Dude! Where?EUR(TM)s My Truck?

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - Apr - 2005
| Last Updated
01 - Apr - 2005
Dude! Where’s My Truck?
Tracking your cargo has always been a logistical nightmare. With a large number of variables affecting the safetyand arrival time of your cargo, this has been a major area of concern for many transporters.

Logistics and transportation applications have long been touted, but have been slow to reach wide market acceptance. Though the benefits of accessing asset information are clear to logistics companies, its practical implementation have been hindered due to steep prices.

Companies are looking forward to technologies to support their needs, such as Global Positioning System (GPS) and DIfferential Global Positioning System (DGPS). Terrestrial networks that provide more coverage, SMS, and GPRS as a medium for data transfer have enabled companies to keep their productivity high, lower operational cost, improve efficiency, reduce turnaround cycles, and enable timely delivery, resulting in delivering better service.

Taking advantage of this, MobiApps, a Bangalore-based provider of hybrid terrestrial and satellite technologies for commercial communications has developed a mobile vehicle tracking system, which helps track, manage, access, and monitor all your trucks or other mobile assets developed m-Trak, an online asset-tracking solution that has been designed to support logistics and transportation.

m-Trak provides real-time information on fixed and mobile assets. It helps address issues such as tracking, monitoring, managing, and communicating with all mobile assets in real-time. m-Trak integrates GPS technology, mobile telephony (GSM), and the Internet, to provide a solution that addresses these key challenges with real-time, location-relevant, and time-sensitive information. The m-Trak system helps receive alerts from the assets, track assets on map, generate reports, replay routes, and communicate with the asset drivers.

m-Trak is available in three variants:   m-Trak 50, m-Trak 75, and m-Trak 100. m-Trak 100 helps fleet managers pinpoint the location of their vehicles, provide information about over-speeding vehicles, unscheduled stops and a host of other in-vehicle conditions.

It streamlines the management of fleets by providing reports and analyses of vehicle journeys, and provides complete journey records for all vehicles. This helps in planning, tracking, and scheduling.

It also assists fleet managers to have better control over operations while enhancing value-added services to their customers.
What Does It Do?
The m-Trak system is a real-time vehicle tracking system with a tamper-proof unit having a built-in keyboard and a LCD panel. It can show the real-time position of the vehicle or play back the vehicle's travel path on a digital map. The information will include the current location of the vehicle, distance travelled, vehicle speed, number of stops made, and the location and duration of the stops.

Its user interface enables two-way voice and text communication. It also has an external handset attachment for voice communication, an inbuilt address book, call-log facility, one-key predefined messages, built in GSM/SMS communications, optional RF wireless communication, and an optional SOS switch. It can be configured using a remote, can be customised to meet client-specific requirements, and is also capable of monitoring events occurring inside the vehicle.

m-Trak's functionality integrates a host of technologies. The GPS receiver determines the vehicle's location; after identifying the location, the information is sent via SMS to the fleet manager's control station. The m-Trak control station software then plots the vehicle's location on a display map, which can be viewed by the fleet manager. (See infographic)

The Technology Behind It
MobiApps has designed the m-Trak solution mainly around the Global Positioning System (GPS).

The GPS technology offers accurate information such as latitude, longitude, altitude, date and time, speed, moving direction, and distance (derived). In tangent with GPS, MobiApps also uses terrestrial wireless communication systems such as GSM and the Internet as the medium for user interaction.

MobiApps adopted GPS, as it is a worldwide radio navigation system based on a network of 24 satellites. These satellites determine the position of any object on earth, provided these objects have a GPS receiver. These GPS receivers tune to a particular frequency and listen to the signals coming from the GPS satellites.

The number of satellites transmitting signals to the receiver determines the accuracy of the reading.

However, GPS receivers do not have the ability to relay this information. This is where the need for a wireless network arises, which could be terrestrial networks such as GSM, CDMA, CDPD, VHF, etc. It could also be a non-terrestrial network such as a satellite network, which is capable of transmitting data from the object to the asset manager's control room.

Next, the 'short messages' provided by the GSM network can be used to relay the data from the m-Trak device to the asset manager's office/control room. The GSM modem periodically receives these messages in near real-time. The GSM modem then transmits these to the m-Trak software, which processes them and plots them on a visual map.

The  m-Trak device provides support for off-line storage of location data in the device as well. This is useful when the asset is in a remote area where the terrestrial network coverage is absent. So, there will be a brief period when the asset manager would not be able to track the asset in real-time. In such a scenario, in order to prevent loss of tracking data, the software allows for storage of location data locally in the device. Once the asset comes back into a coverage area, the stored data is transmitted back to the control room. The asset manager would now be able to view the path taken by the asset in the off-coverage area.

Customers Galore!
Asset tracking can be cost-effective for the following customers:

  • Industries where a production assembly line depends on raw materials arriving 'just in time'
  • Hazardous chemicals and gas manufacturers who require safe transportation of their goods
  • Companies manufacturing high  value goods that require safety against pilferage
  • Transporters of frozen/perishable goods
  • Courier and express cargo companies who require tracking of consignments
  • Taxi operators, who require optimal usage of their fleet by despatching the nearest cab to a customer point
  • Public transportation systems that require tracking of buses to provide real-time updates on arrival and departure to passengers
  • Companies that require a billing of mileage
  • Police force for patrolling, etc.           

Currently, MobiApps' list of clients includes     the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport         Corporation (BMTC), Karnataka State Road
Transport Corporation (KSRTC), Safexpress,         Dell, Ford Motor Company, General Motors         Corporation, Hyundai Motor India Limited,         Praxair Inc., Transport    Corporation of         India, Ltd. (TCIL), Life Fitness, Mercury and         Wipro, amongst others.

To understand what customers think, we spoke to Ankit Kumar, manager, Network HICON, Safexpress Pvt Ltd, a bangalore based provider of a range of logistics and supply chain solutions including door-to-door distribution, single source invoicing, reverse logistics, packaging solutions, etc. Their network comprises over 513 locations of more than 2,400 vehicles, operating over 750 routes, 365 days a year. MobiApps is providing fleet management solution to track and manage their logistics operations.

"We have about 3,000 vehicles in all on our fleet, for which we have started planning implementation of the tracking system. We started using the m-Trak system about eight months ago and have been very satisfied. We have noticed a huge difference in the stoppages, time taken, departures, etc. and are quite satisfied with the system," says Kumar.

Looking Forward
After a tie-up with the Tata Group Mobi-Apps is very bullish about it's future. "There is a large customer base that we are yet to tap into," says Amitabh Satyam, Country Head, MobiApps. Like any other Indian IT-services provider, MobiApps too to expand its business beyond India shores. Southeast Asia and the Middle -East are the areas of focus for this logistics application provider.

 But is the Indian market ready for a high-tech tool such as m-Trak? MobiApps says that it has a survey to back-up its claims about the large customer base. However, convincing the smaller transporters about the long-term benefits that can be derived from using the software is not going to be easy. And considering that the Indian transport sector is largely unorganised and survives on very small margins, only time will tell whether MobiApps, with its fancy logistical tool, will be able to crack the market.

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