Identifying Inefficiencies from a Bird's-Eye View
A GPS data logger integrated with Google Earth offers a new perspective on distribution analysis.
By Stephanie Steward
Think Big Sister instead of Big Brother. To be held accountable, not to be under surveillance. A passive global positioning system (GPS) data logger the size of a pack of gum features software integrated with Google Earth. The device records location history and other information at intervals that can later be downloaded into a database as well as shown on graphical maps and 3-D satellite images. It’s a small tool designed to help distribution managers identify problems or inefficiencies along the supply chain from a bird’s-eye view.
“We wanted to create [a GPS device] with the ability to share information and to do it on an industry standard that’s free and open and easy to use, like Google,” says Chris Aaron, federal sales manager for Telespial Systems (Irvine, CA). Telespial is a small company, for which Aaron wears many hats, and because Google grew from a small business with an open-minded business strategy, the partnership was a natural one.
The TrackStick Pro can be plugged into a car’s dc power socket or hardwired into a vehicle. As a truck travels along a delivery route, for example, the device receives signals from 24 satellites and records time, date, location (longitude, latitude, altitude), speed, power interruptions, and more. All data are collected at preset intervals from every few seconds to every hour. The orbiting satellite constellation enables the device to work anywhere on Earth. Because this is a passive device, the information cannot be viewed in real time. Instead, the data are downloaded from the device into a Windows-based PC using a mini-USB interface similar to those used with digital cameras, a process that takes less than a minute. The downloaded data can then be saved into a spreadsheet or database.
Because the GPS device is constantly collecting signals to record its location and other data, it needs a clear sky view because metal, like a roof, blocks the signal. TrackStick data show when signals were lost upon entering the blocked area and picked up again upon leaving that area. “So you could connect the dots to see how long [what’s being monitored by the TrackStick] was in that particular location,” says Aaron. In addition to the TrackStick Pro, there are three portable, battery-powered versions of the device: the original TrackStick, TrackStick II, and Super TrackStick. Those versions can be attached or enclosed in a package.
Each TrackStick device features a 4-Mbyte flash memory that can hold up to a month of recorded data before it automatically starts rewriting over the oldest data.
“We teamed with Google Earth on this project so we could intuitively visualize the routes, the stops, the speed, and altitude,” says Aaron. “It’s a little bit of Big Brother, but all this is doing is tracking the route. [People] aren’t being monitored as they’re driving.”
The TrackStick comes with all the necessary reporting and mapping software and does not require any type of monthly connection service. Once the data have been downloaded, the information can also be saved as Google Earth files and viewed as graphical maps and 3-D satellite images.
The TrackStick is, at the very least, a tool for analyzing a supply chain or delivery route. It is designed to enable users to identify inefficiencies. In addition, if a shipment of product were to be delivered with diminished quality, users could review the recorded data of that shipment’s route to identify possible locations where something negatively affected the product. “If you saw a stop on a route,” Aaron explains, “and let’s say [the truck] could [only] keep products cold under 50ÞF for up to 12 hours, you could see that [it] stopped in this particular location for three hours. In Google Earth, you could pinpoint where they were,” he says. And with that information, users could then determine the reason for the stop and, conceivably, prevent further incidents of the same type.
Using the TrackStick, says Aaron, “is all about efficiency—how fast your package is going here, there, and everywhere.” It’s another way to streamline the efficiency of your supply chain.