ALK discusses possibilities for real-time ETA in trucking

When flying to Europe in a 747, the captain can give passengers a very accurate expected time of arrival. But when driving a truck through the Northeast, a driver might be lucky to provide customers with an ETA accurate within 30 minutes. According to Dr. Alain Kornhouser, the same level of accuracy when calculating ETA in the air also should apply to surface transportation.

Kornhouser — director of transportation research at Princeton University and co-founder and board chair of ALK Technologies — gave the keynote address at the 2006 ALK Technology Summit, a gathering of transportation industry thought leaders hosted by ALK in Princeton, N.J.

In his speech, Kornhouser demonstrated how a current technology and a vision would enable real-time ETA information for an entire fleet of vehicles, as well as provide dynamic, optimal routing based on ETA calculations of all routes. To date, calculating ETA has been a deterministic process using stable distances and travel time, he says.

“The problem is that we do not have stability and deterministic numbers,” he says. On major thoroughfares, governments and private sector use sensors to track traffic flow, from which you can derive probabilities and distributions of travel times. But drivers in the vehicle or dispatchers in the office currently have no way to forecast ETA and consider opportunities to try a different route.

Kornhauser talked about his vision of building a community of motorists using a common set of technologies — the global positioning system (GPS), wireless communications, computer processing and robust navigation software onboard the vehicle and in a server. Sharing position and speed data to a common server would “advance the ball” on doing minimum ETA calculations in real time, he says.

ALK’s CoPilot product has been offering satellite navigation on laptops for nine years and now works on mobile phones and other portable computing devices. Through wireless communications, CoPilot users can continuously share real-time probe-based traffic data to a server. A separate CoPilot application on a server then can continuously seek a minimum ETA route and send optimal routes back to users. They then can choose to take the optimal alternate route, he says.

In addition to vehicle satellite navigation, users of CoPilot — including its truck-specific application called CoPilot Truck — now can get real-time content on traffic conditions, speed restrictions, weather and fuel costs, Kornhouser says. ALK announced at the summit that those features and others will be included in a soon-to-be released fleet tracking and management application called FleetCenter, which leverages wireless communications and the CoPilot Truck application in the vehicle.