1 Smart Client Fleet Tracking Solutions By Steve Milroy & Pat Campbell OnTerra Systems LLC - Traditionally, fleet tracking solutions also known as Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) have been very costly efforts. With an AVL, each vehicle is equipped with a GPS tracking device that transmits its location (latitude/longitude) to a central location. Tracking applications (e.g. Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems) then use this location information to improve processes and fleet efficiency. Largely due to the high hardware and software solution costs, traditional AVL/CAD solutions were only viable for the largest of governments, fleet, and logistics companies. These companies and government organizations benefit significantly from improved fleet management, which can include solutions for fleet tracking, field monitoring, intelligent dispatch and reporting. Business benefits from fleet tracking/management solutions include: enhanced productivity better field data for business analysis / planning reduced costs enhanced compliance. Today, with continued technological advancements, there are now new products available providing break-through, cost effective fleet tracking solutions previously considered unaffordable - enabling more organizations to implement and benefit from them. This whitepaper describes the next generation of smart client fleet tracking solutions which leverage new (and less expensive) GPS tracking devices, better wireless data service, central server/database technology, and improved mapping and smart client application technology. We will explore the 3 major solution components, provide an overview of the architecture, and then review the costs and options. GPS Tracking Devices The first of the three elements, these devices are either permanently or temporarily mounted in the vehicle to be tracked, connected to the power supply, and often have an antenna mounted externally for improved signal reception. Using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, the device receives GPS signals and is able to determine its location (latitude and longitude) as well as other information such as altitude, speed, and direction. The GPS tracking device can store information temporarily, and then using a wireless data connection transmit the data to the central server. GPS tracking devices were traditionally thousands of dollars each, but such devices are now available for less that $500 dollars with identical GPS features plus some new enhancements. For example, the AirLink PinPoint E (figure 1) device is commercially available, with GSM/GPRS data connectivity.
2 Figure 1 AirLink GPS tracking device Front Back In addition to typical GPS tracking device options, these devices now can also be configured to respond to different vehicle events. For example if the vehicle stops for a predetermined time then a stop event is triggered. Additionally, the device can be configured with locations defined as geo-fences, so that if the vehicle gets within a certain radius of a location then a geo-fence event is triggered. These device events allow you to more easily implement application features and generate reports (e.g. How many stops did each driver have today? or, What time did each driver start and finish their route? ) Wireless Vehicle Connectivity The second of the three elements, the wireless data connection is important in a fleet tracking solution as it enables the GPS tracking device to transmit location to the central server. Various carriers can be used that offer data service for as low as $10-$30 per month depending on frequency that information is sent. In addition to using this wireless data connectivity for sending the location information to the server, the device can be connected to other in- vehicle devices - allowing dispatch information to be sent to the user, or even a voice call to be made (additional costs would apply). Fleet Tracking Application Options The third and final element, tracking applications, can take many forms: from elaborate CAD systems to easy-to-access web applications. Today, however, many organizations are moving towards a new option: Smart Client applications. Smart client applications feature much of the power of traditional CAD types of applications with their rich client interfaces, easy data manipulation, and data caching, but they have the added advantage of ease of deployment and updating found in thin client applications. Leveraging Microsoft s.net Framework 2.0, Windows Forms 2.0 and Click Once deployment, Smart Client applications for fleet tracking can be easily created and deployed.
3 Mapping and Vehicle Visualization Microsoft offers two software options for mapping the location of vehicles, displaying viewing location history ( bread crumbing ), verifying mileage, and calculating proximity of vehicle, etc.: MapPoint 2006 Fleet Edition (MPCD) or the MapPoint Web Service (MPWS). MPCD needs to be deployed to each user s machine where it is used locally, whereas MPWS is a hosted service and the Smart Client connects to the service and just downloads maps and information as needed. The best way to decide which technology is best for your fleet tracking solution depends on the typical fleet tracking use cases. As a general rule, if you have dedicated users (e.g. dispatchers or power users) that use the tracking application constantly, then MPCD is the way to go. However, if users (or some users) will only occasionally be using the application to monitor the field and run reports, then the MPWS is recommended (e.g. supervisors, managers etc). In this table are listed some other differences between MPCD and MPWS that may be leveraged in a Smart Client Fleet Tracking solution: MapPoint 2006 Fleet Edition Has demographic data for advanced analysis Offers out of the box tools and wizards.i.e. Export all stops to Excel Has simple route optimization (i.e. the best order can be determined in which to visit stops/locations) MapPoint Web Service Has street level data for 67 countries world-wide With new Virtual Earth technology, solution could involve satellite, aerial and eagle eye imagery Offers advanced Group1 geocoding for the best possible address validation You don t need to select one approach or the other; both can be implemented in your solution and - depending on the types of users - the solution can be configured to use either MPCD or MPWS dynamically. See figures 2 & 3 for sample screens of a Smart Client fleet tracking application with MapPoint.
4 Figure 2 Smart client dispatcher view of current user location, speed and direction Figure 3 Dispatcher view of user location over time with speed etc
5 Architecture Overview At a high level a typical fleet tracking solution involves the GPS receiver triangulating location from GPS satellite signals. The location and any event information is then sent as a NMEA message via UDP to the IP address of the server. A server agent receives the UDP packet, parses the NMEA message, then inserts location record in the database. The Smart Client application periodically checks for new information in the database and refreshes the screen to show new locations etc. Satellite 2 Satellite 3 Satellite 1 Dispatcher Workstation GPS Tracking Device Satellite Triangulation UDP/NMEA Wireless Carrier Network (GPRS, 1xRTT etc) Internet Application & Database Server(s).NET Framework 2.0 Smart Client App MapPoint 2006 Fleet Edition ` Casual User SQL 2005 Database Server Agent ClickOnce Deployment Package `.NET Framework 2.0 Smart Client App Enhanced Solution Components This section highlights optional components that could be added to the solution with additional costs. Proximity Alerts and Geo-Fencing This functionality involves the ability for the Fleet Solution to be able to detect/report when vehicles have entered or exited an area, or are getting close to a stop etc. This can be done in two ways: On the device - Entering geo-fences in the device which will raise an event and send a location message. The device can be configured with geo-fences and keep track of if a geo-fence boundary has been crossed.
6 On the server This involves filtering data and processing location messages coming from the devices. A calculation can then be made to determine if a user is within a certain proximity of a stop, or if the user is or out of a pre-defined region Optimized Routing This functionality involves the ability to provide the system a list of stops and determine the correct order to visit the stops. MapPoint can be used for basic optimized routing, but if you want to be able to do advanced routing (factoring vehicle/driver capabilities), then third party optimized routing components would be used (typically with high cost). Driver Console and Dispatch As part of a fleet tracking solution it is often useful to be able to send messages to the driver. This could be done inexpensively to their phone/pager but by leveraging the serial port on typical tracking devices a Window Mobile device could be used as a console. This could allow for the driver to receive alerts, accept assignments, get target location information, calculate driving directions and do navigation. Sample Solution Component Cost Summary Component One-Time cost Recurring Cost GPS Tracking Devices $400-$800 Wireless Data Service $10-$30/month (depending on frequency of information sent and wireless carrier used) SQL Server/Database (Existing database server could be used) $5000-$10,000 plus CAL for dispatcher Smart Client Custom development / integration or ISV solution MapPoint 2006 Fleet $750/dispatcher (price may Edition (per seat) vary with 2006 launch) MapPoint Web Service (per web service transaction) Or, an ASP solution with per month costs Starts at $8000/500,000 transactions (more if routing required).discounts apply for higher volumes Note: a pilot of these Smart Client Fleet Tracking solution components and software (evaluation copies) to help validate a cost justification could be implemented for as little as $1000/device for a 90 day trial (5 device minimum).
7 Summary With the rapid drop in costs and increased functionality of an Fleet Tracking solution today, combined with the increasing cost of maintaining and operating fleets, there are fewer and fewer reasons NOT to implement a Smart Client Fleet Tracking solution. Additionally, ease of deployment and rich visualization offered by new Microsoft technologies only serve to improve the justification behind such implementations. The best way to test the impact of this technology in your organization is to pilot such a system within your own environment using the lower-cost point-of-entry provided by these new products. References MapPoint - Smart Clients - ClickOnce Deployment - clickonce.aspx SQL Server AirLink - https://www.sierrawireless.com OnTerra Systems LLC
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