5.11.2018 Technology

The evolution of GPS Tracking and its impact on Business Operations

The evolution of GPS Tracking and its impact on Business Operations

Originally, GPS was not intended for civilian use. Like so many other technologies of the 1960s, it is a child of the Cold War, fueled by the space race. After the Soviet Union had launched its Sputnik satellite, American scientists discovered something revolutionary: By measuring the doppler effect of the sound signal that was emitted by the craft, they were able to pin down their position on earth. This re-enforced the lingering idea of using satellites for navigation and resulted in the launch of Transit, a predecessor of GPS.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) as we know it today began operating in the 1980s. It consists of multiple geostationary satellites with atomic clocks on board, emitting accurate time signals. Anyone who is able to receive these signals and has computational power to process them can pin-point his/her location and elevation on planet earth.

GPS Trackers vs. Smartphones

The early GPS trackers of the 1980s were huge devices. A standard military receiver would clock in with 23 kg. This is a little surprising considering the low strength of the GPS signal and the mathematical processing required on the receiving end.

However, GPS has always been designed to be processed by smaller hand-held devices. It does not require any fancy hardware on the receiving end - no atomic clocks, no satellite dish.

This was the basis for the miniaturization of the past decades. As transistor density increased and computers became smaller, so did GPS receivers. First, they started appearing in trucks as big clunky devices, then in cars in the form of small navigation computers and finally, in smartphones. Today, smartphones do not only connect to GPS, but also to alternative positioning systems: The Russian GLOSNASS, the European GALILEO and the Chinese BeiDou.

Smartphones are better GPS Trackers

GPS trackers have been in long-haul trucks for many years, but the market is extremely fragmented. There are hundreds of different standards, expensive proprietary software, and very little compatibility between these systems.

To make matters worse, the transport market itself is extremely fragmented, with small trucking companies taking the lion share of the market. This poses a real challenge for aggregating companies like sennder: How can we provide a unified tracking experience for our customers and operators while also achieving our goal of 100% tracking coverage, everywhere, all the time?

Our solution: our own application for smartphones. By using smartphones for tracking, we make use of a couple of trends: More and more people already own a smartphone or can cheaply obtain one. As the phone is also used for personal needs, users take great care to assure it is in good running condition. And by relying on a single app (plus a few integrations with some big other solutions), we drastically simplify the complexity of the IT problem.

The Impact of GPS Tracking on Logistics Operations

With GPS tracking, the position of all transfers in transit is available to the operator at a glance. He can detect if a truck is stuck in traffic or veering off the pre-planned route.

Aside from this obvious benefit, there are also more subtle effects. As computers are so good at understanding geospatial information, many tasks can now be automated. The operator does no longer need to check if the truck stays on track - the computer will alert him if it doesn't. He does not need to inform the customer about delays or early arrivals - the computer has already sent an email or a text message. In fact, the customer is probably expecting the schedule change already, thanks to real-time estimation of arrival times based on the current and predicted traffic situation. This allows companies like sennder to scale their operations without increasing the number of operators.

This fact has interesting second-order implications. As it is becoming easier to monitor operations, the pyramid of middle men in the logistics industry starts to flatten. Big transport companies do no longer need to rely on multiple layers or subcontractors from a large pool of independent small trucking companies. Instead, the company can now manage the pool more directly, improving the margins for both parties. In such a scenario, using a custom smartphone app for tracking also provides an efficient back-channel that allows the transport company to provide important notifications to the driver via push-notifications.

Above all, cutting out the middle man creates both a shorter reporting structure and increases accountability which has a tremendous effect on the reliability of the process as well as the service quality of the company as a whole.