Automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems typically use the cellular data network to transmit information. Determining which cellular technology to use for your AVL system is an important decision in the planning process. The newest cellular technology available to AVL systems is Long-Term Evolution (LTE), also referred to as 4G. There is no question that LTE modems are faster and can carry more data, but the improvements come with increased costs. 3G systems are still widely used and, depending on the nature of your application and its expected life cycle, it may make more sense to choose 3G rather than LTE.
Making the Decision—Where to Start
When you are trying to decide which cellular system to specify, it’s best to start by analyzing how your AVL system will be using the data. If your primary goal is to track vehicles and obtain engine information, then a 3G connection is all you need. If the vehicles are accessing websites or pulling down data, then a faster connection such as LTE may make sense.
Network Life Span Considerations
Some organizations fear that the 3G networks will eventually be retired and that 3G devices will no longer work. But, is this a valid fear? Upgrading to LTE from 3G may seem like a way to “future proof” your company’s devices, but it’s only a temporary fix. The next generation of networks that will replace LTE is already being developed and at some time in the future 5G will replace 4G.
Additionally, even if the retirement of the 3G network is officially announced, it will be years before the system is deactivated. For example, when the 2G system was decommissioned, users received three years’ notice and were provided ample time to plan for a transition.
Using Wi-Fi Through the Cellular Modem
In seeking ways to lower cellular network costs, some service-related companies decided to utilize in-vehicle Wi-Fi modems as a way to allow field workers with tablets to use Wi-Fi inside the vehicle. While this sounded like an excellent idea, in reality, many times it did not work. The worker would be inside the customer’s house, need to look up a part number, and try to access the Wi-Fi in the vehicle. It was not uncommon that they had to go back outside to access the network, thus decreasing their productivity. With the additional concerns about data security, this solution has diminished in acceptance by many organizations. However, if employees spend most of the day near the vehicle, a Wi-Fi solution could make sense. It’s important to evaluate how employees will utilize the data when making a decision.
Cellular Contract Considerations
When exploring cellular options, it’s important to know who “owns” the cellular contract. Many companies include the cellular solution with their AVL solution. Often, a business entity will have a corporate agreement that enables the business to receive volume pricing on wireless services through its preferred provider. In these situations, it may be in the customer’s best interest to utilize its preferred carrier, rather than the wireless service provided by the AVL provider. The additional volume generated via the AVL system could drive the customer’s overall cellular prices even lower. When selecting an AVL provider, it is important that the customer specify if it will provide the wireless service itself, or if the vendor has the option to include the wireless service in its pricing plan.
- Many AVL systems use cellular data to transmit information
- The newest cellular technology that AVL systems are using is LTE
- There is no question that LTE modems and data are better
- But the improvements come with increase cost
- 3G systems are still widely used and depending on the nature of your application it may make more sense to use 3G vs. LTE
- Don’t assume that you need the latest and greatest just because that tis what’s available
Network Lifespan Considerations
- The fear many companies have is that the 3G networks will eventually be depreciated and that their devices will stop working
- Choosing LTE over 3G can be a way to “future proof” the device but it’s only a temporary fix
- The next generation of networks that will replace LTE are being developed
- So you’re only buying a few years
- Even if the 3G network is officially depreciated it will be years before the system is turned off
- When the 2G system was decommissioned there were three years of notices
Where to Start
- The best thing to do is start with what you need the system to do
- Get a very clear understanding of how your AVL system will be using the data
- If your primary goal is to track vehicles and obtain engine information then a 3G connection is all you would need
- If the vehicles will be accessing websites or pulling down data then a faster connection may make sense
- If you are looking to do more with the data it might be worth exploring the LTE option
- When exploring cellular options, it’s important to know who “owns” the cellular contract?
- Will the contract be a direct sales to your organization or will it go through a third-party provider?
- Many states have existing cellular agreements so it’s good to check and see what your direct options are
- If a lower rate has been pre-negotiated you could take advantage of the discount
- Another item to consider is the security of your cellular network
- If you are working with a third party provider it is important to secure the network and make sure the data is protected
- This could be at the carrier level or specific security changes on your devices
- Locking the devices down will prevent un-intended use and data overages
An MDC system provides many benefits to all stakeholders involved, including the agency implementing the system and citizens using the roadways. Agencies are primarily concerned with the financial and efficiency benefits, while motorists are primarily concerned with safety and mobility.
Financial benefits are the easiest to quantify, and they are closely related to increased efficiency because saving time also saves money. Case studies from winter road maintenance agencies in Indiana and South Dakota show a 10–40 percent saving in their winter road budgets. The types of financial benefits realized after implementing MDCs include the following categories:
1. Fuel Management
The MDC connects to the engine codes, and it records all fuel-related data. Fleet management knows how many miles per gallon were driven on each vehicle, how long the vehicles were idling, and how much was spent on gas versus how much gas was used. It also allows management to view the location and activity of the entire fleet, resulting in logistics management. This means the fleet manager can find the closest truck to respond to an event and therefore reduce fuel costs.
The MDC records how much material was used or hauled during a given time interval and based on specific environmental conditions. Management can use this data to better track material usage. For instance, winter road maintenance management can analyze why one operator used twice as much treatment material as another operator driving a similar route. In addition, the MDC can connect to automated maintenance decision support systems to provide recommendations on when to apply treatments and how much to apply based on weather forecasts and historical data. Similarly, sanitation management can track how quickly each garbage truck fills up to more efficiently plan routes.
Fleet management can use MDC data to better track hours worked and overtime hours. Some agencies even use engine start and stop times as time card entries. Management can easily track how much time was spent driving versus idling, or how long a route took, or how many drivers were out at one time. By providing greater visibility into resource activities and work times, management can make better resource management plans.
MDCs track the wear-and-tear on vehicles and on-vehicle equipment, such as plow blades, spreaders, loaders, augers, and grapples. Management can analyze the data provided to see if certain operators are particularly hard on a vehicle and if equipment is living up to the manufacturer standards. Management can then decide whether additional training is needed on equipment care or if different products should be purchased in the future. It can also help management plan for repairs, upgrades, and replacements.
5. Road Maintenance
Winter road treatments, such as de-icing chemicals, salt, and sand, are caustic and very hard on road surfaces. Because MDCs provide more efficient treatment application and result in a decrease in the treatment materials used, the costs for road maintenance and repair are decreased.
Adding touchscreen functionality to an AVL system provides an extra, dynamic level of sophistication. The technology allows operators to both view and input information versus passively transmitting data with no operator visibility.
The decision to utilize touchscreen features with an AVL system is dependent on the needs of your organization. If you only require the receipt of data points such as location, speed and engine codes then a basic AVL system might suffice. However, if you are seeking to communicate with the vehicle operator, or require operator input of data, then a touchscreen could be the right fit. Below are some of the items to consider regarding justification of a touchscreen on an AVL system.
Benefits of using a Touchscreen
Need for real-time communications with the operator– With a screen in the cab, operators can use the AVL system to both send and receive time critical information. Instead of downloading the information when they return, operators and administrators can view a wide variety of metrics as they are on the road.
Location Visibility– For the Delcan Technologies snow-plow application, buttons and interface elements on the screen can be minimized facilitating a GPS based weather map. Drivers have a full view of imminent weather in the vehicle. Vehicle status icons can be maximized at will. Having a custom map application, complete with geo-fencing data, helps ensure operators are in the proper zone and, in the case of snow, are applying the deicing material in the proper location.
Snow treatment and removal visibility- The Delcan Technologies Intelligent Snow Plow MDC system provides the operator with accuracy of blade position and material distribution. Additionally, with additional sensors, the operator can monitor when the gate is open and material is flowing. The MDC can monitor multiple sensors providing the operator with peace of mind of the job they are performing.
Delcan Technologies, a Parsons company, helps identify user needs and creates solutions that optimizes the investment in their MDC solution.
Transportation agencies and businesses that manage fleets are actively exploring the use of AVL and telematics systems. Providers in this field have created a wide range of solutions that range from simple “dots on the map” solutions to complex and powerful options that record and process data.
One challenge when sourcing an AVL system is understanding the differences in terminology and features. Delcan Technologies has prepared a brief overview of the different feature sets to help clarify what is in the market. Take a look…
The Basics: AVL and Telematics
AVL and telematics are considered essentials for fleet management. AVL technology, when paired with telematics, provides fleet managers with a broad view of the status and location of their fleet.
Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL)
Generally described as “dots on a map”, AVL enables companies to view the location of their vehicles on a map. This feature is the cornerstone of any location-based system.
In addition to AVL, this capability enables companies to obtain data from the vehicle. Types of information that can be gathered include: idle time, fuel consumption, fault codes, etc.
Beyond the Basics
More robust systems will add additional capabilities into the basic AVL and telematics features. Two common additions are routing and integration with client applications.
Routing takes GPS the extra mile by allowing fleet managers to maximize their fleet’s efficiency and reduce vehicle miles traveled. Depending on deployment, routing can actually provide turn-by-turn directions to the driver, highlighting any out of route driving.
Fleets that operate with with ancillary applications, such as time management systems, and work-order management systems, to name a few, can benefit by integrating their applications into the AVL/Telematics system. Automated time reporting, and billing systems provide payroll accuracy while decreasing the time to receive payment of services rendered.
Advanced Features: MDC Fleet Management
While routing and application integration are powerful features, many organizations require more from their AVL system. These more robust systems utilize Mobile Data Collectors (MDC) and add customized collection, reporting and communication capabilities.
MDC systems allow for custom integration into an ATMS system. This integration feeds immediate notifications to traffic control center. By adding ATMS protocols, vehicles can communicate directly with municipal, regional or state traffic control systems and information is reported immediately.
Precise Material Deployment
Custom defined areas can be established through the use of electronic boundaries and geo-fencing. Precise tracking of material deployment within these areas can be measured and communicated back to vehicle operators.
Predictive Weather Information
Vehicles with MDC capabilities become remote weather stations, providing real-time weather data from locations within operational areas. Controllers can view a live video feed from the vehicle to obtain visual confirmation of weather conditions.
Intelligent Application Thresholds
MDC systems with Maintenance Data Support System (MDDS) capabilities facilitate integration with external and third party providers. Examples of MDSS use include integrating a precision weather forecasting company’s service, provide real-time feedback to the driver on treatment levels, locations and times by device.
Knowing the location of your fleet is only the beginning of the information available to you through AVL technology and telematics. Would these features help you organization improve performance? Delcan Technologies welcomes the opportunity to assess your business needs and create an integrated solution within your Advanced Traffic Management System infrastructure.
Note: This article originally appeared in Traffic Technology International.
Ensuring roads are safe to use is top priority for highways agencies during the winter months. Tom Stone finds out how Michigan DOT is staying ahead of the game in the face of record snowfalls
Winter began early in Michigan. Just as in 2013, mid-November 2014 saw the northern state blanketed in the kind of deep snow residents are more used to seeing in January. In fact, on November 20, 2014, the Grand Rapids region officially announced its snowiest November on record with still 10 days of the month left to go (28.4in had fallen by 7:00pm that day; the previous record of 28.2in was set in 1895). But at least Michigan residents can take comfort from the fact that state snowplows are operating at maximum efficiency – controlled using an advanced system implemented by the DOT just in time for the early whiteouts.
The new efficiency began with the paperwork. In an innovative agreement, MDOT contracted Delcan Technologies (DTI), a Parsons Company, to provide both web-based Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) and a Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS). “Most states and agencies have two separate contracts,” says Tim Croze, engineer manager for the MDOT region support unit. “We’ve combined them into one. That way, we don’t have to get in between two vendors and tell them what kind of protocol to use for data and stuff like that. They work it out between themselves. DTI provides AVL GPS for our snowplow trucks. We get data from temperature sensors on our trucks and we know when the blades are down or up and the application rate of the deicing material.”
DTI is also contracted to provide the MDSS and weather forecasting components – even though the company itself does not offer this type of service. “They’ve subcontracted it to Iteris,” explains Croze. “We knew there wasn’t one vendor that provided both services, but we wanted our AVL data to feed right into the MDSS, since we are collecting weather data from snowplows.”
Critically, the kind of weather forecasting needed to direct snowplows not only on the correct routes, but also in the application of the correct type and amounts of deicing chemicals in real time, is highly detailed. A regular weather forecast can tell you what is about to fall from the sky and what the air temperature will be. However, what it can’t predict is the exact effects of this weather on pavement condition. This is due to the variable nature of many influencing factors, including pavement characteristics, environmental influences and atmospheric conditions, as well as previous maintenance activities and traffic levels.
This is where HiCAPS (Highway Condition Analysis and Prediction System), developed by Iteris, comes into play. The MDOT report AVL/GPS Use For Winter Maintenance states, “HiCAPS forecasts pavement and bridge deck temperatures using complex models to represent heat and moisture exchanges between the road, the atmosphere and pavement substrate. A key distinction setting HiCAPS apart from other models in the industry is the coupling between the mass and energy balances in the model. In simple terms, this means that when moisture (as snow, rain, frost, dew) is deposited onto the road, it also transfers energy to or from the road, and that evaporation or sublimation of moisture from the road requires the road to have an adequate amount of energy available to support those processes.”
This kind of super-accurate forecast meant that recently an MDOT supervisor was able to call in more operators several hours before the TV news predicted snow. “If you are planning to do something outside, you turn on the local news for a weather forecast,” says Croze. “But the forecast we get is weather, plus it’s forecasting what that weather is going to do to our roadways. It provides us with treatment recommendations based on science. So we know if we should treat our road with salt or some other chemical. And it gives us an application rate because we know the temperature of the roadway and how much snow is falling. So there’s a formula that tells us how much salt to apply to be just enough to melt the snow and ice.” This means precious resources are conserved, without compromising safety.
The USDOT’s assistant secretary for research and technology, Gregory Winfree, agrees efficiency in winter maintenance is paramount: “Forecasting and planning is a key consideration,” he says. “Salt and equipment repair and maintenance have very real budgetary impacts on the state.”
“Iteris updates its forecast every hour, or as necessary,” adds Croze. “Treatment recommendations are updated almost immediately. They are sent to the driver via a monitor in the cab. And they are posted online so supervisors can monitor the situation.” It’s this monitoring that initially created more problems than it solved…
Winning hearts and minds
While MDOT and its contractors concentrated on the technical side of the system, they failed to anticipate there would be problems of a more human nature. Many snowplow operators initially regarded the new system with suspicion. Some viewed it not as a helpful aid to more efficient working, but as unnecessary interference – an unwelcome eye over the shoulder.
A key lesson learned, outlined in the MDOT report, was that, “A great deal of effort is needed to promote buy-in for these technologies. To gain buy-in, it is necessary to focus more on how these tools can help with current tasks and reduce manual reporting of labor, equipment and material usage by the operator so they can focus on their maintenance activities. If buy-in, or at least tolerance, of these technologies cannot be accomplished at all levels, it will be difficult to maintain a successful program.”
One of Croze’s coworkers is Collin Castle, connected vehicle technical manager at MDOT. He is looking at ways of using the weather information in the snowplow system for a wider benefit. “We see our snowplows driving around and we know the conditions of the roadway, so we take that knowledge and couple it with other types of weather information such as radar signatures and fixed environmental sensor stations, and advisories and warnings,” says Castle. “We take that all into account and determine a location where we can provide traveler information via a roadside sign or the Mi Drive website.”
Castle is even looking to a future where it won’t be necessary to log on to a website or even look at a sign to obtain such information. He is developing roadside units that will communicate directly with vehicles.
“We could be receiving information as to characteristics of the freeway or weather,” he says. “We could then take that information and process it, and then return it back to give them some value about current situations, potentially. We’re looking at it from a two-way perspective. We can receive information off the vehicles that can give us a better understanding of how the roadway is operating from a mobility/weather/ incident perspective. But, in turn, we can provide that information back to the motorist.”
The same DSRC technology that is used for V2V and V2I is also being put to use in developing new guidance systems for snowplows. “The state of Michigan is partnering with our Intelligent Transportation Joint Programs Office in using DSRC technology to assist its plows,” reveals the USDOT’s Winfree. “Part of it is using DSRC so that the plows know what the boundaries of the roads are. I used to live in a very snowy state up north and it wasn’t uncommon for a plow to knock your mailbox over – they couldn’t see the curb. By extension, they would damage the plow blades so that’s an extra cost. DSRC technology will address all that.”
The other side of winter
Once all the snow and ice has finally melted from the roads and spring returns to the Great Lakes, MDOT is planning ways to use its forecasting technology for other purposes.
“We are looking at ways of expanding the use of this tool into other maintenance functions, not just winter maintenance,” says Croze. “We do things like herbicide spraying on our roadsides. There are very specific parameters that we need to work at. We can’t have a whole lot of wind or rain. So we think we can use this MDSS program to help us in our roadside herbicide spraying applications as well.”
As weather forecasting, and more specifically pavement forecasting, become more and more accurate, its potential applications are becoming evermore varied, as are the number of ways such information can be accessed. It seems likely that the connected vehicle of the future could add weathermen to the growing list of professions it may render redundant.
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The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) won the “Best New Innovative Practice – Sustainability in Transportation” category at the annual Intelligent Transportation Society of America’s (ITS America) “Best of” awards.
ITS America hosted the 2014 World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems in Detroit, Michigan September 7-11. The conference included more than 10,000 of the world’s leading transportation policymakers, researchers, and business professionals from the United States, Europe, and Asia.
MDOT, supported by Delcan Technologies, a Parsons company, and ITERIS, Inc., won the award for its Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) and Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS) implemented in more than 300 MDOT winter maintenance trucks.
The project included integrating mobile data collectors (MDC) onto the snowplows along with a software solution that provides MDOT with a wealth of data and reporting options. The MDC units can report on the location, speed, weather conditions, and material dispersal of each snow plow.
Additionally, Delcan Technologies was responsible for smoothly integrating existing Mobile Data Collector technology into an MDSS that uses HiCAPS™, an advanced model that accurately predicts highway conditions. Using this data, MDOT can interpret weather and traffic patterns and plan for winter road maintenance and treatment strategies.
Recently, the American Public Works Association (APWA) held its annual North American Snow Conference, also known as “the Show for Snow,” in Cincinnati, OH. As an exhibitor at this year’s conference, Delcan Technologies was pleased to feature its Mobile Data Collection (MDC) systems, which generated a great deal of interest from conference attendees.
Michael Howarth and Sean Mulligan represented Delcan Technologies at the conference to demonstrate the powerful tracking and reporting capabilities of DTI’s MDCs. Michael and Sean enjoyed reconnecting with vendors and meeting with representatives from a number of different cities and departments of transportation.
One of the benefits of Intelligent NETworks is the ability to quickly create customized reports. Delcan Technologies recently released a new set of advanced ad hoc reports for Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). These report templates allow MDOT system administrators to automatically run custom reports based on their requested data parameters.
Here is a summary of the four custom reports created specifically for MDOT:
Salting Speed Report: This custom report measures how fast the plow vehicle is going during salting. The mobile data collectors (MDCs) on plow vehicles gather information from sensors and the engine diagnostics to determine when the salting process starts and stops, along with the vehicle speed. The custom Salting Speed Report pulls those data parameters into an automatically generated report. MDOT fleet management can then use that information to determine if the plow vehicle was traveling too fast, and therefore salt bounces off the roadway reducing the effectiveness of MDOT’s roadway treatment efforts and wasting material.
Geo Fencing Report: The Geo Fencing Report calculates the amount of salting material applied within a specific geographic area. The Geo Fence module of Intelligent NETworks creates a virtual perimeter around a user-selected area on a map. Whenever an MDOT plow vehicle enters or exits the geo fenced perimeter, the system captures that data. Another on-vehicle sensor collects data on amount of salt material applied. This custom report collates the data and shows exactly how much material was applied in a specific region. This is particularly useful for monitoring environmentally protected areas.
Plow Life Study Report: Although plow blades have a manufacturer lifecycle, it doesn’t always compare to the lifecycle of plow blades used in the field. The Plow Life Study Report measures the time a plow blade is down and compares it to the wear and tear data collected on the plow. This report helps management to understand why some plow blades wear out more quickly. They can easily see if an operator is putting a blade down too heavily or for too long.
Type and Amount of Material Applied Report: Currents reports were available to tell MDOT management how much material was distributed during each run. However, the snow removal material is usually a mix of different substances, including magnesium chloride, brine, and salt. The Type and Amount of Material Applied Report breaks down the total amounts of mixture distributed by each type of material rather than just a grand total. This report can help procurement estimate how fast each material in the mixture will be used.
These reports were customized for MDOT’s specific needs. As MDOT determines more data assessment needs, additional custom reports can be created. DTI can take any two or more data points collected and create a report to display the data. As needs change, the reports can be updated accordingly. Contact DTI today to find out how you can benefit from custom reports.