Systems for Fleet Management and Transportation

Development of an M2M Ecosystem Benefits Fleet and Transportation Management: What Do Fish Have to Do with It?

M2M systems for managing individual fleets of vehicles may be just the beginning. Expanding the concept and ecosystem to include connectivity to other vehicles, signals, road condition data, law enforcement and more may herald a transformation of the way we think of transportation.


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Have you ever seen a photograph or video of a large, densely packed school of fish swimming as if they were a single organism? You probably have. You don’t have to go far to experience something of this nature in real life. You’ve probably even experienced something like it while driving a car on a busy highway when suddenly there is a significant bottleneck of cars that slows vehicles to a crawl. Then, just as suddenly, the bottleneck of cars is off again at full speed as the congestion mysteriously disappears. A fully developed M2M communication ecosystem for transportation will allow vehicles to operate as a single, super-efficient organism.

The chief concerns for operators of fleets and their fleet managers for fleet management systems are: increasing efficiency, lowering costs, improving driver safety and ultimately increasing revenues. The solutions that fleet management systems can deliver through telematics (enabled by a complete end-to-end M2M communication system) to address these concerns ultimately cannot be limited to your fleet alone. The connected vehicle operating within a smart transportation ecosystem fully interconnected with the larger Internet of Things (IoT) promises to fully realize these concerns.

This large ecosystem will be enabled by a variety of technologies employed at the three basic layers of many interconnected networks of end-to-end M2M communication systems. Figure 1 illustrates a general architecture for a complete M2M communication system architecture. The Connectivity layer consists of network infrastructure, wireless providers and network gateways that bridge the gap between the device and connectivity layers. The application or service layer delivers the fleet or transportation services to end-users and also provides management of devices on board vehicles. The application layer provides APIs for the development of further services that can be used by both fleet managers and vehicle personnel, and by third-party entities like insurance companies, government compliance agencies, public safety authorities, or transportation departments. The device or access layer for fleet management and transportation systems includes in-vehicle sensors, GPS receivers and other technologies.

Figure 1
Basic layers for a complete end-to-end M2M communication system architecture.

Fleet and Transportation Management at the Application Layer

The interoperability of complete end-to-end M2M communication systems will be a significant challenge for the future connected fleet and transportation ecosystem. At the application level, either located in the fleet back office, central control, or service provider data center, the crucial technology is the system managing mobility of fleet vehicles and other fielded assets. In addition, in the case of service providers and transit/transportation authorities, controllers might also be responsible for translating data from one authority or another to achieve interoperability of systems. Through this translation a variety of service providers, transit authorities, public safety and large enterprise fleets share critical information that can affect the efficiency and safety of the whole ecosystem of connected vehicles and infrastructure.

One example of a solution is that proposed for interoperability of train control communications by the Interoperable Train Control Committee (ITC) as part of the Positive Train Control (PTC) requirements. A solution based on these proposals provides interoperable train control systems to help freight railroads and transit operators share mission-critical rail communications and control information. Specifically engineered software and hardware platforms form a robust, integrated solution to provide interoperable train control communications. This Interoperable Train Control Messaging (ITCM)-based solution serves as a translator for the PTC solution by taking the appropriate information gathered and managed by a controller, such as the Lilee Systems LMC-5500 mobility controller (Figure 2), from the onboard and trackside systems from one rail entity and relaying it via the Federated Interchange links using ITCM messaging protocols to the other interested rail entity involved with the stretch of track where the train is currently or is about to be.

Figure 2
Lilee Systems LMC-5500 mobility controller and relay messaging server.

Multiple LMC-5500s are linked to complete the solution. Figure 3 illustrates the basic system architecture from the view of a single railroad. One unit functions as mobility controller to provide radio device management with roaming control for locomotive radios and enables a conduit from the trackside network of base station and wayside station radios to the back office servers for a single railroad or transit authority. A second LMC-5500 takes on the role of ITCM server to provide a translator for interoperability with the networks operated by other railroads and commuter transit operators sharing the same tracks. Additional such devices can be employed for failover and backup redundancy to the LMCs deployed as mobility controller and ITCM server.

Figure 3
Interoperability via ICTM and Federated Interchange at the Application Layer.

A similar concept could be devised for coordinating the communications between the varied interested entities to construct a future connected vehicle ecosystem consisting of fleet operators, service providers, transportation authorities and traffic infrastructure, public safety agencies and the driving public at large.

Fleet and Transportation Management at the Connectivity Layer

Fleet and transportation management system providers face the challenge of reliably transferring data to and from both mobile and fixed assets to data and control centers while at the same time giving the systems control over the devices. Network connectivity gateways can play a vital role in solving these challenges. Roadside communications gateways provide sophisticated communications management applications to dynamically select multiple communication paths (3G/4G, Wi-Fi, or other RF radios operating in both licensed and license-free spectrum) to provide reliable links between mobile assets and central control. These gateways also enable remote management and control of mobile and fixed assets via technologies like IP-based keyboard-video-mouse (KVM). Furthermore, on-vehicle gateways can be designed to bind 3G/4G services from multiple carriers to enable high-bandwidth links for value-added services like passenger connectivity on public transit. For example, the Lilee Systems WMS-2000 series of gateway messaging servers enables gateway connectivity in both roadside and on-vehicle deployments (Figure 4).

Figure 4
Lilee Systems WMS-2000 gateway messaging server.

Fleet and Transportation Management at the Device Layer

Another approach that could be used in tandem with coordinated communications at the application layer would employ the power of ad hoc mesh networking at the device or access layer to connect vehicles within range of other vehicles, as well as roadside and traffic infrastructure like bridges, overpasses, traffic lights and intersections. Figure 5 illustrates an example of an ad hoc mesh network between vehicles and road infrastructure. A dynamically constructed self-forming and self-healing mesh network could enable all connected transportation stakeholders to achieve their goals for increased efficiency and safety. Interoperability is still an important issue even at the device layer. Fortunately open standards, such as those from IEEE 802.11 to 802.15, and some industry specific ones like ETSI, provide the necessary engineering toolkit.

Figure 5
Ad Hoc Vehicle and Road Infrastructure Mesh Network.

Inter-vehicle mesh networks will enable cars to traverse highways stretches in super-efficient caravans of vehicles and vastly increase the efficiency of transit and utilization of resources within cities. Besides communications between the cars within schools, vehicle mesh networks will also communicate with transportation infrastructure like bridges, overpasses, traffic lights, and road crews engaged in road repair or construction. These in turn will communicate with public safety authorities, departments of roads and transportation, and weather bureaus to check for vital safety, transportation and weather alerts that will affect transit.

On-vehicle mesh radios can also be employed to communicate with other valuable fielded or mobile assets at a job site as in the case of construction, mining, or agriculture. The radios serve to form a network bubble in the vicinity of the vehicle to collect data from on-vehicle sensors, freight and other assets. These on-vehicle networks can also communicate with crew using handheld devices or collect critical data from crew working in hazardous conditions including sensors in the uniforms of first responders that record temperature, radiation and vital signs. They can also be used for voice or video data communications between the field and central control or dispatch.

Ad hoc mesh networks in use in an M2M ecosystem for transportation will connect vehicles with roadway and roadside infrastructure to increase the efficiency of the complete system and possibly lead to the development of new models of road use. Virtual toll booths will speed transportation and ensure revenues for road maintenance by use. Roadway use as a pay-as-you-go service might also apply to vehicle licensing and taxes, fuel taxes and alternative energy credits, and insurance. Violations of traffic regulations will also be automatically assessed with fees.

Together these automated processes, when constructively communicated to drivers, can influence driving behavior to produce actionable changes to increase safety, efficiency and resource utilization. Ultimately these all reduce costs to fleet operators and individual drivers alike through reduced fuel consumption as well as the optimization of routing and scheduling. Smart transportation, as we move to increased use of alternative energies like electricity to power vehicles, will enhance smart grid operations and utilization. Vehicle data will provide critical data for greater efficiency in smart power and fossil fuel supply chain management. 

Data Sharing Brings Value to Fleet Managers, Service Providers and Transportation Authorities

The data shared system-wide from onboard sensors both via the ad hoc mesh networks at the device layer or after being aggregated at the application layer—Big Data—holds valuable information. Data is not particularly useful if we don’t know if, when, or how to take action based upon it. The usefulness of data goes beyond the fleet manager, fleet executive and transit operator or transportation department. When contextualized, the data becomes useful for a whole range of others like drivers, customers, insurance companies…in fact, everyone along the supply chain supporting transportation and freight. The availability of data, even if it is stripped of valuable business or private information, can help to spur development of innovative ways to put it to use.

When analyzed, it will shed light on driving patterns and utilization of particular roads. This will enable departments of transportation and highways to better allocate resources and develop transit infrastructure that most closely reflects the needs of users. For example, sensor data from vehicles operating on a specific patch of road will report information about the development of road surface ruptures or potholes. This data will provide key decision-making information for establishing proactive road and infrastructure maintenance to improve the longevity and quality of vital highways and urban roads.

Future Fleet and Transportation Management Systems Enable an Ecosystem

While fleet management telematics and the connected vehicle in general have come a long way in the past decade or so, the most significant changes to come will occur in the next decade.  These transformations, enabled by powerful technologies at the application, connectivity and device layers, will fundamentally change the way we commute, transport goods and conduct business via our vital roads and highways.

The constant communication of smart sensors throughout the transportation ecosystem will improve maintenance of vehicles, roads and infrastructure. These communications can increase system-wide efficiencies through automation of processes. Smart sensor proliferation within transportation will spark new innovations, the development of new capabilities, and enable new touch points for engagement between businesses, individual consumers, and public safety and transportation authorities. Network gateway technologies enable the communications of on-vehicle data and control of remote assets, and help to develop new revenue streams through passenger connectivity.

The future for fleet and transportation management systems will be to enable increased efficiency, more engagement and actionable decision making. Benefits of M2M connections in fleet management will only be fully realized when the entire transportation ecosystem adopts M2M, from private vehicles to public transit and road/traffic infrastructure to all the interconnected services that support transportation or benefit from it. Ultimately, a fully developed ecosystem will enable a driverless one where vehicles become like a school of fish swimming as a single organism. 

Lilee Systems
Santa Clara, CA.
(408) 988-8672