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.
Automated Vehicle Location and Maintenance Decisions Support System Project
Tim Croze, P.E.
Region Support Engineer
Michigan Department of Transportation, Lansing, Michigan
Member, APWA Winter Maintenance Subcommittee
Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) is a means of managing a fleet of vehicles using a global positioning system (GPS). Already in widespread use in the transit, trucking, and emergency response communities, AVL has recently been applied to winter maintenance operations. The goals encompass improving agency efficiency, reducing material usage and decreasing the time spent reporting labor, material and equipment usage.
AVL systems allow a manager to monitor the location of fleet vehicles at any given time and can be a resource management system for managing labor, equipment and materials used for various roadway maintenance functions. In addition to knowing a vehicle’s location, a robust AVL system is capable of capturing and reporting operational data from a snowplow’s on-board systems such as a DICKY-john material controller, as well as other data, including material application rates, air and pavement temperature, and the position of blades and plows. The AVL/GPS and other operational data is displayed in near-real time on a website and also stored for future reporting and data analysis. Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) recently began integrating AVL into its winter maintenance fleet.
The operational data collected by MDOT’s AVL system is processed and automatically fed into a Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS). The goal of MDSS is to provide a decision support tool for MDOT staff involved in winter maintenance operations. MDSS is used by at least 15 states across the nation. It is a tool that provides location-specific weather forecasts along snowplow routes and predicts how road conditions will change due to forecasted weather. The system recommends the most effective maintenance treatments and application rates and suggested times to apply material to maximize its effectiveness for the snowplow operators. These route-specific treatment recommendations are provided to maintenance garage supervisors on a website as well as transmitted directly to a screen for plow operators to view in near-real time.
The snowplow route treatment recommendations are based on the following information:
- Material type and application rate based on current and predicted weather conditions
- Desired level of service
- Operational limitations
- Type and thickness of pavement materials
The main impetus behind MDOT’s AVL/GPS/MDSS implementation is to provide a tool that will allow maintenance garage supervisors to make more informed decisions on how best to attack an incoming storm using real-time operational data, current and forecasted weather information and scientific models that predict how the forecasted weather will affect road conditions.
MDOT is not the first agency to utilize AVL technology and MDSS services to manage its fleet and winter operations. However, MDOT’s contracting approach, scale of implementation, and accelerated timeframe for initial rollout offers a unique model, which can aid other state or local agencies what wish to leverage the benefits that AVL and MDSS services can provide.
MDOT management determined that the best contracting approach for these types of integrated services is to write the Request for Proposal (RFP) language to be all-encompassing. This means one contract is executed to meet all of the project needs. The RFP that was written and advertised included:
- AVL equipment and services necessary for MDOT’s Winter Maintenance Trucks
- AVL equipment for MDOT’s light fleet
- All necessary communication services
- Management and storage of all data collected
- Statewide MDSS services
- Training for MDOT staff
Under this all-encompassing contact, MDOT works directly with one vendor who is responsible for providing all equipment, securing cellular communications services, and coordinating resources to meet the needs for both AVL and MDSS mapping and reporting. The installation of AVL equipment is performed by MDOT mechanics that have been trained by the vendor.
The schedule for this project has been aggressive, but successful so far. In May 2013, MDOT’s executive leadership authorized funds and gave approval to issue and RFP for the procurement of a comprehensive AVL and MDSS solution for MDOT. The RFP was advertised in June 2013, and a signed contact was executed by mid-September, 2013. As of March 2014 AVL units and auxiliary sensors had been installed on MDOT’s fleet of 2070 snowplows. The AVL and MDSS were commissioned on November 15, 2013 and utilized all winter long by MDOT staff. Even though the systems are new to the department and not all snowplows were instrumented with AVL before winter started there are many anecdotal examples where the MDSS has saved MDOT manpower and money.
A comprehensive cost/benefit analysis of the AVL/MDSS deployment project will be completed after MDOT as had a full winter season with these new technologies.
Twilio, a cloud communications company, recently launched its “Engineering the Customer Experience” Roadshow in Atlanta. This six-city tour was designed for forward-thinking decision makers focused on developing innovative business communications solutions. The conference featured speakers from Google, Box, LiveOps, and OneReach—companies known for their revolutionary methods of integrating phones, VoIP, and messaging with web, desktop, and mobile software. Each informational session focused on current industry trends and strategies for adapting to the software-driven “age of the customer.”
DTI’s Sean Mulligan went to the Atlanta conference on May 13, 2014. He attended the keynote session by Forrester Research, which focused on the ways that mobile applications are helping customers get what they need when they need it. Sean found the session to be especially relevant to DTI’s focus on meeting client needs and expectations through mobile data tracking.
Sean then attended the Customer Showcase, where RealPage, Inc. discussed its use of Twilio when building out its support centers. He was also present for sessions entitled “Choose the Right Platform,” “Creating Communications in Context,” and “Establish Greater Customer Connections – Integrating Communications into CRM.” Each discussion focused on streamlining business communications and leveraging cloud capabilities to solve complex customer interactions.
The conference is also an important forum for networking. Sean was pleased to be able to speak with representatives from Box, Twilio, OneReach, and SendHub at the reception. He enjoyed hearing more about what they’ve learned during their transitions from old school approaches to application development.
The Twilio Roadshow reflects an important theme in the rapidly evolving world of VoIP, multi-channel communications and software: this is the age of the customer.
Delcan Technologies recently submitted their recommendations for the draft of the Clear Roads Universal In-Cab Communications Protocol. The public comment period is open until February 28, 2014. The final standard is targeted for completion in 2015.
Clear Roads is a pooled fund research project that provides ongoing research about winter maintenance materials, equipment, and methods for use by highway maintenance crews. One of the current Clear Roads projects is the Plug-n-Play Initiative, which will provide standard communication protocols between winter maintenance electronic devices. Different vendors manufacture sensors and other electronic devices with their own proprietary communication protocols and data formats. That means that a spreader controller by one vendor may not communicate with an AVL by another vendor.
Currently, AVL vendors have been adapting their technology to communicate with the spreader controllers. However, that requires custom firmware updates for each product provided by a different vendor. The burden on AVL vendors, along with constant increase of data complexity, makes the current model unsustainable.
Clear Roads developed a universal, bi-directional protocol to work with spreaders, AVL devices, and other winter maintenance electronic equipment. The Clear Roads Universal In-Cab Communications Protocol provides a Data Parameter Library (DPL) to standardize the protocol, data format, Baud rate, and sensor negotiation. The standard is designed as a living document, and new data parameters can be added as technology changes.
Delcan Technologies recently launched a number of geo service enhancements to Intelligent NETworks®. The Automated Vehicle Locator (AVL) and Winter Maintenance modules can feature a wide range of geo-fencing capabilities.
Geo Services provides a virtual perimeter around user-selected geographical areas. Authorized users can select custom boundaries around specified areas on their map. Whenever a vehicle with a mobile data collector enters or exits the geo-fenced perimeter, the system receives a notification. The system can then use that data to generate customized reports or to send alerts.
There are a number of search features available for defining the geo-fenced area. You can search by a specific address, a landmark, or pre-defined locations such as garages or cities. Users can create an ad hoc geo-fence to find the closest vehicle in the fleet to the specified area. Or, users can pre-set areas, such as garages, so they have constant data on who enters and exits the garages, the duration spent in the garage, and the exact time of entry and departure.
This technology has many practical uses. For example, it can input data for time management systems. A fleet administrator can set it up to provide alerts when a driver breaks from the route. Dynamic reports can be created to determine if certain routes are over- or under-salted by a winter road maintenance fleet. Similarly, alerts can be set whenever a salt truck enters an EPA-protected zone. It can also be used for billing activities. If the city winter road maintenance crew contracts with private companies to plow their facilities, they can automatically trigger billing whenever a plow truck enters the company location.
Geo Services can streamline workflow, reduce administrative work, prevent unauthorized usage, and provide useful statistics. This tool is a significant addition to the AVL and Winter Maintenance modules, offering greater control and additional notifications.