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18 June 2012

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Your scheduling software has worked out your drivers' routes, so why not feed the data into their satnav and show them how to get there? Sharon Clancy finds that integrated satnav is becoming increasingly common

As seen elsewhere in this issue, the latest generation of in-cab computer terminals have the ability to display navigation instructions automatically when drivers hit an "accept job" button.

Turn-by-turn navigation instructions are now recognised as more than just a nice-to-have tool for despatchers in logistics and field service organisations; the benefits in terms of reduced cost and increased productivity are now proven.

Route compliance helps drivers to choose the most efficient route rather than their preferred one, which can save miles; and that, in turn, has a direct impact on fuel costs.

On multi-drop deliveries or multi-call job schedules, it can cut vital minutes per customer if the driver is saved the task of searching for each location; in fact this can actually translate into an extra job or delivery that day. Being able to re-route mobile workers round traffic hold-ups can also reduce delays and improve customer service.

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Admittedly, for drivers of large trucks on trunking operations with only a few deliveries a day, satnav may have limited use, integrated or otherwise. That’s the view of Tim Pigden, managing director of Optrak.

Multi-drop work is a different case, he adds, and here he says the key is integration. "Without it, there is a loss of control and lost time each day. You also have no method of enforcing duty-of-care policies, such as not entering data while driving or route compliance."

An integrated system allows to managers to push the list of jobs to the device, he says. All the driver has to do is press "next job". This is safer, more reliable and more accurate.

While the benefits of job-specific navigation are not disputed, there is still some debate over the best way to deliver that turn-by-turn navigation data.

Navman Wireless claims to have pioneered integrated navigation with its AVL tracking system. "We were first to launch an integrated tracking-messaging-navigation solution in the UK," says European marketing manager Peter Millichap. "It was a game changer in terms of adding to the existing efficiency gains that were already associated with tracking.

"Once the driver clicks ‘accept’, he or she is automatically routed to the next job. Despatchers can identify not just which driver is closest, but using live traffic data, which one has the fastest ETA to the customer."

Millichap also points out that greater accuracy is achieved with GPS location data than with customer address data. "Latitude-longitude data is far more precise than postcodes both for rural destinations and for finding the correct delivery point for a company on a large site."

Navman’s latest M-Nav 760 even looks similar to a personal navigation device; it has its own colour touch screen. This is connected to the tracking telematics black box.

As you might expect, TomTom Business Solutions makes a strong case for an on-board navigation. "TomTom Pro devices are fit for purpose because they been designed primarily as a navigation aid, and incorporate rich features not available with off-board navigation instructions," says Giles Margerison, UK sales manager.

"WORKsmart Traffic ensures drivers will always be following the smartest route from one customer to the next, no matter how congested the roads become. It incorporates real-time HD Traffic update service and IQ Routes technology uses a database of real driving times to calculate the fastest route for the time of day, anywhere you go."

He adds: "It factors in the traffic lights, roundabouts and other obstacles along the way to provide a realistic ETA, too. There is also Quick GPSfix which allows you to speed up time-to-fix GPS position and start journey within 30 seconds, even when the GPS signal is weak."

Not all tracking companies offer navigation, and some mobile workers tend to buy their own navigation device simply to make their job easier, or use a navigation app on their smartphone. However, they can come unstuck, warns Margerison. "Many smartphones lack sufficient processing power for real-time navigation, and when truck drivers buy their own PND, there’s a risk that it may not include vital truck-specific routing and navigation. That means there is potential for illegal manoeuvres, delays and even accidents."

Trafficmaster has a unique take on navigation. Its Smartnav off-board navigation and intelligent routing service combines routing and live traffic information to find the best routes and avoid congestion.

Drivers access it by pressing a button in the vehicle. This connects them to a personal assistant at Trafficmaster’s 24/7 control centre, who checks destinations, provides routes and even connects drivers to emergency and breakdown.

"It's real-time information," says Gallagher, Trafficmaster’s director of in-vehicle products, "so there’s no risk of drivers using out-of-date maps, and it automatically takes account of any road delays.

"There’s speech-only guidance, or the option of a Smartnav colour touch screen. It also comes as a mobile application for BlackBerry and iPhone mobile phones."

Data is collected from the company’s 5,200 infra-red spot speed-measuring sensors on motorways, while automatic number plate recognition technology is used to measure journey times on trunk roads. Sensors are typically two miles apart on motorways and 3.5 miles apart on trunk roads.

Over 4.75 million vehicle records are sampled per hour at peak times and over 5.75 million traffic flow-impacting events are reported annually. The data is reported from the remote sites to Trafficmaster’s traffic monitoring centre every four minutes.

Hybrid navigation

The trend towards Web-based hosted software-as-a-service enhances the appeal of integrated navigation, and is also driving developments in hybrid navigation. Cognito’s Fieldforce IQ, for example, sends navigation instructions with the job.

"All the driver has to do is press a button, so there is no risk of address input errors," says managing director Jonathan Chevalier. "It also mean the despatch office retains control over which route the driver takes," he adds, although he admits that incorporating live services into such systems is in its infancy for SaaS providers.

Another mobile workforce and fleet management specialist offering satnav is FleetGenie, whose system actually incorporates embedded satnav. The software runs on any GPS-enabled hand-held computer or PDA with Microsoft Windows OS. Embedding satnav in the workforce management system eliminates the need to interface the route optimisation software with additional navigation, says Fleetgenie.

In addition to the standard workflow data managed by the FleetGenie server, solution partners can easily add further functionality to suit any application that needs instant access to job critical information on the user’s server. For example, the system will provide remote access to live stock information or pricing.

Hybrid navigation takes advantage of both on-board and off-board technologies, combining the speed and reliability of on-board computing with the power, customisability and dynamic data of off-board severs. "Applications that use server-based map data benefit because they are using the most up-to-date map data available," points out Newth Morris, president of US location intelligence specialist Telogis, which has just acquired navigation company Maptuit.

"Maptuit allows us to host both scheduling and map data, so we can customise the solution to meet each fleet’s unique needs. Because the routes are calculated off-board, we can use sophisticated algorithms such as weighting mechanisms that prioritises roads based on user-specific parameters.

"This in turn means that routes and ETAs have a high accuracy," he claims. "Ninety-nine per cent is typical."

Morris adds: "The cost-based algorithm for routing allows us to take a much more nuanced approach to the map data than conventional navigation systems suppliers. We can work with a user to customise their fuel data, POI data, customer data and map data and ensure their route preferences are automatically incorporated."

Just by incorporating access points, he says, the company can deliver 5 per cent fuel savings. Enough data is resident on the in-vehicle computers to allow drivers to continue receiving route guidance if the signal is lost.

In the US, Maptuit uses feedback from 100,000 drivers to update road networks, and has a data group dedicated to monitoring the road network and ensuring the data is continuously updated. It liases with transport agencies and news outlets to monitor and validate changes in the road network. The service has just been launched in Europe.

The future

Delays are an unavoidable fact of life for any organisation with mobile workers. Getting them to the job or the delivery point in the fastest time by the shortest route is a challenge; but handled successfully, it can be the key to enhanced productivity and fuel savings. Navigation, however it is delivered, is now a key tool in achieving those goals.

 

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