Fleet monitoring and management: what is the difference and can they be integrated?

October 2003 Asset Management, EAS, RFID

Within the past few months Vision Catcher has had numerous enquiries regarding its FleetVu system for fleet management and monitoring. Likewise it has seen a corresponding number of mobile digital video recorders (DVRs) becoming available at various shows, giving rise to considerable confusion as to what can and cannot be done with a mobile solution.

According to Niall Beazley, director of Vision Catcher, before making your choice, it is important to consider some key factors when choosing the solution you think you need. Says Beazley, "Rather do your homework before jumping into an option that may need to be replaced within a very short period of time. Installing and running automotive and mobile electrical solutions is a science in itself and not for the amateur, be warned."

Fleet monitoring solutions

"Owing to requests from clients to be able to get video feedback from a mobile DVR, Vision Catcher has developed a product called FleetVu. Fleet managers have wanted to know why their trucks have stopped in the same place for a number of hours? Another trader wanted to confirm that his goods were still intact, while another wanted to confirm exactly what was unloaded at a particular delivery. Vision Catcher's FleetVu has given these clients the opportunity of choosing what it is that they want to see; the ability to amend resolution for faster transfer and/or the option to pull over a frame view prior to file playback or transfer - something highly relevant with regard to remote site GSM viewing with limited bandwidth."

Adds Beazley, "We at Vision Catcher have worked on a number of integration solutions offering a variety of choices in remote site monitoring. Current ICASA restrictions on bandwidth mean that a lot of fleet management companies are dissuaded from monitoring options because of the size of the relevant files needing to be transferred (ie, the bandwidths used by GSM cellphones, or alternatively TETRA and other RF solutions). GSM signals can provide from 9,6 kbits/s up to, 64 kbits/s, while TETRA is currently offering 4,5 kbits/s. This means that your connection will determine the likely remote site frame rate you will see from a meagre one frame per 10 sec up to a very reasonable 8-10 fps depending upon image resolution."

Storage and redundancy

Mobile DVR solutions need hard drives for storage. Transfer of data may include removal of the complete system for review, removal of a hard drive, or the transfer of data through some other means. Says Beazley, "With FleetVu we can give you a variety of options including removable hard drives or complete system removal, but we much prefer wireless LAN transfer or alternative backups. With our excellent compression and integration options the ability to backup or transfer files is simple and easily accomplished, and with our file retrieval options over GSM we can extract relevant information at short notice in say a hijacking scenario or with immediate panic alarm triggered remote site recording."

Fleet management solutions and tracking

Fleet management concentrates on the transfer of key information gained from GPS, tachographic and other interfaces that define location as well as options for speed, braking, fuel usage and many other parameters that a fleet manager may require. Many people are under the impression that their own vehicle security systems work through a satellite, ie, whenever there is an alarm signal it is transmitted upwards through the satellite and then to a control room and that is how the vehicle is tracked. According to Beazley, "What they do not realise is that a GPS chip receives set signals from a number of satellites and computes the latitude, longitude, time, direction of movement and little else - it does not get return messages. The information allows the control room to make decisions based upon your movements. Unfortunately, as you know, there are times when no network is available, when there are problems with getting a connection through, poor signal or dropped calls amongst other issues.

"A solution for fleet managers is to continuously monitor your mobile and static vehicles with regular updates to the central location or to a non volatile flash card. This allows accurate information to be collated whether or not your connection remains intact. An added advantage in the above scenario would be to combine the chosen management solution with a mobile monitoring solution so that access to video can be given should information need to be transferred while the system is mobile. This is where FleetVu is best utilised with its open architecture and available source codes allowing full integration through a simple RS232 link."

Power management and automotive electronics issues

The biggest consideration for those offering mobile solutions is the understanding of power management. Says Beazley, "Without a power management solution you will have headaches for as long as you attempt to record a mobile situation. It is not feasible in most scenarios to plug in a system to the cigarette port and assume that the system will work! The issue here is that without a well briefed and experienced automotive electronics engineer you will have problems."


Concludes Beazley, "Vision Catcher believes the combination of fleet management and fleet monitoring is of great value. Having the ability to view live video, download or playback video images, linking these into a pre-recorded route map enables fleet managers to dial in and confirm what stock is being unloaded, who is driving the vehicle, and where the vehicle is visually going. Simply put, FleetVu offers fleet managers a very realistic fleet monitoring choice that should be investigated further especially if combined with a fleet management solution."

For more information contact Niall Beazley, Vision Catcher, 011 463 9797, niall@visioncatcher.co.za, www.visioncatcher.co.za

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