Technical (r)evolution: fleet management a piece of cake in 2014?
What will 2014 bring about with regard to track and trace technology? Will it be the start of a technical revolution? Will wifi replace GPRS? Will smartphones become indispensable for an efficient fleet management? And will real-time track and trace get the upper hand? We asked Robert Haubourdin, Suivo product specialist and Dirk Lambrechts, managing partner at Geo Solutions to shed a light on the current state of affairs and what to expect in the near future.
Is GPRS still the standard for track and trace?
RH: GPRS is still being used in the vast majority of cases for transferring tracking data although the offer of systems for RF or Wifi is more extensive these days. These systems offer a good alternative when the tracked assets are moving in a limited area. However, in general they depend on the local infrastructure (access points) which makes them less practical to use since the fleet assets’ field of activity can be quite large. Unfortunately, using Wifi hotspots is not an option because the majority of these hotspots is clearly focused on the consumer market. Moreover, the authentication methods aren’t easy to implement in a M2M environment like track and trace. After all a machine can’t exactly enter it’s username and password in to a browser!
Will there be a technical (r)evolution in the near future?
RH: Other systems like track and trace via tetra radio signals are becoming more and more common and are a reliable alternative for organizations such as government and public services. Nonetheless, due to the necessary infrastructure and the accompanying licences this solution isn’t accessible for all users. Also, this technology has its limitations when it comes to local ground infrastructure. Satellite communication, such as Iridium SBD, offers a good alternative because it has worldwide coverage and doesn’t depend on ground equipment or local partners but the costs are often still prohibitive. Cheaper short burst data satellite communication would be a good substitute for the dependence of GPRS infrastructure, which is evolving towards broadband with higher bandwidth and higher volumes, and other solutions that are better equipped to deal with limited reach and high debit. We expect that there will be an evolution with regard to M2M communication as soon as we reach a critical number of users.
Is there a shift towards a connection to the motor vehicle on the one hand or using batteries on the other hand?
RH: At the moment battery technology is still a sore point in mobile electronics. The necessary compromises we have to make when choosing batteries, such as peak current, autonomy, self-discharge, form factor and charging time, still make it difficult to register and send the data which are necessary for a thorough analysis and an accurate follow-up of fleets and machines in the long term. More autonomy often means a lower peak current or prohibitive dimensions or even solutions which are no longer profitable. So connecting to a power source in the vehicle or recurrent charging is often a necessity. That’s why it’s very important to make an effort to optimize their workings without compromising the functioning of the vehicle. For example, when it’s feasible we prefer to work with a combination of battery pack, charge controller and battery protection to achieve optimal autonomy.
Is real-time track and trace gaining importance?
DL: For companies whose core business depends on a fleet of vehicles, machines and/or trucks reporting remains a vital instrument but real-time track and trace also yields very tangible and immediate results. Post-analysis of the fleet has been proven to reduce costs in the long term and offer a better service. However, a real-time overview in combination with clear surveys and a history enables the fleet manager to be in control at all times so he can intervene when necessary. Especially in mature sectors like transporting and distribution, where a lot of companies are very experienced in analysis and statistics with regard to vehicle data, driving style and tracking data, real-time data can be interpreted sufficiently to act swiftly and correctly.
Has the generalization of smartphones changed the Track and Trace world?
DL: A smartphone provides every track and trace or telematics supplier with a screen in each vehicle to communicate with the driver. Where before real-time communication with the driver meant an additional investment for the companies, now we can do this without extra investments, application and training for yet another device is installed inside the vehicle. Additionally, fleet managers and other users can now follow their vehicles more easily and keep an overview via the management apps on their smartphones. So we need more real-time information.
Will there still be a clear-cut line between an extensive track and trace system and an on-board computer?
DL: Although almost every manufacturer offers their own track and trace solution, which is of course directly linked to the on-board computer, it’s often still necessary to select a third party solution. These secondary systems integrate better with other systems such as for example condensing units or software and client applications whereas the manufacturers’ systems are mostly closed systems which are difficult to use with other appliances or software. Moreover, the secondary systems are based on the know-how of track and trace suppliers who are more experienced in business intelligence and optimization than the vehicle suppliers. However, the integration of data from the on-board computer is becoming more and more important. The fleet manager and fleet owners want to stay in control and have to use all means to be cost efficient. So maintenance related data, vehicle parameters, driving style data and fuel efficiency are important parameters to monitor a fleet. As you can see there’s still a clear line between the on-board computer and the track and trace system. Our goal as T&T supplier is to provide an even better integration of the two.