A Comprehensive Guide to Fleet Tracking Systems


Chapter 11

We now know that there are fleet tracking systems that are passive and these systems involve the use of a device that records and logs all location data and vehicle telemetry information, and stores these in the tracking device itself. All that data would need is to be manually downloaded once the vehicle gets back to the office.

Real-time fleet tracking systems give you up to the minute updates of your vehicles’ locations as well as what is happening behind the scenes and what the driver is doing. This means that you can do a lot more with a real-time fleet tracking systems from being able to direct your drivers away from roads with heavy traffic, or extreme weather conditions, to being able to make better business and fleet decisions using the latest data.

1. Real-time fleet tracking systems: Design and implementation

The architecture of a real-time fleet tracking systems would include the in-vehicle tracking device and data transceiver. The in-vehicle tracking device would connect to GPS satellites to ascertain a vehicle’s position, as well as other telemetry information about the vehicle. The device will be equipped with a modem and some form of transmission equipment via satellite or through cellular networks.

The collected data will be received by the data transceiver, which can either be a monitoring station or a fleet tracking server. The data transceiver would be getting the data transmitted by the tracking device for display to the end user.

The tracking device’s modem will be controlled by microcontrollers, which is responsible for transmitting information to the server. The microcontroller will be using AT commands to operate the GSM modem via a serial interface. The microcontroller is also the fleet tracking device’s central processing unit or CPU, and thus controls all the operations that happen within the device.

The microcontroller in turn is controlled by your software. This is to mean that the microcontroller gets its instructions from the software that you use. This software is often loaded into the device’s flash memory and is accessed by the microcontroller for it to know what to do with the location data.

Once the data transceiver gets the location information and other telematics data, it is stored in the tracking server, which contains the central database. That database is accessible to all authorized users over the Internet. The tracking server serves up the information needed by the users including the current vehicle location, as well as historical route information. The tracking server makes use of a GSM or GPRS modem to be able to receive the SMS from the devices and saves the data into a database.

The tracking server has four major parts:

  1. Hardware design for the Modem
  2. Communication software
  3. The database
  4. The Web interface

The communication software. The communication software used should be configurable for GSM900-GPS in order to be able to receive and send SMS messages. It should be able to receive SMS messages, process the received SMS messages and extract the information to be saved in the database. It would be able to send SMS to the in-vehicle units and be able to exchange information with other trackers online.

When an SMS message arrives, the software will extract the necessary information from the SMS and puts it into the database and then deletes the said SMS message.

The database. The database needs to store all the information received from the tracking devices, as well as the credentials of authorized users who are using the systems. In short, the database needs to have the information about the vehicles, store the data received from the tracking units and the information about the fleet management systems’s end users.

The Web interface design. All data received by the tracking server is stored in a database. The users would be accessing the information and data they need through a Web-based user interface. The user interface displays all the information needed by the end users. To get the correct information, the database needs to be able to distinguish which data belongs to what vehicle, as such there is a separate record for each vehicle. Because of this, the Web interface needs to support the ability to add vehicles as soon as new tracking devices are installed.

2. Wireless

The wireless network is very important in real-time fleet tracking systems. Without the wireless networks, data cannot be transmitted from the device to the fleet tracking server, thereby not being able to give you real-time information about your vehicles and their location.

These wireless networks include existing GSM networks, which have the broadest coverage when you talk about cellular networks. What’s more, it is a lot cheaper to just use an existing GSM network from AT&T, Verizon and other telecommunication carriers, rather than to build your own wireless network just for the transmission of location data.

Another network that real-time fleet tracking systems can use are satellites. At the moment, there are more than five and a half dozen satellites belonging to the Iridium satellite network, which is used by some fleet tracking service providers for transmitting data from the devices to the tracking servers. Instead of having cellular GSM or GPRS modems on the tracking device, an SBD modem is used. SBD stands for “short burst data”, and is what is used to connect to any one of Iridium’s satellites. This is very important because there are areas that have no cellular coverage. For companies that need to constantly know where their vehicles are, satellite networks are the way to go. It covers the entire world. There is simply no such thing as dead spots when you are using a satellite network. What does this mean? You can still get real-time information even if your drivers and vehicles are in an area not served by AT&T and other carriers. It can also help you simplify cross-border fleet tracking where there are two telecommunication carriers in your route, each one serving a different area. You can use satellite networks as a backup to your cellular networks when transmitting location data.

3. Sensor-based Devices

With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), you could expect tracking devices that have their own power supply and relies on sensors along with the GPS systems to gather data. A good example is AT&T’s Cargo View with FlightSafe offering. You basically use a sensor-based device and put it together with your shipment and you can get location data, as well as information on pressure, light, temperature and shock levels. The device is deemed safe for use in aircrafts, where traditional tracking devices are not allowed. The good thing about sensor-based devices is that you could easily get more information from your fleet tracking systems and not just the usual telemetry data that you get.

4. Using Google Maps API

One of the things that you can do with fleet tracking systems is to see all your vehicles’ locations on a map. You could use Google’s own Map service for this.

But what if your service provider uses a different mapping service? You can check out Google Maps API to see how you could use Google for your mapping.

On top of that, you can also add several features to your fleet tracking systems using the APIs that they have available. For example, you can create stylized maps using any one of the more than 16.7 million HEX colors. You can customize your maps to your heart’s content. You can also use the API to add symbols and heatmaps to your own maps. This is just great for visualizing trends, historical routes and other important data.

Speaking of visuals, you can add aerial photographs, 3-D buildings, satellite imagery, as well as street views to your maps.

Additionally, Google Maps API can help you with routing. The API helps you direct the nearest truck that you have to the customer’s pick up location. It will also include information from other sources, such as live traffic data and road elevation to make sure that your trucks can get to their destinations fast.

But the most powerful set of APIs from Google Maps is related to geocoding. Geocoding is the process of converting an address (example: 1234 Main Street, New York, NY), to their corresponding latitude and longitude coordinates. You can also reverse the process, by inputting the coordinates and getting a human readable address. Using this API, together with some JavaScript APIs and Google Play Location APIs, you can even create an instant search service that would allow you to geocode addresses to make it easier to locate in real-time.

The APIs also help you extend to different platforms. The APIs are available for the Web, for iOS and for Android devices. You can check several available APIs by clicking here. Some of the APIs you can use include the following:

  1. Directions API
  2. Distance Matrix API
  3. Elevation API
  4. Geocoding API
  5. Google Roads APINew!
  6. Time Zone API