A Comprehensive Guide to Fleet Tracking Systems
1. GPS Tracking Device
This device uses global positioning systems to get the accurate whereabouts of a person or vehicle. It records the location of the asset being tracked periodically.
Depending on the type of tracking device being used, the position data can either be stored in the tracking device unit, or communicated to a wired computer or a database using a variety of modes, including radio, satellite and cellular networks. A typical device would include the GPS module that would enable it to receive GPS signals and figure out the device’s position and location, and it may have some sort of storage device as well.
1.1 Kinds GPS Tracking Devices
There are basically three kinds of GPS tracking devices that are available in the market today, and each one works differently when compared with the others. All of these GPS tracking devices collect location data, but they differ in what they do with the collected data. The three are:
- data loggers,
- data pushers and
- data pullers.
How does each one work, how do they differ, and, more importantly, which one is ideal for your business and your fleet?
1.1.1. Data Loggers (aka Data Recorder)
Data logger is a type of GPS tracking device that simply records its position at regular intervals, like every 5, 10 or 15 minutes. Also called a data recorder, data logger keeps the gathered data in its storage, which can either be an internal flash memory or a memory card. To download the location data and other forms of information that it gathers, you can either take out the memory card or connect it to your computer via a USB cable.
It makes use of any one or a combination of the following file formats for its track list: NMEA, KML, GPX, or others. Apart from fleet tracking, data loggers are also used in digital cameras to keep a record of the time when and place where a photo was taken, which is then added to the photograph’s EXIF metadata. Private investigators are also heavy users of data loggers.
Data loggers make sense for businesses that do not need to have real-time location information about your vehicles. You would still have all the location data and vehicle information you need for fleet management, such as the location and routes of your vehicles, bad driving behavior, fuel efficiency, and other vehicle data. However, you would not be able to dispatch a vehicle to the nearest drop off point or delivery pick up, nor can you know for sure where a particular vehicle is if you need to know while it is still out in the field. Lastly, it would not be possible for you to use data loggers in order to recover or locate stolen vehicles.
1.1.2. Data Pushers
Because data loggers have inherent weaknesses such as those outlined above, some companies are looking for an alternative and these are data pushers.
Data pushers (aka GPS beacon), unlike simple data loggers, send the location information, as well as other vehicle data, out to a server that was configured to receive its transmissions. The server or computer stores that data and can even do some analysis on it. This is perhaps the most usual kind of fleet tracking device.
Traditionally, a GPS device is paired with a mobile phone. At regular intervals, the mobile phone gets the location data from the device and then sends a message using SMS or GPRS to a GPS receiver. Today, more often than not, a GPS-enabled smartphone is often used as a data pusher. Commercial fleet and other companies with mobile employees that are regularly out of the office use data pushers as part of their fleet management systems, but these data pushers have are hardwired to the vehicle and gathers additional information from the battery, the ignition systems switch and CAN-bus, along with varieties of onboard systems.
In fleet management, a data pusher would also send location and vehicle data at a regular interval. For instance, it would send your systems an SMS message that would give an update of its current location. You can set the time interval to five minutes, ten minutes or fifteen minutes, but it could easily be shorter or longer than that. Or it could be triggered by an event, such as hard braking, getting out of or getting into a geofenced area, or specific drivers’ behavior, among other things.
Data pushers, then, are perfect if you have to dispatch the nearest vehicle to a customer, such as a taxi cab or have the nearest truck go to the pickup location. You could also use the current locations to warn drivers of traffic jams or bad road and weather conditions, enabling your drivers and operators to avoid being stuck in traffic or going through roads that might lead them to have an accident.
Other uses for data pushers include personal tracking (such as having a suspect who is out on bail wear an ankle monitor, race control in sports, espionage, tracking kids, and other uses) and asset tracking (including tracking animals and monitoring high value assets).
1.1.3. Data Pullers (aka GPS transponders)
Data pullers are another type of GPS tracking device. Also called GPS transponders, these devices are always on and you can ask it for location data on demand. So while data pushers send location data automatically and without prompting, you would need to query data pullers in order to receive the data you want. If you have ever tried to locate a missing smartphone, there are now apps that send you your phone’s locations when you send it a special code via SMS. This is how a data puller works.
2. GPS Tracking Server
Your GPS tracking devices gather location and vehicle data, and sends it to your GPS tracking server. The server then stores it in the database, which then serves it to the user on demand. In short, this is where all the collected location and vehicle data that your tracking devices collect end up and is where you could query the same data for your own use.
You can build your own GPS tracking server by using server software. One server is enough to track thousands of vehicles and these can be displayed on a map with precise details, even down to the street view level for each vehicle. All you need is the software, a computer and an Internet connection that has a fixed public IP address.
GPS tracking servers are powered by two types of software. There are the proprietary servers, such as GPSGate Server, Wialon, and GeoRadius, and then there are the open source types, such as Traccar and Open GTS.
Let us take a look at Traccar to see how a GPS tracking server works. Traccar is an open source software that supports a variety of GPS tracking units or devices. It supports at least 80 communication protocols and features a built in HTTP server that also has a Web interface to help you manage your fleet online. Protocols supported by Traccar include xexun, gps103, tk103, gl200, totem, enfora, meiligao, meitrack, t55 and maxon, among others.
Similarly, Open GTS is designed to support collection of telemetry and location data from fleet tracking devices and the storage of all the gathered data. Open GTS, however, also features Web-based authentication that supports multi users and user roles. Plus, you can track devices from different manufactures using Open GTS since it is also compatible with different protocols, such as TK10x protocols, Astra Telematics protocols, as well as devices from Sanav, Celltrac GTS, Aspicore, TAIP, Track Stick, GPS Mapper, and NetGPS, among others.
Open GTS also allows you to customize Web page decorations, reports and geofenced areas. What’s more, Open GTS works with just about any operating systems and is i18n compliant.
Then you have GpsGate Server, a proprietary server software. GpsGate is used for GPS sharing and GPS tracking, and runs on Windows machines. It can be used by small businesses with a few vehicles being tracked. It can also be scaled to larger installations involving thousands of vehicles. You can also use it for server tracking devices and is compatible with different mapping services and languages. If necessary, you can use GpsGate Server to keep track of different departments and tracking partners separately but still using one installation.
There are other tracking server software available out there. You can choose one by studying your needs to see if the software gives you all the functionalities you need. Then you have to make sure that the software is compatible with your tracking devices. Most server software packages are compatible with different protocols and a variety of tracking devices, but a majority does not have support for all protocols and devices.
3. User Interface
Much of the location data and vehicle telemetry information you get from fleet tracking devices are worth nothing if you do not have it analyzed or convert it into something that you can easily understand.
Most fleet tracking systems make use of a Web-based user interface where the fleet managers could see all reports, the data and everything they need to see.
At its most basic, the user interface can show you your vehicles’ locations, perhaps using a detailed map, satellite imaging, address, or a combination of all these. For instance, the user interface allows you to see all your vehicle locations on a single map, letting you have an overview of where your fleet is at that particular moment.
The user interface is where you could find all the reports that you have set up for your fleet tracking and fleet management efforts. That includes daily, weekly, monthly reports, fuel consumption, and other reports. You get a graphical view of the data that you are keeping track of, making it easier for you to see trends and measurements. This will also give you a visual confirmation of whether your previous efforts in, for example, saving fuel, have been successful or not. These graphs, pie charts and line graphs make it easy for you to digest the location data and the telemetry information. Meanwhile, you can open the reports that you have in order to see more details about that particular report. For example, you can see the number of hard braking that a driver makes for the week in a nifty table, then you can open the report to see more details about this particular behavior such as the time and place where the hard brakes were done and other information.
The user interface is also where fleet managers could get alerts for upcoming maintenance work scheduled and perhaps driver behaviors that need to be checked or corrected. This is the place where you could see both current and historical trips data.
Some services also allow you to dispatch and change routes using the user interface. You can see where your vehicles are on a map, then see which ones are near a particular customer. You can then click on that vehicle and then assign that new customer to that particular driver. This way you can be sure that you can serve your customers better, plus you also get to save fuel by dispatching the nearest vehicle. That’s added income without having to spend too much.
Meanwhile, if your service allows you to specify a geofenced area, the user interface is where you should go to set it up. A geofence is an area that your vehicles should be confined in. The idea is that your vehicles should not go out of your restricted specified area. If they do go out, you can get alerts on your user interface that a particular vehicle has gone out of the geofenced area. This will help you know if a driver is going off the assigned route, or if a vehicle might have been stolen.
While in other services, the user interface is also the place where drivers can log in and get a review of their driving. Depending on the service offered, they can get links to YouTube videos detailing how to avoid bad driving behaviors, such as hard braking and making sharp turns. This allows them to not only know the things to avoid, but also to proactively correct them.
And while most systems are accessed via a Web browser on a desktop computer, you can also now have access to all of these data on a mobile device, particularly those fleet management systems that have a companion mobile app.