Fleet management is poised for dramatic growth, fueled by the Internet of Things and a need for differentiated performance in a consolidating market. Developers are responding with highly integrated solutions that blur the lines, differentiating devices used for in-vehicle tracking and enabling more competitive, real-time services provided in the field.
BY KENNETH TSAI, ADLINK TECHNOLOGY
As technology becomes more agile at collecting, sharing and acting on real-time information, the definition of fleet management has evolved in step. Today’s market is steadily expanding from its traditional focus on managing delivery and logistics to improving operations for law enforcement, first responders, public utility service vehicles, cable providers and more. Just about any business with a mobile presence or employees in the field can compete more effectively with greater access to information—using data to improve efficiencies, increase safety, reduce maintenance cost and improve customer service.
The emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) has had real impact in this arena, and fleet management is taking the lead as a major growth market for connected embedded applications. To better capitalize on this promise, a shift is becoming evident—systems are moving away from complex, multi-equipment solutions and toward all-in-one, high-performance devices that offer compact performance and value. Streamlined, rugged and creatively designed for high-endurance environments, fleet management devices are evolving to incorporate the high performance of a traditional PC-based system, along with improved display options and easy portability. Coupled with a smaller footprint, these highly integrated devices are providing a new competitive edge in the field, blending traditional fleet management functions with smarter connected embedded services and applications.
Defining Next Generation Fleet Management Devices
Current fleet management solutions typically require several elements to accomplish desired performance in the field. From the hardware perspective, a fleet driver might have to manage not only a rugged laptop, but also a gateway device for connectivity and a handheld component for use outside the vehicle. Antenna extension cables might also be part of the system, keeping a device with limited portability connected to the vehicle’s wireless signal. For example in the trucking industry, dash-mounted computing units often have a pendant that can be removed for field use, although the device stays connected with a spiral cord similar to an old telephone cable. An extensive range of software applications complete the multi-piece hardware solution; these options could facilitate mapping and routing, or access to industry-specific applications and databases such as fingerprint scans, vehicle records or motorist information.
Rugged PCs are well-established as in-vehicle computing solutions, yet the market has demonstrated a need for a more versatile option that is lightweight, display-oriented and connected. Instead of multiple devices—for example a fix-mount system plus another device for tracking shipment as deliveries are recorded throughout the day—new options optimize this varied performance into a simple, integrated system. Today, a single device can achieve the same powerful connectivity to enable vehicle diagnostics while also acting as the handheld interface for other field service applications.
Familiar, All-In-One Performance
Optimized in-vehicle displays today offer the familiar look and feel of a consumer tablet, following the path of consumer electronics by doing more with a single device (Figure 1). However, this familiar interface also supports powerful built-in performance for devices that are sunlight readable and offer specifications for industrial use, such as IP54 rating for resistance to dust and water. Gorilla glass touchscreens are thicker than a typical consumer display, making them impervious to damage in the field. These rugged features combine to reduce the fleet operator’s total cost of ownership and enable faster return-on-investment in fleet management systems.
Adlink’s IMT-1 integrates the high-performance TI OMAP5432 1.5 GHz dual-core ARM A15 processor and Android operating system. The open system architecture of the Android OS allows system integrators to easily develop applications, supporting fleet management operators with state-of-the-art management applications, safer operations and regulatory compliance. Plus, TI OMAP processing power has ensured that other data- and graphic-intensive applications such as certain mapping software also runs efficiently on the IMT-1 tablet PC.
Most importantly, this level of integration, ruggedness and performance is enabling a significant shift in the fleet management industry. Fleet operators no longer face such a daunting task—which historically included installing a gateway in the vehicle, fixing a rugged laptop to the dashboard or console, and training employees on using and syncing a handheld device that supplements the system with data collected when it’s removed from the vehicle and used onsite. Compact, all-in-one devices are offering a simple, more intuitive method of in-vehicle computing—not only blending processes with field service applications, but also substantially reducing the space, cost and deployment challenges associated with a larger, multi-piece deployment.
Expanding the Market
Solving the need for rugged, integrated solutions is essential, enabling fleet management applications to continue their evolution, as well as to expand into new markets. While transportation and logistics services are foundation markets for fleet management, the opportunity for market growth is broad; integrators anticipate fleet technology to cross industry sectors such as academia, government, waste management, public transportation, utilities, retail, logistics, construction, mining, oil/gas and chemicals.
Even though the fleets themselves may vary greatly (e.g., limousines, fire trucks, ambulances, law enforcement, cable repair, utility service), basic management applications are relatively consistent. The overarching goal is to keep vehicles on the road using the best routes, track and manage maintenance in a timely and cost-effective manner, and keep drivers safe by tracking behavior and addressing issues with increased training.
At the same time, fleet management is expanding to include all types of field service, such as on-site medical support for first responders. Using fleet management tools, emergency personnel can send vital diagnostic information or imaging results directly from the ambulance to the hospital destination. Receiving staff can better prepare for their arrival with the proper treatment options and equipment. Ambulance personnel can even re-route more effectively if the situation warrants, for example, diverting to a facility equipped with specialized treatment options for a particular injury or medical situation.
Consequently, fleet management developers are now focused on creating designs that integrate these priority performance requirements for logistics providers—focusing mainly on the two primary functional uses of an in-vehicle device. This includes the more sophisticated features such as monitoring and retrieving engine stats and employee driving habits, as well as more fundamental features such as verifying what was delivered and when.
Monitoring engine performance and driver behavior is more challenging because it requires a fleet management device that is carefully harnessed into the vehicle; devices are connected and synced to the vehicle, gathering high-level diagnostic data. Some fleet management systems are taking this a step further, capturing video or sending a live video feed. This is one application with significant potential for police and first responders, who can gather timely and accurate eyewitness statements via video or can capture real-time surveillance video to make arrests and provide evidentiary material to ensure conviction.
Even fundamental logistics applications such as verification of delivery are improving with higher performance devices. Consider the delivery shipment that is damaged in transit and refused upon delivery; with capture of the right real-time data, a replacement delivery can be managed immediately instead of after data is reviewed and lengthy paperwork is processed. As industry research firm, Telematics Update, pointed out in a recent report that the data collected by fleet management applications can be almost overwhelming to operators. The real-time ability to “manage by exception” is an important benefit, building value in connected in-vehicle devices and growing the market further.
Growing with Improved, Flexible Connectivity
Fleet management is considered an extension of intelligent transportation design—applying IoT ideals to extract greater value from connectivity. Versatile wireless support is required, allowing in-vehicle devices to connect via wireless local area networks (WLAN) protocols including IEEE 802.11 b/g/n, as well as wireless wide area network (WWAN) such as 3.5G HSPA+ and 4G LTE. For example, Adlink’s IMT-1 industrial mobile tablet incorporates all of these protocols, as well as support for high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz NFC radio frequency identification (RFID), which allows high-speed data capture to enable fleet management operators to read the vehicle’s RFID tag and schedule appropriate maintenance activities.
High-speed connectivity allows drivers to seamlessly provide and access real-time information, such as instantly correcting mistakes that can reduce costly paperwork and delays. Further, integrated GPS and e-compass technologies ensure shipments are delivered on time by optimizing driver routes, and enabling monitoring by the operator. Customers awaiting delivery or service can be alerted in real time to drivers running late or early, a simple communication that can elevate the public perception of a company as being at the top of its game.
Rugged, High-Performance Solutions
Real-world scenarios for in-vehicle devices include extensive tablet usage as the driver is unloading materials, stacking boxes, moving shipments in and out of loading docks and offices, or just visiting customers in the field. Dropping the tablet is a given, and so resistance to damage from dropping is a specific requirement for the device’s rugged capabilities. For a device to be interchangeable from in-vehicle mounting to a handheld interface for field services, it must be droppable from hip height, 0.8 meters or about 2.5 feet, onto a hard surface. Industry feedback suggests that designs should ideally extend this 1.2 meters or about 4 feet; however, this must be done while the device remains sensitive to portability. Tablets can indeed be designed to handle this requirement directly, but—in the process—they become bulky and lose some of their ergonomics and elegance. These details matter significantly for real-world usability. As a result, competitive designs may opt for an add-on bumper case to extend resistance to drop height, allowing better consideration to keeping the device light and easy to handle.
Integrated devices also include greater visual performance, including camera capabilities in the tablet itself. Built-in megapixel cameras on the front and rear of the device again mirror the flexibility and familiarity of a consumer tablet. In the event of a damaged delivery, image recording provides a simple means of documenting the damage right onsite, avoiding costly delays in service. Ordering or delivering replacement items right away again distinguishes the provider with better customer service.
Data- and graphics-intensive applications such as image processing and mapping software are efficiently managed with Android-based devices, today capitalizing on both ARM processors and current low-power x86 processor options. Low power is a key enabler in IoT designs, enabling high performance in thermally sensitive, passively cooled designs that truly can go anywhere.
The Business Case for a Connected Fleet
Research firm Markets and Markets recently announced details of a fleet management market study, suggesting the market is anticipated to build dramatically over the next several years, growing from $10.91 billion in 2013 to $30.45 billion by 2018. This corresponds to a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 22.8% during that timeframe.
What are the challenges to winning a segment of this monumental growth? Increasing efficiency, ensuring compliance and promoting safety are top priorities for any design to win market share. Keeping up with capacity may be less discussed but is just as important—freight must be moved efficiently from any number of key transportation arteries that impact public health and safety. These stations include freight terminals, seaports, motor carrier hubs and airports, and further test the capacity of road, rail, air and waterways. Picking up and moving freight in a timely manner limits congestion in these transportation corridors. However, the operators that provide land transport and domestic inland distribution can compound congestion problems if they are not operating at peak performance.
Further, the market is undergoing extensive consolidation demonstrated by ongoing mergers and acquisitions worldwide. Partnership is also prevalent, as new entrants to the market recognize the opportunity for leadership in working with manufacturers. By providing services and software to complement fleet management hardware, these partnerships are enabling new revenue streams for the fleet industry. For developers, supporting these issues with rugged, integrated devices is an essential piece of the shifting industry picture—embracing the Internet of Things with flexible solutions that offer a foundation for both in-vehicle connectivity and field service applications.
Moving the Market Forward with Integrated Devices
Comprehensive, compact in-vehicle solutions are driving growth, supporting multipurpose improvements that create a competitive edge. When behind-the-wheel behavior is tracked, driver safety can improve with training targeted to specific issues. When routes are planned and managed for improved efficiency, organizations can reduce energy consumption and their associated carbon footprint. Real-time data creates a new ability to manage by exception, rather than sifting through mountains of information to determine how to improve operations in an ongoing manner. Customer service improves as a result of all these internal benefits, providing a tangible differentiator that exceeds the competition and improves business overall.
The possibilities are expanding exponentially for operators—and designers—who are connecting customer-facing employees with effective fleet management. Using a single integrated device, operators can access and manage data for enterprise-wide improvements in performance, services and revenue. This is quickly evolving from the basics of fleet dispatch such as scheduling, load management, driver and vehicle tracking and effective routing. New performance improvements such as automated processes, image-based shipment tracking and video capture are just a few of the innovations yet to come, and they are anticipated to add broad industry value and opportunity. For fleet operators, capitalizing on IoT connectivity and highly integrated devices enables a competitive edge in this transition—reducing costs, improving performance and distinguishing compact systems that handle both in-vehicle and field service applications.
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