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What Is GPS Tracking and How Does It Work

how does gps tracking workGPS technology has become almost ubiquitous in modern life. Most of us use it every day without a second thought. But do you really understand it? And do you know how to get the most of GPS tracking to improve your fleet's operational efficiency?

Fleet managers use GPS every day to keep track of their fleets and other assets. They can get information that helps them solve issues such as compliance, efficiency, and safety. But how does this happen? What is GPS tracking and how does it work?

What Is GPS Tracking?

Let's begin with the name, GPS, which stands for Global Positioning System. The system involves a network of satellites orbiting around the Earth and devices that can help determine an object or a person's location. Initially developed in the 1960s for military application, GPS technology eventually became available for public use in 1983, and advances and use cases have increased over the decades. These days, GPS has a range of uses, from military exercises across the globe to directions that help drivers find their way.

What Does a GPS Tracker Do?

GPS tracking requires a tracking device installed in a vehicle, on a piece of equipment, or worn by a person. The tracking device provides information about its exact location so that it can report details on where a vehicle, equipment, or person is. It also tracks the movements of a vehicle, equipment, or person. For instance, a GPS tracking device can be used to locate where a truck is on its route, a child's location, or even for assets being transported.

GPS Tracking System Basics

A GPS tracking system does this by using the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) network. This network consists of satellites that communicate with GPS devices to provide information on the location, direction, time, and speed of the vehicle being tracked.

How Do Tracking Devices Work?

GPS tracking devices send special satellite signals that are processed by a receiver. These GPS receivers track the exact location of the GPS device as well as compute their time and the velocity they are traveling. These positions can also be computed and represented in three-dimensional views using four types of GPS satellite signals. GPS systems consist of three segments: space, control, and user.

The Space Segment

The Global Positioning System is made up of 27 satellites that orbit the Earth. Of these 27 satellites, 24 are operational, and three are backup satellites if one of the other 24 fails. These satellites orbit the Earth every 12 hours and send signals that are received by GPS receivers.

The Control Segment

The Positioning System is controlled by different tracking stations located around the globe. These stations pick up microwave carrier signals transmitted by the satellites, and the GPS receivers convert these signals into data such as velocity, time, and position.

The User Segment

GPS receivers receive the signals sent by GPS satellites and use them to determine the user's position in space and time.

Two Types of GPS Systems

There are a few ways a GPS tracking system can work. Commercial GPS devices are often used to record the location of vehicles during their journeys. Some systems will store information within the GSP system itself, this is called passive tracking. Other systems regularly send data to a centralized database through a modem, this is called active tracking or 2-way GPS.

Passive GPS tracking monitors location and stores data on trips based on specific events. This type of system can log data on where the devices have been in the past 12 hours. It stores the data internally or on a memory card, which is then downloaded to a computer to be analyzed later. In some systems, the information is downloaded automatically at a set time or can be requested periodically during the journey.

Passive GPS tracking systems are real-time systems that automatically send information to a central tracking portal as it happens. This type of system is used on most commercial applications, such as monitoring and tracking children or the elderly, since it lets caregivers know where their charges are at all times. This type of system is also used to monitor employees' behavior as they work and streamlining fleets' operations.

What Is GPS Tracking Used For?

Most people are familiar with the most common uses of GPS technology, such as mapping and surveying, getting directions, and keeping track of children. But there are many other uses you may never had realized were out there. GPS plays an important role in all types of applications used by the military and first responders as well as commercial and personal uses. Here are some of the ways GPS tracking systems are used.

Military Use of GPS

Initially developed by the military, GPS is still used to track troop movements, aircraft, navigation at sea, and more. This is very important for military units stationed in unfamiliar territory or on the move at night.

Search and Rescue

GPS tracking is also used in search and rescue operations. It helps rescue teams keep track of where they've searched or even get information from a lost person's phone or GPS device.

GPS Vehicle Tracking

Commercial fleets often use GPS tracking to monitor their fleet vehicles. By installing GPS devices on fleet vehicles, fleet managers can track their drivers' locations and statuses as well as get important insights about their fleet's efficiency.

GPS tracking systems are a crucial part of fleet tracking to monitor their fleet vehicles' location and activity and improve efficiency and safety. In addition, GPS tracking makes routing and dispatching more accurate and easier.

GPS Recreational Uses

Most wearable tech such as watches used in running, biking, and hiking use GPS tracking, giving users input on distance traveled, their speed, or where they are in the wilderness. With the increase in smartphone use, almost all of us carry GPS tracking devices everywhere we go. This technology can be used in new ways, including augmented reality (AR) applications to location-based games. These types of uses will only increase in the coming years.

Legality of GPS Trackers

Privacy concerns surrounding GPS tracking have resulted in legislation on how these tracking devices can be used. It's completely legal to install a GPS tracking device on a vehicle or asset you own. But using a GPS tracking device on a person or someone else's vehicle or property, you need to check the current federal, state, and local laws. These laws change continually as new cases come up, so it's crucial to keep yourself up-to-date on changes. Here's what you need to know.

  • It is legal to use a GPS tracking device if you or your business own the asset or vehicle.
  • Employees must understand that they are being monitored while on the job.
  • Employers must ensure their vehicle tracking solutions are only used for business-related purposes.

Be clear and transparent about when and how you use GPS tracking data. If your employees don't trust or understand how you are using the data from GPS trackers, it can result in low employee morale.

Telematics and GPS Tracking

Telematics and GPS tracking work together to provide insights into the operations of your fleet. They are not competing systems but parts of a system. At the center of a telematics system is a tracking device that gathers real-time data about the vehicle's location and status. A telematics solution receives GPS tracking data and sends it to central computers. The data is then processed and turned into information that is accessed through fleet management software.

Additional Benefits of GPS tracking and telematics

GPS tracking is a practical tool for fleet managers for many reasons. GPS tracking devices give you visibility into your fleet vehicle's locations, but that's not all. Here are some other key benefits of GPS tracking.

Optimize Routes

A GPS tracking system lets you optimize your fleet's routes. You can easily locate your drivers and determine which is closest to a particular job. You can send the closest driver and reroute the rest of your vehicles if needed. This saves you time and money while keeping your customers happy.

Reduce Operating Costs

No matter if you are reducing fuel costs by sending your drivers on more efficient routes or making better dispatching decisions, GPS tracking devices can help you make cost-saving decisions based on data in real-time. By giving you increased insight and visibility into your fleet's operations, GPS tracking provides more data about your fleet vehicles so your decisions can be more strategic and impactful to the business and its bottom line.

Reduce Fuel Use and Costs

Prior to advances in GPS tracking telematics, fleet managers had no way of knowing what their employees did each day, where they were at any given time, and where they were headed next. They had no way to know who to dispatch for jobs, when the jobs were completed, or if they were even getting done.

With GPS tracking and better dispatching, you can save fuel use, time and reduce emissions. For example, you can use GPS technology to monitor vehicle speed, a fuel-wasting behavior. You can coach them to encourage better driving that can save fuel.

Improve Security

Installing a GPS tracker on your fleet vehicles and assets helps increase fleet security. If a vehicle or asset is stolen or lost, a GPS tracker can help you find and recover your stolen or lost vehicle or asset faster. You can even set a geofence around vehicles and assets that alert you when they leave the pre-designated area or are used off-hours.

Reduce Overtime and Timesheet Fraud

With better journey management and electronic time logs, you can reduce overtime throughout your fleet. You'll be able to better allocate resources based on real-time insights so that your trucks won't take longer trips and your drivers won't spend more time on the road than they need to. This helps keep your payroll hours under control.

Timesheet fraud takes place when drivers get paid for work they didn't do or for time spent on non-work activities. Sometimes drivers record more hours than they worked, retroactively edit their driving hours, or log regular hours as overtime. Not only does this cost you money, but it also can result in incorrect billing. By using GPS tracking and electronic logs, your payroll and billing are more accurate.

Improve Asset Utilization

A GPS tracking telematics solution can give you insight into real arrival and departure times, stop durations, travel time from one job to another, and when your drivers are inactive. This information can tell you if jobs are being completed in the allotted time, if there are delays and why, if detours are taken for personal errands, and when delays occur due to a driver becoming lost. You'll know if drivers are not being utilized even if they have hours available, and you can make decisions based on real-time insights to improve overall fleet utilization.

Validation of Completed Work

On occasion, your customers may question how what you've billed them for, such as hours spent on the job or if that they never showed up at all. GPS tracking provides records of where your drivers are and demonstrate to your customers that they worked the hours on their invoices. Showing your customers electronic proof can build trust and improve your customer service.

Track All Your Assets

GPS fleet tracking works for all assets, not just vehicles. If you have expensive mobile equipment, such as generators and trailers, you can monitor their movements, so you know if they are on the job sites where they are needed and not sitting idly and unused. You'll know they are secure and accounted for. You can also set a geofence around worksites, so you'll know when they come and go on each specific site.

Improve Fleet Safety

Improving fleet safety saves you money and improves your company's image. Now, GPS fleet tracking solutions can alert you when your drivers are speeding, making hard stops or harsh braking, and suddenly accelerating. These actions not only waste gas and increase your fuel costs, but they can also be dangerous. By monitoring these events, you can help your drivers develop better, safer driving habits.

Happier Customers

No matter if your fleet is delivering products to homes or is part of a complex supply chain, your customers expect a certain type of service and convenience. Since GPS tracking telematics gives you the exact location of your fleet's vehicles and you can dispatch your vehicles more efficiently, your customers will be happier. You can provide them increasingly accurate estimated arrival times (ETAs), so they will know when to expect a delivery or other service.

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