When I searched Google for ‘vehicle tracking’, it returned over 9.5 million results in just 0.31 seconds. That is the power of Google. And that also shows how important vehicle tracking is today.
Twentieth century was the age of automobiles. Motorized vehicles gave man the capacity to cover greater distances in shorter periods of time. As a result automobiles gained popularity as the mode of choice for sending goods to distant places. However, with goods and assets traveling far and wide and in greater volumes, the need to locate the assets and to manage their supply and delivery became increasingly difficult.
Man started experimenting with various technologies available at those times to track remote vehicles and consignments. One of the first modern age methods of tracking invented was that using swipe cards.
In this method, the driver of a moving vehicle was supposed to swipe a card at different checkposts along the route of the vehicle. So as soon as a driver reached a checkpost and swiped his card, the owner of the vehicle would receive the information.
Although it seems like a simple and easy way to track vehicles, think about the infrastructure required to sustain such a system. For example, think about the number of checkposts that would need to be maintained for just one route to get movement data with sufficient granularity. So if it had to be done for several routes, the capital cost for creating such an infrastructure would significantly shoot up. Moreover this technology is very static i.e. only movement along routes where checkposts have been setup can only be tracked. If owing to business demands, a vehicle needs to travel along a new route, it would not be possible to track its movement.As a result, this technology never picked up.
Around this time, cell phones were gaining popularity as the means of communication with remote users. So people started using cell phones to call up their remote vehicles and finding out their location and status from the drivers. However, drivers always found out plenty of opportunity to present to the owners only the information that they wanted to present, easily bypassing all other information that might be of critical importance to the owner.
This problem was like asking a student to evaluate his/her own answer script in an examination. Owners soon realized that they needed unbiased third party information on the movement and other information relating to their vehicles.
People then thought of using cell phone towers to locate a cell phone. The method is commonly known as cell phone triangulation. The method uses concepts from high school geometry- to locate a point in a plane, you need to know its distances from at least three points (equivalent to the vertices of a triangle) on that plane. So using this principle, it is possible to calculate the location of a point if its distance is known from at least three nearby cell phone towers.
Cell phone or GSM based vehicle tracking as it is usually called, seemed like a definite improvement over swipe cards based tracking. However, this technology had its own drawbacks. The major drawback was the (non) existence of cell phone towers along all routes through which a vehicle would be traveling. The lesser number of towers that are visible to a cell phone, the more inaccurate the position estimate becomes. And in places of no towers, no position estimate is possible. As a result, this technology could not become a fool-proof solution for remote vehicle tracking.
Towards the end of the century, the US Government opened up the use of its military satellites to consumers. This move suddenly opened up avenues for consumer technologies which were so far only restricted to military and intelligence.
Global Positioning System or GPS as it is called now allows locationing of any point on the earth’s surface. It is not limited to availability of cell phone towers. Wherever the vehicle moves on the globe, under the open sky, its location can always be found out from the satellites. It is like having an eye in the sky.
This advantage of GPS meant that it immediately replaced all existing technologies in the field of vehicle tracking. In fact today, if any one talks about vehicle tracking more than 99% of the time one implies GPS enabled vehicle tracking.
Its use is no more limited to the transport and logistics sector that saw the development of this technology. Today it is used for locating stolen vehicles, tracking ships and yachts in the open sea, tracking children and old people, tracking wild life and plenty of other areas where location information is absolutely critical.
GPS enabled tracking is a technology of the future. The world around us is changing every fraction of a second. The location and time information of every event that brings about this breathtaking change is a power whose full potential we are yet to harness.
As we try to figure out how to use this power, it is the responsibility of companies like ours to create and build technologies to help people collect and eventually analyze this information.