Vehicle tracking system - How to select
Over the past several years, I have sold GPS vehicle tracking devices to small and large organizations. Some wanted to track a few vehicles and others large fleet systems. I wrote a chapter for a technical book to explain GPS Navstar system operations for location services. In the process, I have become familiar with tricks and traps in vehicle tracking and the most common questions prospective user will ask, and the communication issue involved.
Allow me to pass on knowledge gained to help you with your buying decision, devoid of any “sales pitch.” The first question to answer is: “What is the application?” Emergency vehicles: Law enforcement, fire, and paramedic need continuous position reporting in seconds while delivery services: couriers, newspapers, and fast food operations can use positions reports in the minute range. The latter applications are always in a real-time mode similar to you smart phone for communicating the vehicle’s position back to a base station map. Some applications only need position reports when the vehicle returns. We call this log-time reporting where the tracking information is downloaded into a map system to view tracking data where the vehicle has traveled Log-Time is the least expensive tracking system since cellular communication is not required, The GPS signal is free.
So do you need real-time tracking? Or is log-time capture where tracking data is uploaded at the end of the day serve your needs?. Normally tracking suppliers provide cellular ready devices with a Sims card installed. Check to see who is providing the cellular service. Take a close look at the coverage map for each cellular system. I have found Verizon has the most reliable system and excellent nation-wide signal coverage. Recently, we tested two cellular systems and only one had good signal coverage in a remote area. The results can be a lost tracking cellular signal.
How GPS Tracking works
To review, a vehicle tracking system consists of a GPS receiver on the truck or vehicle, a cellular communications link between the vehicle and the dispatcher, and pc-based tracking software for dispatch. The communication system is usually a cellular network similar to the one used by your cellular phone. The diagram above illustrates the system. It shows the GPS signal arriving from a satellite to the truck. The truck location is communicated by cellular network to the PC dispatch base computer software (see image).
Some practical considerations, when you evaluate a tracking system you want to be sure the device will successfully communicate in concealed or covered space. I test by placing the device in a glove compartment. under the dashboard or in the trunk to determine successful tracking communications.. Look for a device whose GPS and cellular antennas are embedded in the device, avoid trackers where antennas are cabled outside the tracking device if possible. You can test accuracy by obtaining a vehicle location at a marked position, then move a distance away and see whether the vehicle can be navigate back to the marked position. Look for tracking systems that can provides the location of a vehicle with about 25-30 ft accuracy. You will be surprised how modern GPS can show a vehicle spot-on to a roadway.
When purchasing vehicle tracking look for texting functions between base and mobile vehicle.
You have to be aware that shadowing or dead signal zones can block the incoming GPS or cellular signals. What can block communications, includes: “Urban Canyon” surrounded by tall building or mountains. As the vehicle leaves the blocking obstacle, the signal again reports position. In rare cases, the device may have an inertial guidance to supply positions for blocked areas but don’t count on it.
From a operating/business viewpoint, the issue that always comes up is about the ROI benefit of a vehicle tracking system. The primary advantages to a vehicle tracking system in summary are:
* Locate and send nearest vehicle to customer
* Greater number of pickups and deliveries per day
* Increase on-time deliveries
* Increase number of vehicles dispatcher can manage
* Tracking report documentation
* Lower delivery costs – fuel and manpower
An American Trucking Association (ATA) survey found that trucking company productivity gains ranged from 5% to more than 25% by the management of fleets using real-time GPS positioning. According to the ATA, customer service is improved by increased on-time deliveries, and faster response to customer pickup requests using real-time GPS positioning to locate and send nearest vehicles functions. The hardware cost will usually be in the $100 to $300 range, excluding real-time cellular monthly costs that can be based on the frequency of position reports – one second up to minutes. The log-time system avoids the latter cost.
On most systems, a fleet can be tracked from a desktop PC with a map display or on a smart phone. This allows the operator to view vehicle’s real-time detailed movement on street maps or satellite images as it happens or in the case of log-time upon a vehicle’s return. The system might use a Google Map or a more sophisticated one with a detail displayed information on a vehicle’s trip and engine performance. An OBD software connection can supply power to system and provide engine diagnostics (Click for OBD explanation).
Power for a tracking device can come from: an internal battery, power from a cigarette lighter, OBD, or hard-wired into the vehicle’s battery system. In the latter case, user can make the connection or have a vehicle electronic shop do the vehicle’s battery connection.
If you feel uncomfortable about a proposed vehicle tracking system, ask for references.
GPS tracking applications
Public Transport Vehicles
Never lose track of your vehicles again!