Fleet News

Feature: satellite navigation

Sounds familiar? Multiply that by 10 or 20 times a day and, discounting the frustration, it is actually costing your company money. It’s not just the extra fuel used – the time wasted could be spent squeezing in another couple of deliveries.

The less familiar a driver is with an area, the greater the benefits of navigation. Downloading a map from the internet, getting turn-by-turn instructions displayed on a mobile phone and even verbal turn-by-turn instructions can all help. The downside of course is cost – anything from £700 for an in-cab system from a van manufacturer or specialist to £1,200 or more where the maps are stored on CDs in the vehicle. Pricey if you are trying to kit out a fleet of vans.

Now, however, there are cheaper ways of getting help, thanks to developments in mobile phones and networks.

The simplest is to download a digital map from the internet on to the driver’s mobile device. Next, there are pay-as-you-use navigation aids from mobile phone companies.

Finally, you might want to buy a navigation kit which works via GPS and mobile phone or Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). These can be used either with an existing GPS system or you can buy a tiny portable GPS transceiver the size of a cigarette packet which connects to the mobile via a bluetooth connection. There’s no hard-wiring to the van, so no fitting costs.

These systems are called off-board navigation, because all the route information and maps are produced remotely and then squirted via the Internet or phone network to the mobile device.

You can get navigation assistance using a standard GSM phone, but the graphics won’t be terrific and it will take time to dial up and download the map – digital maps take much longer to send over a GSM network than a text message and if you have to wait, it rather defeats the object. To get the best out of navigation, you need to sign up for a GPRS or 3G service where the phone is essentially always connected to the network and to the internet.

You’ll also need either a PDA such as an HP Ipaq or one of the new generation of smartphones that are designed to handle both voice and data calls. There are currently more navigation systems for PDAs than smartphones, but that will change as more smartphones become available and the navigation companies adapt the applications for the Java operating systems of the phones rather than the Symbian and Microsoft Pocket PC systems that power PDAs.

If you only want occasional help finding an address, you could do worse than use Multimap, the free on-line digital map provider. Simply go to www.multimap.com and follow the instructions.

The phone operators offer navigation as part of pay-as-you-go packages called Location Based Services. You ask the network where your nearest bank, pub or Italian restaurant is, for example, and the information is delivered to your phone, alongside directions and a map.

The phone companies know your location because whenever your phone is switched on, it is connected to a particular cell in the network. It is accurate to within 100 metres in towns. You can get more precise turn-by-turn instructions by keying in start and finish points.

Verilocation offers a map-based routing system as part of its mobile-phone based fleet tracking system. You can track up to five phones a month for a registration fee of just £5, and there’s an annual plan costing £50 that covers 10 phones and includes 10 free tracks a month. Credits cost 20p per track. You can register on the internet and start tracking within minutes, says the company.

Other off-board navigation systems combine a portable GPS transceiver with a phone or PDA. The application is installed on your PDA or phone and connects you to the navigation website. Users dial in to request route details, which include turn-by-turn instructions in graphical, textual and voice formats. You can search for addresses, perform cross-street searches and receive optimal routing to chosen destinations. The data is compressed before it is sent, speeding up the process and it is sent in packets, so you can start your journey while the rest of the data is being collated on the remote site.

The leading contenders in this market are Telmap’s Polaris application which runs on mobiles phones or PDAs, Wayfinder’s Personal Navigator for mobile phones and Webraska's SmartZone Navigation for PDA.

If you are in the parcels delivery and courier business, check out the services offered by Courier Exchange, DA Systems, NetDespatch and Wireless Delivered. All offer navigation options for PDAs as part of their on-line job despatch systems. Independent navigation

If you want independent navigation, the good news is that prices are still falling. TomTom is perhaps the best known independent navigation system and can be integrated with other software or used as a stand-alone product. An HP Ipaq, bluetooth GPS receiver package with TomTom navigation costs around £330. If you want a stand-alone navigation system, the TomTom Navigator 3 costs around £440.

The navigation software itself is £70.

TomTom screen shows the route on a simplified map, along with the estimated time to arrival and the distance to go. It works in the background as well, so drivers can display trip information and still receive route guidance by voice. The screen also displays the distance to the next junction. So there is some indication of how far you have to go before the next manoeuvre. ALK’s CoPilot Live for PDAs has just been upgraded and is very user-friendly. Version 5 costs £240 for the software and bluetooth GPS receiver, £110 for the software only.

New features include route planning, traffic avoidance, points of interest, 3D maps and optional traffic congestion notification. It incorporates Navteq’s 2004 map data set, so claims to be the first navigation system for Pocket PCs to incorporate the M6 road toll.

Smartnav is an on-board navigation system from Trafficmaster, the company which operates the blue roadside traffic sensors on all major UK roads. There is a GPS unit in the vehicle, plus a voice and data transceiver.

Drivers press a button to verbally request a route which is calculated centrally by Trafficmaster and delivered to the van.

A single Trafficmaster Smartnav system costs £499 plus fitting. In addition, there's an annual subscription charge of £120, or £350 for four years.

Embedded sat-nav

Another route to on-board navigation is to replace the standard DIN radio in the van with one that incorporates satellite navigation. Most of the radio manufacturers offer a sat-nav option, including Becker, Clarion and VDO Dayton. Prices start at about £700 – half that of a stand-alone system. There is a pictogram of the route on the LCD display, using basically arrows, but apparently most drivers navigate using the voice instructions.

Van manufacturers' telematics packages often include sat-nav as an option. Ford’s Telematics Services offering includes a panic button and impact sensor as part of the deal. You can lease the hardware, saving initially outlay, and bonuses include to access vehicle information via a dedicated Internet site.

Iveco’s CompuDaily is more sophisticated, incorporating a telephone, barcode reader and on-board data collection unit, as well as navigational capability. The new Vito comes with the optional Command satellite navigation system, an uprated version of the EN2. It includes an on-board journey and driver display with communications, navigation and CD/radio functions.

Navigation information can be displayed on a split screen, with one side showing the map and the other turn-by-turn pictures. All the information is displayed on an LCD monitor mounted in the centre console.

Author: Sharon Clancy

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