Trucking Along

By Adena Schutzberg

_Truck Stop
In the middle of October trucking management professionals came to Boston.Officially, it was the site of the American Trucking Associations 2005 Management Conference & Exhibition. To me it was "the truck show." And, there were indeed a few trucks or parts of trucks on the show floor.Most of the show floor however, was covered with booths offering technology to support trucking.There were advertising agencies suggesting new ways to draw in new drivers, and companies offering quicker background checks.There were many logistics companies whose names I'd not seen in geospatial circles.There were manufacturers of safety equipment for people (reflective vests and the like) and trucks (automated sensors that predict and hopefully help avoid accidents).There were no pure GPS vendors that I saw.Most providers offered solutions that included those devices.

What percentage of American trucks are tracked via GPS? I asked a few vendors and their responses ranged from 50% to 75%.The tracking technology and the data collected, I was assured, were used in different ways by different layers.Many use every bit and byte to squeeze out more profits using off-the-shelf or proprietary business intelligence tools.Other simply enjoyed the return on better routing in lowered gasoline usage, a hot topic in the agenda.One other sort of vendor was on the floor to address that challenge: there were at least two vendors offering biofuel solutions.

The biggest booths were those of QUALCOMM, Sprint Nextel and GeoLogic (formerly the Transportation division of Aether Systems, Inc.).They provide the "infrastructure" for most of the fleet applications and as such perhaps have the most money to be made from attendees.The most surprising vendor on the floor? XM Satellite radio.I expected they be there touting their real time traffic reporting.But the booth seemed to be advertising XM radio as a perk for drivers.I feel sure if I were a long haul driver that'd be a nice thing to have! Competitor Sirius was not there, though one vendor had a raffle for which a subscription was the prize.

Geospatial and Geodata in the Land of the Trucks
ObjectFX, a name known in GIS circles for its component technology, was showing off its new, and its first, application.FleetFX is a configurable fleet management visualization and monitoring solution built on the company's SpatialFX components.On the pure component to pure application continuum, FleetFx sits just 10% away from pure application.Instead of starting from scratch, only a few days of configuring by ObjectFX staff is needed to get the system up and running.What needs configuring? More or less, three things: (1) The user's geography: Is it across all of the U.S.? Are territories based on states? Counties? Some other custom areas? (2) The sort of queries/thematic presentations of interest.Typical analytic views include visually highlighting regions with high or low revenue potential and showing areas with excess unused capacity.And, (3) the user's data about the fleet, including real time GPS data.Ideally, Nick Thomey, COO, told me, they'd like the process to be simple enough for clients to perform the configuration themselves in the future.

Thomey explained that ObjectFX still has strong component sales, especially in the government arena, but that FleetNav is really its first product to market.And he should know.He identified himself as the last Ultimap employee still with the company.Recall that ObjectFX evolved out of technology from Ultimap, one of the many players still in the industry in the early 1990s.Frankly, he was a bit surprised I knew that.I, on the other hand, was pleased to see that some of the roots of the company were still in place.

"MapTuit, that like Intuit?" someone asked jokingly in the press room."A whole different ball game," I answered."Yeah," he said, "I actually use Intuit software." Actually, he might use MapTuit as well and just not know it. The company started as a mapping portal company back in the 1999 and powers dealer locators and the like for companies like Subaru Canada, Yellow Pages, the Washington Post and Go2.com.

At this event the company was focusing on its fleet solutions, in particular, a new deal with TeleNav to include its truck specific routing tools in the mobile phone based routing service.TeleNav has been touted as a "killer" location-based services app since it uses in-phone GPS receivers to deliver routing.To date the offerings have been for the consumer market.Now, with the input from MapTuit, the offerings are available for the trucking industry.

Marketing Manager Carlos Bernal told me why that's important. Basically, large trucking companies or companies with dedicated fleets can afford the overhead of dedicated fleet navigation infrastructure, from say QUALCOMM or GeoLogic, and custom services, which MapTuit also provides.Smaller players sometimes use MapTuit's Web-based solution for routing and simply print out directions for each vehicle.And, that works, until there's a change in the delivery schedule, or a driver gets lost or? Companies with smaller fleets and other players can't afford the costs of electronic in-truck solutions.The TeleNav service is simply a fee above the now dropping cost of a GPS-enabled cell phone and service plan, something within reach of nearly all small fleets or owner operators.

The service will be available on Sprint Nextel phones (the GPS-enabled ones).I saw one of the phones.Yes, the screen is quite small.But, the service will speak the directions, which I suspect is how it will be used.

So, what is it that MapTuit has that can turn a consumer navigation device into a trucking navigation device? Its own truck related attributes.In fact, NAVTEQ partnered with MapTuit for its new data aimed at trucking apps.What sort of attributes? Highway and local road weight, height and length impedances, truck speed limits and the like.That information, it turns out, is quite difficult to collect as it's often assigned by different federal, state and local governments.One of MapTuit's greatest resources for this information is the truckers themselves.The in-truck hardware has tools for drivers to report new or changed situations right from the truck.Once confirmed, they are added to MapTuit's database.

That, Bernal notes, is why the company can say that its data is updated regularly.Instead of being delivered on CDs or DVDs quarterly like some of the base road data are, MapTuit's data layers are served from its server in real time, so there's no delay in getting it out to users.

What's next? Just what you might expect: the integration of traffic and weather data.

NAVTEQ still focuses only on geospatial data so its partners Cartasite (which also develops on top of MapPoint) and TransDecisions were showing off their apps in its booth.NAVTEQ's new truck focused datasets are just being rolled out.But NAVTEQ is making headway with traffic information.By partnering with real time traffic providers and gathering data from government departments of transportation, police and emergency services, road sensors, cameras and real-time aircraft reports, the company has become one of the first traffic data aggregators.Today it offers real time data about traffic for 22 cities across the United States.

How does that work in practice? Very well, according to pilots done in a few cities for consumer routing.Bill DeMarco explained that all of the traffic data for the 22 cities ends up being about the size of an average Word document.That's delivered wirelessly and queried based on the route the system has determined for the current trip.If any of the selected segments match areas of concern in the traffic data, the driver gets the update and the option to reroute around it. Satisfaction has been very high, he noted, with the vast majority of users suggesting they'd want their next car to have the traffic capabilities.For now it's an aftermarket option.

NAVTEQ is also working to gather more information for truckers.One big challenge for trucks: Can I make that corner? The challenge for NAVTEQ is how to determine if a truck of a specific size can make that corner without actually sending out a truck to try.That question is being researched but with accurate detailed data and 3D measuring tools, it sure sounds like it's possible to answer.Another offering from NAVTEQ is historical data on travel times.Information on the time it took to get from point A to point B on a weekday for the past few months/years at a certain time of day could be valuable in predicting how long it might take on any given day.

NAVTEQ wins the prize for the most interesting piece in its press kit. (I'm not generally a press kit fan as I like to think I can find all the same information online, though on occasion, I cannot.) Along with a backgrounder and several reprints of stories detailing how the staff drives the roads of the US and other counties to gather data, there are photos of interesting signs and sites captured by the road crews.My favorite: a single brick with the word "stop" on it, on what looks like a stop line, on a street in Oregon.


Published Wednesday, October 26th, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg



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