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How Car Trackers Work: GPS Tracking

By Jackson Hand December 15, 2020

Most of us are familiar with the Global Positioning System (GPS) already, at least at a basic level. This is not least because GPS tracking has been available on our mobile phones and car navigation devices for quite some time. But how does GPS tracking work exactly, and how has this GPS technology become so widespread? 

Here, we address these questions and delve into the details of how GPS technology can be implemented into a fleet management system to help locate the precise location of your drivers and increase fleet productivity.

What is GPS?                            

The origins of the GPS date back to the 1960s, with the creation of a navigation system called OMEGA by the US government. By the late 1970s, the United States Department of Defense  developed upon this technology and launched the NAVSTAR GPS. This satellite system can  triangulate  the exact position of any person, vehicle or electronic device anywhere on the earth's surface. GPS was initially reserved only for U.S. Military use, until the 1980s when it was made accessible  for civilian use . GPS isn’t the only Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) available; other countries have developed similar systems such as GLONASS, Galileo and BeiDou 

How does a GPS tracking system work? 

The GPS tracking system is made up of three different segments: GPS satellites, ground stations and GPS receivers:

GPS satellites 

The space segment of GPS is a  collection of 24 precisely distributed satellites in continuous orbit around the earth. Each satellite broadcasts radio signals, which contain information about the satellites' position and the precise time the signal was sent from the satellite clock .

Ground stations

The control segment of GPS is a network of ground-based radar stations that constantly track the position of the orbiting GPS satellites and provide calculations to align each satellite's atomic clock precisely to the Earth’s time.1

GPS receivers

The user segment of GPS is the GPS receivers that we are most familiar with. GPS receivers interpret the signals sent from the GPS satellites and use trilateration to calculate an exact location. Satellite signals from just four satellites can allow for 3D trilateration, providing the latitude, longitude and altitude location of a GPS tracking device. Due to their low power consumption, GPS receivers are small and relatively inexpensive to manufacture. This small size and low cost are reasons for such wide adoption across a variety of consumer electronic devices such as cell phones

Common uses for GPS tracking technology

Today, GPS tracking is incorporated into a wide variety of mobile devices such as smart watches, mobile phones, wearables, tablets, computers or vehicle trackers.

In vehicles, GPS devices are commonly used in navigational systems to guide drivers along routes, help them reach their desired destination and calculate travel times

While this is the most widespread use of GPS systems among drivers, car tracking devices have become a solution to the issue of how to track cars in a commercial transportation context. Thanks to telematics, GPS trackers have become an essential tool in the management of fleets.

Additionally, differential GPS (DGPS) can provide precise (down to the centimeter) triangulation and guidance for automated and assisted driving technology that is being developed by auto manufacturers around the world.

Telematics, fleet management and GPS tracking systems

So, how do vehicle trackers work in the context of fleet management, and how are they implemented into a commercial fleet?

Well, telematics takes real-time GPS data from vehicle tracking devices, as well as additional vehicle specific data from a car's OBD port, and transmits GPS signals back to centralised servers. All of this information is communicated via cellular networks, or in some cases via satellite networks. 

Essentially, GPS fleet tracking solutions combine location data from vehicles with a collection of performance data from equipment, in order to analyse daily operations and help improve essential areas such as safety, energy efficiency or productivity. 

Let's dive a little bit more into how GPS tracking systems work in fleet management:

Use GPS tracking technology to keep an eye on your fleet

Vehicle tracking software interprets telematics data sent by telematics to update vehicle information, almost in real time, via a mobile or desktop application. This complete view over a workforce can provide fleet managers with a better overview and understanding of their entire fleet.

With the help of telematics, fleet managers are able to access the location and status of their vehicles on a live map, in near real-time. This allows them to monitor how the workday is developing and respond quickly in the event of any unplanned stoppages, such as a breakdown or an accident. Additional features, like geofencing, can also assist fleet managers in monitoring commercial vehicles during the day and after hours.

GPS and telematics: More than just dots on a map

GPS vehicle tracking software and telematics provide much more than just simple dots on the map. The right GPS tracking system allows fleet managers to view job progress and analyse their fleets’ daily performance. These systems help to provide valuable information about a fleet, including vehicle conditions, driving habits, fuel consumption, idle time and vehicle activity. These key areas are analysed to identify any required improvements.

Automated reports make it easy to identify those areas that are less efficient and therefore require improvement. Tackling less optimised areas can help to improve a fleet’s day-to-day operations, as well as to create a safe work environment. In doing so, a fleet manager can take steps towards increasing overall productivity, reducing fuel consumption and reducing CO2 emissions. 

Fleet tracking solutions and smart mobility

As previously mentioned, GPS tracking and telematics provide fleet managers with a base for improving the safety and efficiency of their fleet. Smart mobility is based on re-thinking the way in which transport and fleet management are operated. By utilising this technology, smart mobility aims to create safe and efficient transportation networks through the connectivity of vehicles.

It’s no surprise that fleet managers across the country have begun to get on board with this smart mobility approach. Many businesses have implemented GPS tracking technology, with positive results already showing in areas such as productivity, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

The increase in fleet management solutions doesn’t just focus solely on the vehicles and drivers though. This forward way of thinking can also prove beneficial to customers too. The technology helps to deliver customer service with same day deliveries, route updates, total communication, traceability and complete visibility.

The future of fleet management and GPS tracking

Estimations show that GPS tracking technology and other fleet management solutions are here to stay. It’s predicted that 90 million commercial vehicles will be connected to a telematics system by 2025. This will have a profound effect on the telematics market, which will see its value reach around USD 20 billion.2

The continued growth of vehicle tracking technologies is hardly surprising. Thanks to the ability to collate data through an all-in-one platform, these systems have already generated positive results that go beyond the simple tracking of vehicles and assets. Developments in safer driving behaviours, improved customer experiences, reduced CO2 emissions and increased efficiency and productivity, have made this technology an essential tool in leading a smarter fleet and a more competitive business.

Is your business ready for this opportunity? 

Schedule a demo today and learn how world-class fleet management software from Verizon Connect can help you get more from your fleet.

1 https://physicscentral.com/explore/writers/will.cfm

2 https://www.fleeteurope.com/en/technology-and-innovation/europe/features/following-telematics-future-connected-fleets?a=YHE11&t%5B0%5D=Connected%20Fleets%20Conference&t%5B1%5D=Telematics&curl=1=YHE11&t%5B0%5D=Connected%20Fleets%20Conference&t%5B1%5D=Telematics&curl=1

Jackson Hand

An industry specialist and regular contributor, dedicated to help businesses of all sizes save money and overcome challenges associated with managing fleets.

Tags: Cost Control, Field Management, Performance & Coaching, Productivity & Efficiency, Routing, Safety, Team Management, Training, Vehicle & Asset Security, Customer Service

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