Virtual routing

| September 02, 2008

Global Positioning Systems could be key to finding your way to more profitable driving.

Centuries ago, the British Navy had so much trouble navigating its path around the world that it offered a huge prize to whoever invented a clock that would keep time accurately at sea. Several hundred years later, the problem has been solved for good. The result is the Global Positioning System (GPS).

Any trucker who has spent an hour maneuvering through the narrow streets of a big city trying to find a warehouse when he has gotten poor directions will sympathize with the lost sailors. And with fuel past nosebleed prices, using GPS is clearly a way to make your driving more profitable.

How GPS can save
With GPS, you save fuel by driving shorter distances on delivery, eliminating out-of-route miles as well as minimizing miles driven to access the services you need while on the road. You should be able to make more runs in a month or year, as well.

“Drivers gain the tremendous benefits of effective navigation,” says Tom Murray, vice president of marketing at TomTom. “They can get efficiently from point A to point B, and this gives them a feeling of safety and control. Plus, they can get information on prices at thousands of fuel stations.”

Further, when a trucker is lost, he or she usually ends up in an area not designed for heavy vehicles or that have many busy intersections with traffic lights or stop signs. The driver may even have to turn around in a difficult spot because of height or weight restrictions. All these things add up to extra brake, clutch and drivetrain wear.

“The advantages of the system include the fact that you don’t get lost with fuel prices what they are today,” says Jessica Myers, senior media relations specialist at Garmin. “Also, you can always find a hotel, ATM or restaurant.”

How GPS works
GPS relies on 24 satellites orbiting the earth that have GPS receivers. “A GPS unit will interact with these satellites via a signal that travels line-of-sight,” Myers says. “The unit can triangulate to get a fix on any three of these satellites,” enabling easy calculation of your position. Figured in are latitude, longitude and various algorithms, she says. “[The unit] can then access maps and stored data and geo-reference items such as nearby roads, intersections or even a restaurant.”

The technology becomes easier to understand when you realize latitude is a measurement of how far a position lies north or south of the equator (in degrees), while longitude is the distance (again, in degrees) around the earth from Greenwich, England, where the British Navy first laid out the world’s time zones. The satellites are in what is called “geosynchronous” orbit. They are just far enough up, and traveling at just the right speed, that a stable orbit keeps them hovering over the same spot on earth all the time. Engineers determined the location of each satellite in latitude and longitude, and each satellite’s signal contains this data. Once the GPS unit determines its angle from three satellites, it can calculate your latitude and longitude.

A GPS unit can be mounted various places in the truck, but it must have a clear view through the windshield. This is true because the signals will only pass through the glass just like light does, and the unit must “see” the satellite via a straight line.

Capabilities
The capabilities of each device on the market vary with the grade and price of the unit. Myers says Garmin’s units range in price from $200 to $1000, with the more expensive units having more “bells and whistles.” The lower-priced units, she says, are touch-screen operated. “They’re easy to program, which you do with your fingers.” Higher-priced models offer features like real-time traffic information and stock updates and use speech recognition technology rather than the touch screen so you can use them hands-free. They offer the ability to follow along on a map that shows your location or receive step-by-step instructions.

Fuel price data comes to the unit via wireless networking (reading an FM signal) with MSN, and it’s based on the government data on credit card transactions, averaged for each day. Myers says all Garmin’s devices are portable, though they can be installed in various ways depending on whether you prefer stable mounting in the cab or portability. Information updates come to the unit without any subscription – you pay only when you buy it.

The units come with 6,000,000 points of information, including not only fuel stops, hotels and restaurants but attractions. You can also access more information via your PC and load it into your Garmin unit with a USB cable. Naturally, the unit’s storage capacity for this information increases with the price.

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