6 December, 2013
Handheld's imprinter wireless scanner/printer promises major savings
It’s not often that you encounter a product that really catches your imagination – something that seems to have been waiting to be invented – so we were intrigued to learn about Handheld UK’s SP400X.
The company calls it an "imprinter", but you might consider it a handheld scanner and printer combined – with wireless communications thrown in as well.
The wireless element is really the key to it. It’s for situations where someone has to handle a product that already has a barcode on it, but it needs additional information to be attached to it to allow it to go forward through the supply chain.
Using the SP400X, the operator first scans the barcode, which sends the data by Wi-Fi to the local server. Then the software looks up the item in its database, finds the necessary extra information to allow the item to continue through the supply chain, and sends this back wirelessly to the SP400X.
Now comes the clever bit. The unit’s built-in thermal printer then prints this information directly on to the item’s packaging. The operator simply swipes the unit over the carton, choosing a blank area where the output will show.
It’s taken us two paragraphs to explain this, but if you actually do it, it compresses into a seamless process that seems to happen in a blink. You scan the barcode in the normal way, then immediately swipe the unit over an adjacent area. Handheld says this takes just two seconds, and we don’t dispute it. An elegantly simple bit of video illustrates this; see this link.
Self-diagnosis 'could revolutionise RAC service'
The RAC has announced a telematics-based product for members that it says will "turn the breakdown industry on its head". It will monitor the condition of vehicles over time, providing users with alerts about their condition, and will be able to report possible causes of breakdown in real time when a member calls for assistance – helping the organisation decide whether a patrol driver can deal with the problem, or a recovery is likely to be needed.
The list of features quoted for the system includes advanced crash detection technology, fuel saving, driver scoring, and remote vehicle diagnostics and "prognostics".
Savings on insurance are also mentioned. It seems reasonable to suppose, however, that RAC and its insurers will be able to apply the same actuarial judgements as other brokers now offering telematics-based insurance.
All this technology is being provided by a third-party telematics specialist, Risk Technology of Altrincham, which says it has been working on the project for two years, and is the exclusive provider.
At the heart of the system is an on-board device described as matchbox-sized, which is called RAC Advance. As far as we understand it, this is plugged into the vehicle’s ODB (On Board Diagnostics) port, which is a standard feature of recent cars and is accessible from inside the vehicle.
Drivers will be able to interrogate this system themselves, using a mobile phone app, which will give them diagnostic data and other information. The device will include a GPS unit for tracking.
Downton rolls out telematics in 500-vehicle fleet
In one of the biggest telematics implementations this year, leading family-owned transport and logistics company C M Downton is installing a system by Microlise throughout its 500-vehicle fleet, and says it expects to save around five per cent in fuel costs.
The system is intended to provide a full range of fleet management and tracking services, including driver communications and real-time capture of data on fuel consumption and engine and component performance.
According to operations director John Downton: "Having access to real-time data about our fleet means we can always look for ways to make trips more efficient – saving the business, and our customers, more money.
"Being able to calculate accurately when a vehicle needs maintenance before the problem becomes serious will save us a lot of downtime, allowing us to operate efficiently and safely."
Downton is based in Gloucestershire, and has a network of depots in the South West, South East and north of England. So far the system is said to have been installed at depots in Magor, Raunds and Leeds, and others will follow within the next few months.
Telematics-based insurance 'is now mainstream' – report
More evidence of the rapid advance of telematics-based insurance comes in the form of a new report from consultancy Frost & Sullivan. It says that in the United States, 60 per cent of the major insurance players currently offer discounts related to mileage or driving behaviour or a combination of the two.
Telematics-based insurance may have started back in 2008 as "a niche experimental effort" by a select number of insurance companies, Frost says, in 2008, but it has now become a mainstream offer, both in the US and in some European countries.
In the US, Ford and GM have offered mileage-based insurance discounts since 2010, it says, utilising their respective telematics infrastructure (Sync and OnStar). More recently, European car makers Citroen and Vauxhall launched "pay how you drive" insurance programmes in the UK in 2012, specifically targeting young drivers.
The objective of all of these schemes is to decrease cost of ownership for a specific set of customers, Frost concludes, as telematics-based insurance "is not a one-size-fits-all solution."
Tile tracking is coming
Tile, a tracking system developed in the US for finding lost or mislaid items, has been launched in the UK. Although pitched very much as a consumer system, it appears to have potential in the business world as well. Anyway, make what you will of it.
Essentially, users buy one or more Tiles (small square plastic tags), and place them on or in something they are worried about misplacing. They are Bluetooth Low Energy devices, which can be detected by the Tile app on a mobile phone (currently only Apple phones are supported).
The user tracks them visually with the app, and can optionally cause the tile to emit a sound and identify itself.
Although Bluetooth has only a limited range (up to 150ft is quoted), the company has extended the system’s potential vastly by allowing "community" users to track lost or stolen items – and intriguingly, they do this without knowing about it. You issue an alert, and all community users’ devices search for your item. If one of them finds it, it reports the location to you. The whole process is invisible to the finding device’s owner.
This "invisible" crowd-sourcing model appears to open various possibilities for the device in asset tracking applications – though of course success depends on market uptake and the size of the user community.
The Tiles cost $25 each, though when their battery runs out (a year is mentioned) you need to buy a new one – something that might put a curb on long-term growth.
Improved access to postcode file in prospect?
Licensing terms for Royal Mail’s PAF (Postcode Address File) could be simplified, and possibly reduced, following a consultation planned by the organisation for this summer.
The PAF contains all current UK postcodes, and is used extremely widely throughout the worlds of transport, logistics, mapping, navigation, marketing and field service to geocode delivery addresses (in other words, apply map references to them). There are also ancillary data files such as those containing Not Yet Built properties (a trademarked term) and Multiple Residence properties (also trademarked).
When postcodes were launched 40 years ago, they were seen primarily as a system for Royal Mail’s internal use, simplifying mail deliveries; but the organisation admits that their use has since expanded vastly.
Third-party users have to pay a licence for access to PAF, which is often included in the fee they pay to a software provider using PAF as part of its suite of products. Typically the fee is between £8 and £10 per 100 transactions, or £75 per user per year for unlimited transactions.
There are lower fees for what is termed external use (notably online), for which users pay around £1 for 100 transactions, or £4,000 a year for unlimited transactions.
However, the headline rates mask around 40 different price points, which Royal Mail says it would like to reduce to around ten. It says it is also hoping to introduce "permissive" licensing to replace what it admits is the current restrictive licence; and to and simplify licensing concepts such as derived data.
Integrated tachograph data capture now a reality
Telematics systems are starting to offer operators the opportunity to capture legally required tachograph data from vehicles remotely with their telematics system– an ability that has previously not been widely available, despite that similarity of tachograph data to the information already gathered by many such systems.
Two suppliers already offering this type of capability are TomTom and TrakM8 (the latter in conjunction with tachograph analysis specialist TruTac).
As Thomas Schmidt, managing director of TomTom Business Solutions, points out: "Driving-time compliance is an issue of major concern for transport companies, involving a significant investment of time and resource.
"By eliminating the need for separate solutions, businesses are able to improve efficiency."
Hot on the heels of these companies is Masternaut, which says that following its acquisition of German telematics specialist E.Novation BTC, it will be able to offer what it describes as "multiple added-value services via one core, connected platform".
Masternaut says future implementations of its system will combine fleet management and driving-time compliance in a single hardware unit, providing instant, automatic and remote access to data via wireless transfer, along with increased security.