Archive for Technology Insight

Webtech Wireless Taking off with Airports

Webtech-Wireless-Taking-off-with-AirportsWith summer winding down and kids going back to school, most people are thinking beyond holidays. At Webtech Wireless, we’re ramping up for a busy season of fleet management trade shows and conventions, and that means we’re spending lots of time in airports getting to and from these events.

Airports tend to embrace new technologies quickly, especially when the technologies can be shown to reduce cost and improve security. Webtech Wireless has airport security perimeter ground vehicle solutions at several major airports in the United States, including John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, Massport (Boston), and O’Hare International in Chicago. Here’s what we’re doing in Chicago.

Chicago O’Hare International Airport

The City of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is owned and operated by the City of Chicago’s Department of Aviation. As a Webtech Wireless customer since 2003, we provide solutions to many of the City’s 2,500 vehicles (including vehicles in its various public works departments). Our airport solution is used to transmit critical location data from designated City of Chicago vehicles every ten seconds alerting the City of runway incursions and security breaches. We also provide automated vehicle location services (AVL) for its snow removal equipment.

As it is not operationally practical to maintain two-way radio communications between every vehicles and airport operations, GPS/AVL technology helps the City track its vehicles. Also, as the speed limit within the airport security perimeter at O’Hare is 30 miles per hour, our vehicle reports help City fleet managers ensure their vehicles operate within the airport’s speed limit.

On the technical side, our AVL solution is ideal for airport operations, because it’s designed for vehicles operating in an 802.11b coverage area; that is, it uses a point-to-multipoint configuration with an omnidirectional antenna located in a coverage area around the access point.

Fly with Webtech Wireless

Webtech Wireless is flying off to several trade shows this autumn. Follow our Events page, which is updated with new events regularly.

September 5 Snow-N-Ohio Workshop Perrysburg, Ohio
September 13 2012 Iowa Snow Roadeo Des Moines, Iowa
September 16 BC Roadbuilders Association Fall Conference Kelowna, BC
September 20 Snow and Ice Symposium Milton, Ontario
September 21 Truxpo Seminar  – Abbotsford Abbotsford, BC
September 23-26 TMW TransForum Orlando, Florida
September 25-27 Association of Municipal EMS Conference (AMEMSO) Ottawa, Ontario

 

City of Vaughan Embraces a Four Seasons Solution

Once just a small town with a vision, the City of Vaughan is growing fast. Located north of Toronto, current projections show that its population is expected to almost double by 2030. For the City of Vaughan to keep up with growth in this region of overlapping jurisdictional responsibilities, it must find ways to get the most out of its technology investment.

According to Shawn McKenzie, Senior Engineering Assistant at Public Works, “It’s a barrel of monkeys for residents to understand and to many residents, anyone with a plow blade is a City truck,” so Public Works must manage public perception as well as public roadways. In the future, the ability to share data among different jurisdictions will increasingly clarify public perceptions of who’s doing what.

Recently, Public Works mandated that its third-party contractors use GPS/AVL Locators, thereby enabling it to track how efficiently both its primary suburban and secondary rural roads are maintained across different seasons. This decision keeps contractors accountable and citizens content. As proof of reduced complaints, its initial Webtech Wireless deployment calling for a “Where’s my Plow?” Web site and Call Centre, became so efficient that as calls dropped away, it eliminated the need for a Call Centre altogether.

Today, the City of Vaughan has realized the great opportunity that is intrinsic in a GPS/AVL solution and, with hundreds of vehicles now equipped and reporting, the word is spreading. The City of Vaughan’s Parks Board (with a fleet of sidewalk plows), has just adopted a Webtech Wireless solution for its vehicles too.

“When we make appointments to send our water trucks to an address and the client isn’t there, the driver needs to move on to the next appointment. If someone claims the water truck never came, we can prove the site call was made.”
— Shawn McKenzie, Public Works, City of Vaughan

How to Reduce Dependence on Offshore Oil

How to Reduce Dependence on Offshore OilThere is much controversy about the remaining oil available to run our fleets of cars, trucks, trains, planes, and all else, but what’s certain is natural gas is plentiful, cheaper, and easier on our environment. Natural gas is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas mixture consisting of methane and other hydrocarbons, which provides heating and electricity to buildings, but is increasingly being considered as a fuel for vehicles.

The American business magnate and financier, T. Boone Pickens, is advocating that Americans work closely with Canada and Mexico to create North American energy alliance to reduce dependence on OPEC oil. Pickens asserts that the United States alone has three times more natural gas than Saudi Arabia has oil.

“These countries [Canada and Mexico] are extremely important to us [United States] and we’re extremely important to them. Tie up with them, have a NA energy alliance and it would make our country much, much more secure.” — T. Boone Pickens

Recently Pickens spoke out in the USA Today against an editorial that advocated for exporting American natural gas, as he sees natural gas as the ticket to energy independence. His Pickens Plan advocates using America’s abundant natural gas reserves to break the country’s dependence on foreign oil.

The investment magazine, Street Authority, gives a clear picture of Pickens’ vision: “Clean Energy Fuels, which is backed by T. Boone Pickens, has taken a different approach. The company has built a network of natural gas re-fueling stations that could see rising traffic as more natural gas-powered vehicles are on the road. Yet, the real focus for the company has thus far been on corporate and government fleets, many of which have already made the move to natural gas. An expanding network of stations is expected to boost sales roughly 50% in 2011 to around $300 million, finally enabling the company to break even. Congressional legislation would help to ignite this business model, and expansion plans could take sales to $500 million within a few years.”

Beyond the type of fuel a fleet uses, study after study has shown that improved driver behavior, (such as reduced idling and decreased speeding), also produces significant fuel savings. In addition, improved route optimization through automated vehicle location technology (seeing your vehicles on a map so you can deploy them most effectively), is at the core of why our solutions produce a quick return on investment. A GPS/AVL fleet management solution allows you to see where your vehicles are in real time, and this real-time knowledge enables you to allocate resources where they’re most needed.

You may be caught in the cross hairs of greening your fleet AND lowering costs. The good news for you is this: a leaner fleet is also a greener fleet. By making your fleet more cost effective you also make it more environmentally friendly too.

Leaner, Greener Operations Saves Costs for Fleets

It may be a while before our roads witness emission-free trucking fleets running on solar and battery power. In the meantime, fleet managers are discovering that if they take steps to green their fleet by implementing telematics and automated vehicle location (AVL) solutions, they’ll not only reduce carbon emissions, but they’ll also save a lot of money.

Here are some snapshots of how different companies are saving both the environment around them and fuel wastage:

The City of Columbia, Missouri is reducing operating costs by letting fleet managers monitor idling, speeding, harsh braking, sharp acceleration and engine over-revving. This helps their drivers develop long-term best practices to decrease fuel consumption significantly and thereby reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

“Our director instructed us not to let the drivers sit in trucks with air conditioners running. Now we know our trucks are not running up and down the road as much. Drivers are where they are supposed to be and working where they are supposed to be—at all times—so it makes it a lot easier for us to track.”

— Sam Thomas, City of Columbia Street Superintendent

Cascade Sierra Solutions is committed to helping trucking companies green their fleets and one way their doing it is by helping them navigate their way through applying for grants and loans to purchase energy-efficient newer trucks. Newer vehicles are more efficient and those savings mean they can expect a quick return on their investment

Loans are available, and a number of public agencies, such as the Port of Tacoma and agencies in California, provide grants to help truckers upgrade. Cascade Sierra Solutions. “We help them with all the paperwork,” Banks said, “and it can be a lot of paperwork the average guy doesn’t have the skill set to fill out.”

“Truckers doing their part for the environment with the help of Cascade Sierra Solutions!”

—Cascade Sierra Solutions website

Cascade Sierra installs Webtech Wireless GPS units in each vehicle, connected directly to the truck’s engine management system. The Webtech Wireless units report truck location, speed, fuel consumption, and much more over the AT&T Mobile Network. These reports give Cascade Sierra the data needed to ensure funders, truck owners, and pollution control agencies trucks are being used as required, and goals are being met.

Webtech Wireless’ NextBus division, is also providing clear incentives for people to take more sustainable and environmentally friendly transportation options. Cities throughout North America are luring people out of their cars and onto public transportation by implementing the Nextbus solution to let riders know in real-time when the next transit vehicle will arrive.

For example, NextBus technology was deployed on 60 buses in the Canadian Maritime city of Saint John, New Brunswick. Because riders know when the bus is arriving, they spend less time waiting and therefore there’s more incentive to leave their CO2 emitting vehicles at home. The environmental value of a NextBus implementation, when coupled with a transit authority’s switch to bio and electric vehicles is profound for each city that implements it.

“The Government of Canada is proud to invest in modern technologies that are both efficient and environmentally responsible.”

—Member of Parliament for Saint John, Rodney Weston.

Truck Idling versus Fuel Economy: Every Minute Counts

–By Chuck Lane, Solution Engineer, Webtech Wireless
Idling for longer periods of time—whether at a job site, railroad crossing, or pulled off to the side of the road to make a cell phone call—consumes gasoline that could be saved by simply turning off the engine.


Idling truck Eliminating an hour of idling per day produces significant cost savings and emissions reductions over the course of a year. For fleets operating Class 3 and larger trucks, the savings are even more significant. For example, a typical truck burns a half-gallon of Diesel fuel for every hour it idles and, in the process, adds the equivalent of 40 miles of wear-and-tear to the engine. If you want to green your fleet by reducing emissions, you need to decrease fuel consumption, and the easiest way to do so is to decrease unnecessary idling.

For example, every gallon of gasoline burned idling creates 19.5 lbs. of CO2. Similarly, every gallon of Diesel burned idling creates 22.4 lbs. of CO2

The key is to be able to measure idling accurately. There are idling reports (using non BUS connectors) that simply calculate the time between ignition on and ignition off, and then subtract the time while moving to equal the actual idling time. This type of idle reporting, however, proves to be inaccurate for drivers that use the ignition to access the vehicle for things like radio and air conditioning, while leaving the engine off (Key On, Engine Off).

This type of scenario can be mitigated. If we install the Webtech Wireless Locator (GPS Unit) ignition wire to ignition on—avoiding accessory key position—the driver can then go to accessory position without affecting the Locator operation.  This is true for most light-duty vehicles. Most heavy-duty trucks/tractors have a key on and engine off alarm, so drivers don’t spend a lot of time in the key on, engine off scenario (the alarm is a soul piercing, shrieking high-pitch buzzer).

Webtech Wireless conducted a study with a major customer where we compared ignition on/off durations, to engine on durations.  The plan was to target this key on, engine off scenario.  We found a 2.7 percent deviation between ignition cycles and engine cycles. So for 100 minutes of key on, 97 minutes were engine on.  As this was so low, the customer accepted the Webtech Wireless Idle report using ignition cycles and not engine cycles.

Of course, the Non-Bus Idle report is completely different from the BUS-related (such as JBUS, CanBus, or OBDII) reports that actually report engine hours to be used in idle calculations. Webtech Wireless conducted the above study with the assumption that future non DLOGS (Driver Logs)/ HOS (Hours of Service) installations would avoid the BUS entirely.  We really have no control over the BUS and the failed elements that sometimes occur with customer vehicles.  We’ve already enabled odometer GPS to eliminate the BUS impact on the Locator odometer.  We found that over 2,500 tractors measured during fuel tax testing, had more errors with BUS than with non-BUS GPS (see Why Increased Accuracy Matters).

While it’s possible to gather idling information from both GPS and BUS related statistics, any vehicle that has a DLOGS/HOS system must be intrinsically synchronized with the vehicle BUS connection. In laymen’s terms, DOT (Department of Transportation) compliance requires a BUS connection.  We can’t avoid BUS anymore, if the solution is supporting DOT.  Fuel tax compliancy does not require BUS connectivity.  IFTA (International Fuel Tax Agreement) regulations state ‘use an odometer’, and don’t require that the vehicle BUS odometer be the only one used.

In conclusion, non DOT system installations can use ignition and GPS data to measure vehicle idling accurately. Reducing unnecessary idling is the simplest way for a fleet to reduce fuel costs and unnecessary emissions. In addition, excess idling causes needless engine wear-and-tear and unnecessary noise pollution. A typical goal for many fleets is to reduce engine idling time to less than 5%, a goal that motivates many fleets to implement anti-idling initiatives.

.

 

Oil and Gas Safety: What’s Working/ What’s Not

IrtizaIrtiza Zaidi is the Product Marketing Manager at Webtech Wireless.  He works closely with the safety professionals in many companies in the oil patch.

Recently, he attended the Petroleum Safety Conference—billed as “Canada’s premiere oil and gas safety conference and tradeshow”—in Banff, Alberta, for a few days to learn more about safety concerns in the oil and gas industry.

Below are his latest discoveries about the Conference and safety professionals.


Irtiza Zaidi: “Before I dive into the meat and potatoes, I wanted to share some insight into the safety profession and the folks I interacted with. I went to one breakout session led by Imperial Oil, which was quite an eye opener. The purpose was to describe the risks that safety professionals take every day on the job and how they deal with them. The idea is that, before we can start preaching to others, let’s evaluate ourselves first.

Now the view I had of safety folks was they were risk averse by-the-book people. They worked Monday to Friday and in their off time did everything possible to avoid risk. They would never cross a yellow light while driving nor would they park without paying. Well, was I was in for a shock!

We had some safety people talking about how they chased storms in Alberta. Winter storms, rain storms, blizzards, and how they had been doing this for 15 years. Another safety person talked about how they wore helmets on their motorcycles while travelling at speeds of 120 on the Canadian highways, but once they got to the US, the helmets came off. Or the safety person who jumped between moving boats in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean while it was raining, so she could help out with a lobster catch.

The presentations I attended were delivered well and the topics of immense importance. Colonel Mark Trostel, Driving Safety Advisor with Encana, presented, Driving Safety: Enhancing Performance, Reducing Exposure, in which he described some of the challenges of using in-cab audible feedback (such as buzzers and beeps), to try to change driver behaviour. He provided helpful statistical information as well as first-hand knowledge of the affect alerts have on drivers.

Here are some statistics shared in this presentation:

40% of all fatalities in the energy industry occur in vehicles

Leading indicators of crashes

–          Excessive Braking, following too closely, distracted driving

–          Rapid starts and aggressive or reckless driving

–          Habitual speeding dramatically increases risk and severity of accidents

–          Frequent Lateral “Gs” are precursors to a rollover crash

Encana’s AVL program for its light-duty vehicles provides

–          Driver scorecards that were emailed to the driver each week

–          Supervisors with the ability to review their drivers’ driving habits

What worked?

–          Providing drivers with feedback about their performance on a weekly basis

–          Providing incentives to drivers with good behavior worked

–          Having drivers compare themselves with their peers led to the drivers creating their own “Top 100 Club”

What didn’t work?

–          Driver feedback by way of audible tones or flashing lights only lasted three weeks before the drivers went back to their old driving patterns.”

“Safe Driving Programs – Why Should I Care?” by Colonel Mark Trostel, EnCana in 2010

Quadrant Manager goes Mobile

Our “Win an iPad from Webtech Wireless” promotion at the four trade shows we’re attending this spring is proving very popular, while serving the purpose as an avenue for launching our mobile version of Quadrant Manager.

Quadrant Mobile Manager iPad

The Quadrant Manager Mobile for the iPhone and iPad is really a new way of viewing Quadrant Manager, this time on an iOS interface. It gives fleet managers the same ability to view strategic real-time information about their fleet, but without needing to log into a desktop computer (such as what they’d find in a Dispatch office). This iPhone and iPad capability is enabled automatically for users who already access Quadrant Manager from their office.

To clear up any confusion that this is another offering of our Quadrant In-Cab MDT device, it is not. That solution—providing CSA and HOS capabilities to drivers—is indeed mobile, but does not offer the enterprise level insight into fleet operations as does Quadrant Manager.

Quadrant Manager Mobile iPhone

Our customers have told us that mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad are critical to improving their productivity. Quadrant Manager Mobile now enables you to maximize the Quadrant Manager information you need—in the field, in real-time.

Remember, if you’re attending any of the trade shows that we are exhibiting at, visit the Webtech Wireless booth and sign up to win one of four Apple Resolutionary iPads. Click here to find our booth location.

Why Increased Accuracy Matters

–By Chuck Lane, Solution Engineer, Webtech Wireless

With ever increasing fuel costs, a common question these days is, “how do I accurately measure my individual vehicle fuel consumption?”

GPS versus Vehicle Odometer Reporting: “It’s a mine field”

With the advent of on-board diagnostics (OBD) in the 1980s the problem was solved, right? In an automotive context, OBD is a generic term referring to a vehicle’s self-diagnostic and reporting capability. All vehicle manufacturers conform to SAE J1979, and the OBD-II standard has been mandatory for all cars and light trucks sold in the United States since 1996.

“It’s complicated”

Problem solved! We just connect to the vehicle OBD port (they all have one) and read the fuel consumption data, right? Wrong—it’s not that simple—it’s complicated and fraught with pitfalls.

Each vehicle manufacturer implements the OBD standard uniquely and will rarely, if ever, share that standard outside its service network. It’s possible to gain access to that standard and implement a solution to read the PID (parameter identification) number codes, but manufacturers are not required to implement all PIDs listed in J1979, and they are allowed to include proprietary PIDs that are not listed. It’s just a minefield to attempt to interpret individual manufacturer PIDs accurately.

Most importantly, non-approved connections to a vehicle OBD port (ECU/Engine Control Unit) could invalidate warranty and cause other legal or technical issues. Modern vehicles are controlled by highly sophisticated computer systems, can detect miniscule unexpected current draws, and may register a fault. What if you have a mixture of old and new cars, vans, buses, and other vehicles from different manufacturers? Older vehicles don’t have any OBD port at all.

Comparing OBD against GPS Statistics

Both OBD collected data and GPS calculated data have some inherent flaws—neither one is 100% accurate. Recent studies have shown a variation of plus or minus 5% for speed and odometer data from OBD. We recently conducted a series of studies with our major customers involving hundreds of vehicles measuring the accuracy of ODB versus our GPS locator information. With recent improvements in our  locator hardware and algorithms we have now confirmed our GPS information is accurate to plus or minus 3% versus OBD data from the same vehicles.

The federal specification for vehicle speed/odometer is plus or minus 10%. A recent study by a major Webtech Wireless customer has shown that their trucks were reporting a speed of 15% to 20% higher than actual when using cruise control (this data was taken from the ECU (engine control unit)). This prompted the customer to switch to GPS calculations for speed.

Odometer Drift Analysis for 827 Vehicles

Recently, Webtech Wireless completed a study of 827 vehicles from a large customer fleet. This study compared the odometer readings from the vehicle with the mileage calculations from the Webtech Wireless Locator using GPS calculations.

The results of the study are as follows:

Odometer Drift Analysis for 827 Vehicles

  • Average GPS odometer drift was plus or minus 3.07% when compared to vehicle odometer
  • 87% of the vehicles had less than 5% drift
  • 63% of the vehicles had less than 3% drift
  • 2% of vehicles had GPS antenna issues (19 vehicles)

In an additional study, one of our largest clients found ECU data on speed to be way off, so they asked us to switch to GPS calculated speed.  When the GPS antenna was properly mounted and had clearance to the sky (i.e., in highway conditions further from obstructions such as skyscrapers), GPS speed and odometer calculations were favorable.

Increasing Accuracy

The biggest factor in getting good GPS odometer (mileage) readings is to have the GPS antenna installed properly. Improper installation can cause a high number of no-fix records that, in turn, can cause invalid GPS odometer readings.

The following actions can increase GPS odometer accuracy:

  • Install a GPS antenna with a good view of the sky
  • Update the GPS odometer for all vehicles every 6 to 12 months
  • Update the GPS odometer during scheduled maintenance
  • Monitor vehicles with high no-fix rates of greater than 25%

Summary

In conclusion, both vehicle OBD and the GPS odometer readings can have some issues regarding accuracy. Webtech Wireless Locators and highly accurate GPS calculations provide proven GPS accuracy for speed and odometer readings. These studies resulted in our customers using Webtech Wireless GPS reporting for accounting purposes.

How to Use the NextBus AVL Solution

In our July 21st, 2011 blog post (which coincided with the inauguration of Saint John Transit’s implementation of NextBus), I described the innovation, the need, and the application of Nextbus. Since then, this helpful YouTube video has appeared (courtesy of The City of Saint John, NB) describing how to use Nextbus for finding your next bus when in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.

While the Nextbus AVL system is so easy and intuitive to use it hardly needs directions, this video can be helpful if you’re not familiar with computer-based solutions or you would like an overview of how NextBus works from the client end.

How Nextbus Transit Technology Serves Riders

Webtech Wireless’ NextBus solution is now the transit technology that municipalities (from Montreal’s Société de transport de Laval to the Los Angeles Metro) rely on to provide accurate real-time public transportation information to millions of riders. Like other AVL solutions, NextBus uses global positioning system (GPS) tracking satellites to display transit vehicle locations in real-time. So what makes Nextbus’ particular solution so helpful?

Tackling the Problem

There is something of a perfect storm closing in on public transit systems these days. Rising fuel costs are driving many commuters to use public transit as their primary method of transportation, and with traffic variations, breakdowns, and other day-to-day problems leaving riders waiting at bus stops and train platforms, they’re increasingly turning to instant wireless communications (such as cellphones, PDAs, text messaging, etc.), to manage their lives. These riders rely on and expect reliable location-based services.

“The need for a predictive transit solution became apparent as a means to encourage ridership and streamline bus routing.”

Designing the Solution

To address these problems, NextBus was designed to “keep your customers on schedule even if their bus isn’t”. Using GPS tracking, NextBus estimates vehicle location information with a high degree of accuracy. Using PCs, landline phones, cell phones, or SMS (Text) messaging, riders get real-time travel information, which helps them decide whether catching the next bus is a sprint or leisurely stroll.

NextBus uses Google maps to show highly accurate route maps

Viewed through a web browser, NextBus uses Google maps to show highly accurate route maps

“NextBus helps riders make the best use of public and university transit.”

From the standpoint of transit authorities, deploying a transit AVL solution helps transit companies improve customer service, reduce accidents, reduce fuel and labor costs, improve operator performance, and improve street-level visibility for transit supervisors and planners.

In the New York Times writer, Joshua Brustein praises the recent deployment of NextBus to the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “Los Angeles began using NextBus for its entire bus system in May, the largest transit agency to do so.” Or, according to the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority itself, the NextBus solution is “designed to help take the guesswork out of bus arrival and help you to get to your stop at the same time as your bus”.

Using NextBus on Your Smartphone

Just as the adoption of the cell phone became universal a decade and a half ago, the smartphone is now a ubiquitous part of life for most urbanites. According to New York Times writer, Damon Darlin, “historians will remember the advent of the smartphone as something as important as the elevator, air conditioner and automobile.”

The implication for transit companies is clear: adopt an AVL solution or face irritation and disinterest from your ridership. Fortunately, transit authorities are reading the writing on the wall and many of them are choosing NextBus—for its reliability and simplicity.

“NextBus, a wonderful Web site that monitors the arrival of city buses in many big cities, is a godsend.”

While there is no official phone application for Nextbus, the simplicity of the NextBus website makes it easy to use on most smartphones.

NextBus iPhone

NextBus viewed on an iPhone

To access NextBus using a smartphone:

  1. Using your smartphone’s web browser (such as Safari), access the NextBus website: www.nextbus.com.
  2. Choose the mobile version or the full-featured website.
  3. Select your location, your transit agency, your route, and then your stop.
    The most current prediction for the arrival time of the next vehicle is displayed.
  4. You also can add your stop info to your home screen so it will be instantly available.
  5. If a prediction is already displayed on your smartphone, simply push the ‘refresh’ link at the bottom of the page to get the most up to date information.