Intelligent maps

GPS and GIS lets firms know where their staff are and, more importantly, how to get goods where they need to go to. However, governments’ refusal to make the data available is slowing adoption in the region.

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By  Neil Denslow Published  January 3, 2005

|~|intel_maps_m.jpg|~||~|Finding out how best to get from A to B in the Middle East is rarely an easy tasking. In some cities in the region, such as Sharjah, there are no road names to help guide the way, and in others, like Dubai, constant traffic jams create their own challenges. Elsewhere, size is the issue. Directing trucks in Saudi Arabia, and keeping track of them, is difficult as it is a huge country with limited communications. Logistics companies in the region are therefore beginning to look at the twin technologies of GPS (global positioning system) and GIS (geographical information system) to help keep their vehicles on the right roads. GPS and GIS need to be used to together for vehicle tracking and route planning, as they provide complimentary data. The GPS element provides the location — a device on the vehicle or container is picked up by a satellite network, which then calculates where on the surface of the earth the object is. However, GPS cannot relate this position to the surrounding area, such as the location of buildings or the road network, let alone potential traffic jams, which where is GIS comes in. This technology provides mapping information that can be used alongside the GPS positioning data to direct the vehicle to its final destination. “A GPS device tells you where you are, but it does not tell you how to get where you want to go,” explains Rolf Becker, managing director, Maps Geosystems. One of the main functions that GIS and GPS can be used for is vehicle tracking. Doing this allows a controller to see where all of the company’s vehicles are at any point in time. This has security applications, as the controller can be alerted if a vehicle goes off course, which may suggest that it has been stolen, as well as management uses; drivers can be more easily assigned to jobs based on their present location, for instance. “These two [uses] can be of different importance to a company. Looking at the UAE, for instance, demand is predominately for logistics and fleet management, while looking at Afghanistan and Iraq, it is more about security,” comments Neil Jamieson, regional manager, Middle East, Danisat. The security application comes from the ability to track vehicles in real time, using either GSM or satellite communications. If one then leaves its pre-determined corridor, an alert can be sent out. “The system can generate an alarm or send an SMS, but normally we do it by e-mail,” comments Jamieson. “[Reporting these exceptions] means that the manager does not then have to worry about what is going right; instead, he just has to worry about what is going wrong.” An onboard device can even make the engine cut out if the vehicle leaves its corridor. In the local market, this application of particular interest to rental companies looking to reduce car theft, but it can just as easily be applied to trucks and vans. “This black box would have the limits of the city programmed inside it, and there would be a very clear message. If you go outside the city limits, shut off the carburettor and stop the car,” explains Shafik Jiwani, COO, Orion Technology. Once this happens, the system would alert the control room, reporting the location of the vehicle, which means it could then be recovered. However, GIS and GPS data can also be used for a host of other applications. For instance, route planning and scheduling can be done automatically, so that drivers are given the most cost effective and quickest delivery route. The tracking application could also check if drivers were speeding, taking extra breaks, doing unnecessary or unauthorised mileage, and it could also be linked a delivery track & trace system in order to provider customers with exact details about the location of their shipment. “Logistics is far more than just tracking vehicles,” says Haitham El Khatib, sales manager for Gistec, which represents GIS software vendor, ESRI. “The system can do everything in terms of the scheduling, as well as the maintenance and management of the data and reporting… The great thing about it is that it is very accurate technology, and it saves a lot of time and money,” he adds.||**|||~||~||~|Such operations will make vehicle tracking much more affordable for end users, as all of the data management and technical support issues could be provided by the supplier. Orion Technology, for instance, is part of a group launching an online vehicle tracking service in Dubai, which would be affordable for private individuals and small businesses. “You could log in with your username and password [on a website] and your five or six vehicles will be listed there. Where is this one? Click, it comes up on the map exactly where it is,” says Jiwani. “You may want to know where it was half an hour ago, and we can trace it back as well,” he adds. The GIS centre is also looking to go beyond this and provide realtime information about traffic jams in the city on its website using live data from Dubai’s traffic control room. “One of our next projects will be to link up the traffic sensors with the website,” says Al Zaffin. Aside from the availability of data, the other biggest challenge in terms of launching vehicle tracking in the rest of the Middle East is communications. This is a problem in many parts of the region, especially outside of urban areas, as there is a limited amount of GSM coverage. This is an important factor for real time tracking in particular, as sending messages using a satellite system is an expensive option. Transmissions over the Inmarsat network, for instance, cost about one US cent each, which can quickly adds up. “If you want to track a vehicle with just a few seconds’ interval, then it is very expensive [to use satellite]…. However, if you are only interested in knowing where your truck is every hour or every day, then those costs are very small,” says Becker. “As such, if you are using the system on demand or to create a record, then Inmarsat is a very good solution as it is completely independent,” he adds. “But if you want to do realtime tracking then use GSM if possible, as it is considerably cheaper,” he adds.||**||

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