Most of us have become dependent on our GPS systems to guide us to our destinations. Not only can they tell us which way to go, but they can give us real-time data on traffic conditions and even alert us to speed traps along the way. Clunky paper maps seem to have gone the way of the Dodo. They are all but extinct.

If GPS can lead you somewhere, can it also track where you have been and use that data in productive ways? The short answer is yes and yes. Unless your minivan is equipped with vehicle location technology, however, you can rest assured that you are not being tracked. Still, automatic vehicle location has many useful applications in the world around you.

What is Automatic Vehicle Location or AVL?

Some believe that AVL is the most innovative technology currently being used in transportation. Simply stated, it consists of a tracking device on a vehicle that transmits a signal or data regarding that vehicle’s location to a home base. The recorded information can be interpreted within a mapping app that is either computer or web-based.

The system can be active or passive. A passive system, also known as a data logger, stores information on the vehicle for later download. These systems require less power to run but cannot provide information in real-time. Thus, information is only available after the fact, and any modifications made in response to that data can only be made after the trip is complete.

Active systems send data home at regular intervals, identifying the location in the vehicles and cargo at any given time. If communication is interrupted or lost for some reason, data can be stored until the signal is restored. These tracking systems transmit location using cellular, radio, or satellites. The components needed for each system varies based on the type of tracking being done and the data being shared.

What kind of information can an AVL system provide?

As its name indicates, an AVL system is first and foremost a location tracking system. Provided it has access to data from four satellites, an AVL system can provide three-dimensional location data to within 50 feet of the actual location. This accuracy can be improved with additional data points from extra sensors. However, for most applications, that is not necessary.

All data received from the vehicle is stored in the mapping app online or on a computer, and over time it can paint a clear picture of the vehicle, its usage, and location history. This data can be useful in trying to increase the efficiency and productivity of a vehicle fleet.

Components that allow for more interaction between the home base and the vehicle can be added to permanent AVL systems. Sensor inputs track data related to the opening of vehicle doors or trunks. Contact outputs allow remote door locking, or engine shut-off should it become necessary.

Where are AVL systems used?

• Tracing Assets –

While AVL systems are most often installed on vehicles, they are an excellent choice for tracking mobile assets. Assets worth tracing include large power generators, expensive construction equipment, and non-motorized trailers. For insurance purposes alone, it is useful to know where it is at all times. Separate tracking devices can be installed on the truck and the trailer. Even if it is handed off to another driver, the trailer with your equipment can still be located easily.

• Undercover Surveillance –

AVL tracking technology continues to improve and with those improvements comes smaller and smaller devices. Law enforcement can quickly attach a relatively inexpensive transmitter as small as your finger to a vehicle. These devices will report the vehicle’s location for months without being charged and are a handy tool for following persons of interest.

• Fleet Vehicle Monitoring –

It is impossible to watch every single vehicle all the time. However, AVL allows fleet owners to keep an eye on each car or truck’s critical information. The data they receive enables them to ensure that drivers are meeting legal requirements for their business, including obeying speed limits and taking prescribed breaks. AVL can also provide up to date information on the progression of public transit vehicles. In a type of monitoring, know as a signpost system, location updates are sent as a bus or train reaches prescribed checkpoints along their route.

• Attaining Service Goals –

Government, public service, and private companies alike can use AVL to make their systems more efficient and meet goals for providing public service. For example, tracking the current location or emergency response vehicles allows dispatchers to send first responders nearest the incident to the scene. This system can significantly reduce response times and improve service to the general population. Complex AVL systems use computer-assisted dispatch to further accelerate response by automatically narrowing down the choice of responders to those closest. With the aid of computers, human decision-making time is reduced.

This same principle can be applied to scheduling as well. Service industry providers can use vehicle location data to line-up appointments near one another and provide customers with accurate arrival time information. Applying the data this way can cut back on wasted time for the company and the customer. It can also help realized savings in fuel consumption and wear and tear on company vehicles. Extra trips can wear out car and truck tires more quickly. Trips to the tire shop in Utah or elsewhere reduce the amount of time your fleet vehicles are out working and earning you money.

As automatic vehicle location capabilities expand, the applications for that technology and the data that it can provide are also growing. Beyond enabling business owners to track their trucks and cargo, it also has law enforcement and customer service applications. This technology can coordinate and streamline drivers in a way that required a lot of working hours in the past. If you are not currently using it for your business, it is a technology to keep on your radar. Its future is exciting.

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