Since we first opened for business in 2004, our primary focus has been to provide the best GPS tracking services possible, and over the years we’ve tracked the location of a bunch of vehicles and a lot of other stuff. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and technology continues to advance, we are now seeing opportunities to monitor much more than the location of a vehicle or asset. And for the fleet manager, there is a growing list of cost saving opportunities that will come in to play over the coming years.
What is a “Thing”?
As the “Internet of Thing” term implies, a Thing is a device that has the ability to connect to the internet. Things will have the ability to sense and/or modify their environment, and it is that ability to interact that makes them an absolute game changer in how we as humans relate to our world. One of the most common examples of a Thing is our Smartphone, although to be fair our phones are much, much more capable than the vast majority of other Things out there. Still, they certainly qualify and provide us all with a touch-point for understanding these new gadgets. Let’s take a look at a few Thing examples.
Sensors have been telling us about the machines we use for a long time now. In automobiles, for example, you have sensors that tell you how much gas you have, how fast you are going, and how hot the engine is just to name a few. All of these sensors give the driver vital information that they use to pilot the vehicle in (hopefully) a safe and efficient manner, and sensor Things can now transmit that information in real time almost anywhere.
Take the example of the humble parking meter. For decades this device was nothing more than a timer that ran on quarters. Drop in a coin, turn the dial, and presto! Fifteen minutes of parking was yours. But now, with smart parking meters, a few important changes are in play. First of all, you don’t need quarters anymore. In most cities you just download an app, and pay for the parking with your Smartphone. But the real power of these new meters is that each one of them can now tell the central parking authority whether or not the space it monitors is in use, and that information can be feed back to the on board display of the driver who is looking for an available space in the area. If you’ve ever lost 30 minutes looking for a parking spot in an urban jungle, you know how valuable this is.
Another important sensor is one of our favorites, the GPS unit on your phone. Most people don’t realize it, but chances are good your phone is updating a mapping service in real time whenever you are driving down a roadway, providing feedback on the current traffic situation. The result is that many mapping services can now “see” what the congestion level is like on roadways that are in the path of your current destination, and will offer to reroute you if an alternate route is going to get you there faster. Today these services are used to inform the driver, but it won’t be long before the mapping service starts informing the vehicle directly of the route change, as many vehicles will be driving themselves.
While sensors have the ability to tell you what is going on in an environment, Actuators have the ability to change what’s happening in the world around us. Simple Actuators can handle small tasks like opening a door or turning on a switch remotely, while more sophisticated ones can make small adjustments to level settings such the an air conditioner temperature, a water flow rate, or a fan speed.
The home networking company Nest is putting together an impressive list of both sensors and actuators that work together to automate many tasks in the home, and gives us all a glimpse into what lies ahead as these systems become better at working together.
What About A Smart Fleet?
We certainly expect to see more Things, and better interaction between Things having a significant impact on fleet operations in the coming years. With so many different Things out there (GPS, fueling stations, smartphones, toll tags, vehicle telemetry, etc), we are truly on the cusp of a revolution in the efficiency and productivity of fleet operations.