The last decade or so has witnessed a huge boom in the way space satellites are used in everyday life all around the world.

Vehicle tracking via Global Positioning Systems (GPS) is one such area that has grown exponentially since the year 2000 when mass-produced tracking devices first appeared on the scene.

The main reason for this mass-market swamping is the simple fact that vehicles can be tracked and monitored extremely accurately.

But how accurate are vehicle tracking devices really?

Well, quite genuinely we are talking a matter of metres; three to be exact (or ten feet for those who aren’t yet decimal).

Or in the case of public transport providers Arriva, they are now tracking the whereabouts and progress of their bus fleet to less than 1 metre (that’s less than 3 feet and 3.8 inches to be even more exact).

Impressed? Thought so, and its’ all down to Professor Philip Tann of Sunderland University who has devised a system that has been sending data back through the GPS network to a remote web-based server allowing Arriva HQ managers to make “real time” decisions for their fleet on the streets of Glasgow to prevent “bunching up,” and monitor traffic flow.

Oddly though Professor Tann hit upon his idea back in 2007 when he managed to beat a speeding charge in court. Prosecutors dropped the charges when they agreed that Prof Tann’s tracking device was more accurate than the equipment the police used to snare him.

It was Prof Tann’s mobile phone that came to the rescue. He had fitted a GPS device inside it that recorded the location and speed of his vehicle onto a computer database. It showed his Mercedes was travelling at 29.177196 mph at the time the camera caught him in Sunderland. According to the police camera he was doing 42 mph.

Not surprisingly, over 1,000 people in a similar position contacted Prof Tann wanting to prove themselves innocent of speeding – but of course they didn’t have his piece of kit.

Fast forward to 2012 and Prof Tann’s GPS device (as currently used by Arriva) is now available through a vehicle tracking company called FleetM8 to anyone who has fleet management concerns and is fast becoming a hit with its specially patented technology.

Expert’s View on vehicle tracking devices and their accuracy

In the eye of one industry expert, GPS tracking is “practically perfect” – when outdoors. When it comes to heavily congested areas the matter is a little greyer. According to Frank van Diggelen, a senior technical director for GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System), GPS is more challenged than ever as people expect tracking devices and technology to work were it was never meant to – indoors, and in “deep urban canyons.”

Dr. Van Diggelen sees a time when there will be more satellites, more sensors, and more reliance on wireless and cellular technology to make GPS tracking even better and far-reaching. This will arise through continued use of space satellites but mainly the triumvirate of U.S-based GNSS, Russia’s GLONASS, and Tokyo’s QZSS.
For Now Though…

Anyone in fleet management will have to put up with vehicle tracking accuracy being “practically perfect” – which is pretty damn good really when all is said and done.

Considering most fleets are road-based with location being the primary concern, knowing where your vehicles are within 3 metres of their ultimate destination (or en-route positions) can’t be bad.

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Author - Nigel Vaughan

Nigel has over 10 years experience in digital marketing, and loves tech and all kinds of electronics. A keen cyclist and cycle-tourist, he has cycled through 25 countries worldwide.

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