Pinpointing solutions

Even minor mistakes in routing vehicles result in wasted fuel and mileage, late deliveries and unsafe driver maneuvers. Mapping and mileage systems have been around for years, but advancements in computer and Internet technology allow suppliers to provide sophisticated solutions at costs that are increasingly affordable. Providers are incorporating more dynamic real-time information, robust algorithms and turn-by-turn navigation to give drivers the tools they need to maximize the efficiency and safety of every mile.

Multiple versions
Keeping routing software current traditionally has required manual updates on servers and desktops. Although vendors continue to mail updates and new versions on CDs every few months, most now offer more frequent updates via downloads from their websites.

Every two weeks, Rand McNally includes an update for new road construction that is available for its PC-based IntelliRoute software. The company also constantly is exploring ways to include real-time traffic and weather updates into IntelliRoute, says Amy Krouse, a consultant for Rand McNally.

ProMiles sends quarterly updates to customers via CD and frequent downloads through its website. For no additional charge, customers also can get real-time fuel price information for each route as well as optimal fuel purchase plans. Other sources of real-time information, such as traffic or road construction, are not accurate enough to include at this time, says Chris Lee, marketing manager.

ALK’s latest PC Miler product, version 22, has a new feature in the “Help” menu on the toolbar. By clicking “Check For Updates,” the program automatically accesses ALK’s database for any software patches and data updates that apply to the user’s unique needs, the company says.

Prophesy Software issues updates for its mileage and routing product about twice a year to ensure the data for digital maps and road restrictions is accurate and current. The company offers its mileage and routing software as part of an integrated fleet management system that includes fuel and road taxes, driver log auditing and dispatch software.

“Everything is based on miles and routes,” says Bill Ashburn, Prophesy vice president. “The first product we offered was a commercial mileage and routing system.”

Vendors also offer Web-based mileage and routing applications that are updated with new information continuously. Many fleets prefer to use PC-based versions to integrate mileages and routes with their dispatch and other back-office systems.

Instant access
Keeping routing information current may not be the challenge it once was, but carriers still have to manage multiple standards and versions of mileage and routing software internally. For rating and billing purposes, some shippers insist their carriers use a certain version of shortest or practical mileages based on ZIP-to- ZIP or city-to-city routes. As a further complication, carriers often use separate mileage standards and software versions internally for their billing, payroll and compliance processes.

Some new features make it easy to eliminate this complexity. Summitt Trucking sets customers up in its enterprise software system, TMW Suite, to whatever mileage standards and versions they choose, says Dan McKinnon, director of information technology for the 425-truck carrier based in Clarksville, Ind.

Summitt Trucking purchased a multiversion license from ALK Technologies’ PC Miler; it also purchased a multiversion module from TMW Suite that automatically calls up the correct mileages for each customer, McKinnon says. Summit Trucking uses PC Miler version 21 as its default mileage and routing system, but if a customer should prefer PC Miler version 19, TMW Suite will pull in the mileage from this version each time the fleet processes an invoice for the customer.

Technology providers also offer software development kits and application program interfaces (APIs) to make it simple for customers to create custom applications. Some of Rand McNally’s customers utilize APIs to create custom products such as “geofencing” areas they do not want trucks to enter, or to use geofences to monitor when trucks are entering certain areas. They also can use APIs to call up mapping, directions and other data, Krouse says.

Another simple way to manage multiple versions of mileage software is with XML Web services, vendors say. This mechanism for exchanging data through the Internet can automate the flow of mileage and routing information to whatever software program one chooses.

XML Web services allows a dispatch software program to send a request through the Internet to a remote server to “call up” mileages or routes on demand from the vendor. XML Web services also are an efficient way to incorporate real-time information into routes from various third-party providers of information services.

Live navigation
Using a Web services platform has become important for companies that develop navigation systems for the cab. Many important changes can happen during a trip, including fuel prices, weather and traffic congestion.

“That’s got to be the path of the future,” McKinnon says. “Everybody is going to go to Web services. That’s going to be the only way to get good, live, accurate information.”

Maptuit’s FleetNav routing system has used a Web services platform since the company began nine years ago, says Luke Wachtel, vice president of sales and business development. “You’ll never get a disk from Maptuit,” Wachtel says.

Maptuit uses a digital map database from Navteq and proprietary routing algorithms to calculate optimal truck routes. To obtain routes and directions from Maptuit’s FleetNav system, fleets set up their dispatch software and mobile communications systems to initiate Web service calls to Maptuit. Routes and directions are returned automatically, on demand, to the cab.

With its Web-based platform, Maptuit is able to improve the accuracy, efficiency and safety of its routes continuously using active, dynamic feedback from more than 80,000 drivers, Wachtel says. One driver for a major truckload carrier was an eyewitness to the Interstate 35 Bridge collapse in Minneapolis. The driver immediately called his dispatcher, who in turn contacted Maptuit. Ten minutes after the bridge collapse, Maptuit had closed the road segment for all of its users, Wachtel says.

Maptuit also offers a “hybrid” navigation solution called Navigo. Through integration with a fleet’s dispatch software, Navigo collects the origin and destination of a trip for each vehicle. All commercial routing is calculated via an advanced algorithm on Maptuit’s server farm and sent to onboard devices. The software onboard the device provides turn-by-turn navigation for the driver, Wachtel says.

J.B. Hunt Transport Services is using Navigo. “Even time spend idling looking at a map is a cost we can now avoid with a system that allows us to have turn-by-turn directions,” says Drew Schimelpfenig, information systems consultant for the Lowell, Ark.-based fleet.

Through Web services, fleet customers and technology partners of ALK Technologies – such as leading dispatch software and mobile communications providers – have a fast, efficient method to integrate with the PC Miler mapping, mileage and route database. Through ALK’s PC Miler Web Services offering, onboard computers can request routes, maps and mileage on demand.

A computer that runs ALK’s navigation system, CoPilot Truck, can integrate optimized fuel purchase plans and routes, pickups and drops, and real-time traffic from PC Miler routing-engine and third-party software providers. The result is optimal, dynamic routing for mobile assets, says Alain Kornhouser, chairman of ALK Technologies and Princeton University professor.

U.S. Xpress is using CoPilot Truck on its onboard computers from DriverTech. The Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company justified the cost of using the CoPilot Truck navigation system in its trucks based on a calculated time savings of 15 minutes per day per driver – time drivers otherwise would spend searching for directions or, worse, getting lost.

As it turns out, U.S. Xpress is gaining more than time savings. Routes generated by ALK’s PC Miler engine are synchronized with the company’s dispatch software and fuel optimization system from IDSC, says Ken Crane, applications manager of mobile technology for U.S. Xpress. Drivers get turn-by-turn spoken directions and fuel purchase plans for points from pickup to delivery.

Later this year, ALK Technologies plans to release an “offboard” version of its CoPilot Truck navigation solution. Drivers will get routes from a server instead of from CoPilot map data on the in-cab hardware device, making it possible to incorporate more real-time information into navigation, says Mike Bodden, chief technology officer.

Simplifying complexity
Until recently, the options for selecting routes were limited to the shortest or most practical route, incorporating uniform truck restrictions such as height and weight. As the technology for determining routes has become more sophisticated and accurate, fine-tuning for unique requirements now is possible. After all, the best route between two points for one fleet may not be the best for another.

With ProMiles’ most recent system, the Kingpin version, fleets can classify their vehicles in much greater detail to make more accurate routes, Lee says. For example, a 40-foot straight truck may have the same 13-foot 6-inch height restrictions as a combination vehicle, but a straight truck can travel on roadways where combinations are not allowed. Routing packages that consider only general commercial truck restrictions do not make this distinction, and as a result do not produce the shortest possible route, Lee says.

In addition, several states have weight-limit restrictions at 73,000 pounds. Routing systems that do not deal with precise truck weights do not consider that many trucks are carrying below 70,000 pounds, loaded or unloaded. ProMiles Kingpin edition takes size and weight into consideration rather than using a single classification for commercial vehicles, Lee says.
“There are a lot of routes where, if you are empty, you meet the weight-limit criteria for those roads,” he says.

And rather than looking for the shortest or most practical route given commercial truck restrictions, software developers have developed algorithms that evaluate the total cost of navigation. The least-cost route is not always the shortest route or the route that avoids toll roads.

For example, consider two routes that are the same distance. Assuming fuel prices are the same along each route, one route may have 20 turns, 12 of which are right-hand turns; the other route may have seven total turns with two right-hand turns. Taking safety into consideration, the second route actually costs less. And even if the second route has toll costs or more expensive fuel, it still may be the least-cost route.

Maptuit set up its service to allow customers to customize the sensitivity of the routing algorithm to favor certain factors such as safety or on-time percentage, Wachtel says. Navigation algorithms typically use a “binary” method to determine routing – that is, they use a procedure to eliminate route options by treating each option as a constant instead of a variable. For example, a binary method would select toll roads versus no toll roads, shortest route versus practical route, or interstates versus secondary roads.

Maptuit has developed a multivariate cost-based algorithm that can factor in many nuances in routing decisions, Wachtel says. “The second you have an algorithm that has variables instead of constants, you have exponentially increased the amount of work you have to do,” he says. “If a business is trying to save money, you have to get very sophisticated. No one solution works for this market. Even in just longhaul, different fleets have very different needs.”

ALK is gathering GPS data from customers to use as speed information. If a certain road is classified as a secondary road in the PC Miler database, and if customer data shows a lot of volume on the road, this feedback will raise the class value of the road in PC Miler. Routes will include the road more often, Bodden says.

Starting with PC Miler version 19, ALK has included historical travel times for major roads. Fleets can choose routes based on “optimized ETA,” or the fastest route between two points, which may produce a route that is different from practical, Bodden says.

There may be many paths to a particular destination, and it hasn’t always been easy to find the least expensive one. But with today’s real-time information, in-cab computing power and sophisticated formulas for calculating routes, there really is no excuse for mistakes.

Enterprise-wide software developers bring mileage to life

Companies that provide transportation management systems (TMS) routinely develop and integrate with new information technologies in the transportation industry. To maximize the value of the information in today’s mapping, mileage and routing applications, these companies have developed some powerful tools of their own.

When using these systems to pre-plan dispatch, load planners have instant access to integrated mileage. This helps planners determine the number of miles associated with a load and to categorize these miles as loaded or empty miles without additional data lookup, manipulation or entry, says Jennifer McQuiston, director of marketing for Innovative Computing Corp.
When integrating mobile communications with mileage through the Innovative Enterprise System (IES), fleet operators can see the remaining miles out on a load, as well as real-time ETA based on the last location, McQuiston says.

Many of McLeod Software’s customers are using the GPS Fuel Tax module in the LoadMaster Enterprise System to zero in on out-of-route (OOR) mileage, says Robert Brothers, manager of product development. The module uses the GPS positions from mobile communications and standard route mileages to determine OOR mileages for each movement.

Fleets also are using McLeod’s ETA/Out of Route module to identify trucks that are OOR or behind schedule in real time, Brothers says. In addition, more fleets are incorporating ETA data into mapping applications to display trucks in different colors and get a “global view of the fleet in a visual way,” he says. The latest release of LoadMaster incorporates a Google Earth application to plot vehicle positions on satellite images, Brothers says.

TMW Systems’ TripAlert product, which is available to TMW customers and other TMS systems, continuously recalculates the ETA of every point on dispatch, says Dave Wangler, chief executive officer. In calculating ETAs, the software uses modeling techniques and real-time information to project scheduled breaks for drivers’ hours of service.

TripAlert also understands the difference between off route and out of route, Wangler says. Just because a driver is off route, for instance, does not mean he will incur extra miles or be late for a delivery. “We extrapolate the remainder of the trip to determine if the driver will incur any extra miles,” he says. As soon as a position report comes in through mobile communications, the system triggers an alert if the vehicle is behind schedule or out of route. The system provides reports on authorized miles versus the miles the driver actually drove.

Using reporting tools such as Results Now and the Dawg from TMW, fleets can set up instant alerts when allowable thresholds for out-of-route miles are exceeded. They also can include OOR miles with other information such as idle time, fuel consumption and revenue into driver scorecards, Wangler says.