded which either get stored for later retrieval or get transmitted to base station in real time.

It does not require any location finder device because you know the position of where device in installed. Thus the cost of its operation is very low. The only hindrance to this type of system is that your vehicle should pass through that route which is not suitable for all type of fleet management requirements but may be used for fleet plying on fixed routes, like routes of DTC buses or State Transport.

Accuracy of location data is of prime importance along with ease of use and availability of the technology. Keeping this in view GPS (Global Positioning System) has emerged as the key technology used in location finding for Fleet Management.

GPS is a satellite-based navigation system developed and operated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). The system is three-dimensional, free of use, global and able to operate 24 hours a day under all weather conditions. GPS offers high accuracy level, especially when the Selective Availability function, which is set up by US military to limit the outside users of GPS, is turned off.

Since the satellites are positioned at a high altitude, a GPS receiver is in contact with at least 5 GPS satellites at any time. Therefore GPS receiver never fails to detect the location of a vehicle. By using TDOA, the distance between the calculated and actual locations (the amount of deviation or location error) is 1 to 10 meters with 95% confidence level. This precision has been achieved and made available to public by an US Government Regulation dated May 1st 2000.

The inherent advantages of GPS make it a suitable choice for location finding technique in a Fleet Management System.

Different Alternatives
GPS based Fleet Management Systems and their solutions are dependent on the various requirements determining size, accuracy, economic constraints and the like affecting, in turn, efficiency, productivity and profitability.

GPS based Fleet Management Systems could be divided in to three major types:

  • Active Fleet Management Systems
  • Passive Fleet Management Systems
  • Hybrid Fleet Management Systems

Screen Shot depicting Real Time Vehicle Tracking

Active Fleet Management Systems
These specialise in Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL). This system is based on tracking real time data of vehicle position. AVL systems allow companies to contact their vehicles any time, day or night, to determine current location and immediately retrieve other vehicle usage data. AVL systems allow greater control over the fleet management.

Actual position determination and relay techniques vary, depending on the needs of the transit system and the technology (or technologies) chosen. Typically, vehicle position information, its speed and direction are stored on the vehicle for a time, which can be as short as a few seconds or as long as several minutes. Position information can then be relayed to the control center in raw form or processed on-board the vehicle before its transmission.

The communication system for AVL could be via GSM or wireless network.

The GSM is ideal for GPS position information. GPS information is typically about 60 characters in length, leaving room for other information such as the vehicle registration details, average speed and so on to be transmitted as part of the same short message. The GSM again removes the cost of infrastructure and because here we use the existing cellular networks.

The disadvantage is the cost of using GSM services. If the messages have to be sent frequently, say every 15 seconds, the cost could propel. GSM costs could also increase with the use roaming services provided by the service provider.

Wireless networks are invariably established as a private network or one can use the existing wireless links at a cost. However there are various issues concerned with it.

The foremost is the licensing/payment issues in a country like India when one wants to set up a wireless network. Poor wireless coverage could lead to loss of data. The range of wireless network is also limited based on the size of the network. The cost of infrastructure is there but over a period of time and usage the cost effectiveness is increased.

Passive Fleet Management Systems
Passive Systems do not have real time transmission of data. An onboard memory within each vehicle logs the GPS tracking information and uploads it to an office-based PC on the vehicle’s return to base.

The passive system is designed more for companies that need to manage their fleets by reviewing the usage of the vehicles but does not need this information in real-time. Fleet managers often want to track information such as when and where delivery vehicles stop and for what duration or generate speeding reports.

Passive Systems are very cost effective. The passive system hardware is typically less expensive than the active system hardware and in addition, there are no ongoing airtime costs for SMS or the bother of a wireless network.

Screen Shot depicting attribute information for a location

Hybrid Fleet Management Systems
These combine both active and passive systems for companies that want the advanced management information available from passive solutions plus the ability to locate a vehicle instantly.

These systems are definitely more cost effective than AVL systems because here, there is the choice of polling location data at longer intervals cutting down on airtime costs and at the same time having access to detailed location data when the data is uploaded, on return, in the base station.

Varied Scenarios and Alternatives
Lets us look at two scenarios to analyse the requirements and the alternatives.

Security is essential for vehicles transporting bank cash and a Fleet Management System seems a must for this scenario. What kind of a system should this fleet use? We suggest, an Active Fleet Management System.

This system is needed because real time information about vehicle movement, speed and direction is of prime importance. The base station needs to track the vehicle at very short intervals because of the cost of the cargo involved.

An important feature of real time systems is the use of two-way communication between the vehicle and base station and vice versa. This feature could be effectively used for enhancements like added security in terms of programming door locking, vehicle stopping, transmission of distress signal by the driver of the vehicle. Advanced features like routing and navigation could also be provided.

Alternatively a cargo company could use a Hybrid System for Fleet Management for increasing cost effectiveness and at the same time enabling advanced management techniques.

A cargo company may not want real time tracking of vehicle at small intervals but it could require the location, speed and direction data for advanced analyses and reports. Therefore polling of location data could be done at longer intervals of 2-3 hours and when the vehicle returns to the base station the entire onboard data could be uploaded for detailed analyses.

RMSI Case Study
LBS as a rapidly emerging domain was exciting for RMSI, who was already a lead player in the GIS solutions. Here was an area that could combine our expertise with new and emerging technologies. The clear opportunity that LBS offered, prompted us towards developing a prototype that could test the viability of new technologies like GPS-GSM in the area of Fleet Management System.

We envisaged an application that could keep track of any vehicle and display its location and other attributes on a map. It could also be customised to determine the frequency of message passing between the application and the vehicle.

Architecture of RMSI Case Study
The team at RMSI chose to build the case study using the technology of GPS and GSM after evaluating its benefits over the other ingredients of a Fleet Management System. Plotting of location data on high-resolution maps required a rich map database, which consisted of digital street maps.

The architecture involves GPS and GSM integrated devices for identifying the location and messaging between the vehicle and the application. Refer to Figure 1 for the architecture. The GPS device over the moving vehicle calculates the location, speed, date and time information. The information gets stored on the GSM device and in turn sent to the control center through the GMS. The GSM receiver at RMSI end decodes this data through the decoder. The transmitted information is sent to a mapping engine that plots the route of the vehicle on a digital street map of the city. This data from the decoder is also stored in the database so that plotting can also be done on the click of a button for a particular vehicle, at a convenient time.

Salient Features

  • Real time tracking of the vehicle
  • Ability to store the data for convenient use
  • Query facility to identify information for a location tracked on the map
  • All generic mapping features like Zoom in, Zoom out, Pan, Full Extent
  • Generation of MIS reports for location tracking and speed analysis
  • Customisation of frequency of message passing
  • Fully workable solution

The RMSI case study proved to be a successful developmental effort with GPS-GSM working well and as expected. It effectively used the already available GIS expertise and helped us to gain grounds on Location based technologies. We are convinced that LBS and Fleet Management System is a real opportunity with workable technologies in place.

The opportunities created by Fleet Management Systems are immense and it is likely to have a far-reaching impact. For the GIS solution providers like us, this provides the opportunity of taking the power of GIS technologies and blending it with new systems to gain wider grounds.

With the success of the case study we felt that GPS-GSM is viable solution for a Fleet Management System because of its universal appeal to all scenarios whether within city limits or covering remote areas. Smart Devices could be a very good option for fixed route Fleet services, which do not require real time tracking of vehicle because of its cost effectiveness. However, for the consumer and the implementers a careful understanding of service requirements, availability of technologies and the economics will define the kind of and the alternatives of a Fleet Management System to be used.