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Building Blue-Collar Telematics

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Building Blue-Collar Telematics
By Lawrence Ricci and Fred Salloum, Applied Data Systems • www.applieddata.net.com

Lessons Learned from 50,000 Hard-Working Mobile Computers
For reasons known only to Adam Smith - ‘the invisible hand of the market’ - it seems that computers and hard-working fleet vehicles are destined to be together. This paper will outline some of the lessons learned from Applied Data Systems’ten year history of providing embedded systems for a myriad of vehicle-based fleet applications.

are ongoing problems that must be managed. An obvious issue is that nominal 12 Volt vehicle power actually ranges from about 6VDC during engine cranking up to very high volts (40+) if the battery is disconnected while the engine is running. In-between, the power is filled with spikes and noise from the alternator system. Additionally, systems must retain active memory while the vehicle battery is being replaced and may have to be ‘always on’ in a monitoring mode for weeks or even months while the vehicle is parked during a vacation period or slack use period. ADS Telematics power supply designs include a wide range switch mode power supply and a load-dump circuit to protect from over-voltage. Downstream of this power, there will often be a super-cap or backup battery. Super-cap designs employ new-technology electrolytic SMD packaged capacitors to provide several farads of local storage. This is typically capable of keeping a low-power RISC computer running in ‘sleep’ mode for many seconds, even minutes – enough time to change the vehicle battery. Often a battery system is included within the ‘box’ of the Blue Collar Telematics system to provide even more extended operation, and to power other devices like the GPS and communication such that, for example, a stolen vehicle can be located even if its battery is disconnected. Of course, a charging system for the selected batteries must be included, and this charging system must not overcharge or overheat the batteries even though they are infrequently drained.

Applied Data’s technologies support and develop a special branch of Telematics, which is quite different from the mass-market automobile with CD and M3 players. While the issues of mass production and consumer product marketing are challenging, Blue Collar Telematics for working fleets has its own set of demands that include advanced power systems, local system I/O, PAN/LAN/WAN communication, autolocation, and extended environmental specs. Additionally, these devices have special needs for quick-to-market development, low unit demands compared to consumer products and long product lifecycle. Finally, and most important, the many niche applications for these systems mandate a general OS and great cross-platform compatibility for application development.

Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, We Need Lots of I/O
Many applications require some real time I/O. Systems retrofitted on taxis and limousine services may have detectors for door open an door close. Tow truck systems may monitor hook up and hook down status. On board monitors might do high-speed sampling of speed, wheel rotation and hydraulic pressure during skids. Vehicles may include mag swipe credit card readers. Location, refrigeration system temperature, battery voltage, ambient light level, internal temperature and even vibration may be monitored. Where the application demands, Blue Collar Telematics-systems respond. Applied Data begins by equipping its Telematics ready systems with the ADS SmartIO™ chip. This is an 8 bit microcontroller with programmable selections from 22 digital I/O’s, ten analog inputs, and an array of PWM’s. Various device functions, such as light brightness control or mag-stripe card reading, can be programmed directly into this chip and supported from an ADS provided API in the CE Operating System. This tiny on-board controller often saves whole subsystems of intelligent card readers or

The Power of Telematics
Probably the most critical aspect of on-board computer design, and the most complex, is the design of the power supply. Except for the solar powered race-car controlled by an ADS computer, ‘absolute’power consumption has not been an issue for Telematic designs. However, irregular, interrupted and poor quality power

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Another upcoming network application is PAN (Personal Area Networks) and in particular Bluetooth. People will want their cell phone, PDA or data-entry terminal to identify itself to the vehicle computer and seamlessly synchronize databases without mandating plug-in cables. The notion of Bluetooth highlights the importance of looking at the versatility of embedded frameworks to quickly adapt to new technologies, not as they appear but as they are anticipated. Companies such as Applied Data have built engineering programs that make these incremental engineering changes quickly and successfully. Finally, most Telematics systems include a WAN (Wide Area Network) of some sort. WAN technologies regularly employed include Satellite and various Cellular systems, as well as VHF, UHF and Spread Spectrum digital radio for selected public safety, utility and municipal fleets. Often, these WANS are tied to a particular service provider. But from the point of view of the Telematics supplier, versatility in the telematics system is critical. PCMCIA cards and drivers to support all these technologies are often employed in the short term to handle WAN and Bluetooth requirements.

Thin Master – designed specifically for telematics market requirements

analog and digital I/O subsystems, savings hundreds of dollars per vehicle and perhaps tens of thousands of dollars per fleet. Even more important, the space, power demands, and reliability of these devices no longer intrude on the Telematics design, and since there are no connectors (as in stacked PC104 systems) there are no connectors to vibrate loose. Beyond the ADSmartIO™, Applied Data’s systems provide a selection of I/O on single-board cards that are as small as 3"x5" or less. This ‘I/O mix’ includes seven serial ports, Ethernet, dual-CAN, USB, voice/speech, PCMCIA, Compact Flash, keyboard/mouse, and all the interfacing required for LCDs and touchscreens. LCDs may be color or black and white, QVGA all the way to XGA, with options to 65,000 colors.

Even a Delivery Truck has a Bus
The ‘Blue Collar’ Telematics system becomes a data-center on the road, with communication demands set by the nature of the application. Transferring information about the vehicle and payload becomes as critical to the success of the fleet as transferring the payload itself. A truckload of lobster with a certificate showing its storage conditions is worth a great deal, the same load without documentation is low-grade fertilizer. The industry-standard CAN bus is a low-cost and highly efficient way to interface to sensors in the vehicle. Often two CAN bus controllers are required,as many vehicles have CAN buses that run at two different speeds. While Ethernet is a seldom-requested LAN, we often see Telematic systems demanding USB and USB Master capability to drive commercial printers, cameras and other equipment in the cab. Now USB has also become a convenient place to put mass storage and even identity modules, which may soon allow biometrics access such as operator-identified thumbprints. The most popular LAN will soon be 802.11b in locations such as campus and construction sites where Blue-Collar systems become wireless enabled. Many of the benefits of full WAN connectivity can be obtained if a Blue-Collar system enters the truck yard, identifies itself, and uploads data so all systems are ready by the time the truck gets to the loading dock.

Diplomat - wireless communication platform for fleet management

Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Dump Truck Gone?
Virtually all Blue-Collar Telematics have a GPS based AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location) system, perhaps enhanced with dead/reckoning or time and distance calculations. Unlike Telematics in consumer vehicles, the driving force for Blue-Collar AVL is not loss prevention or navigation, but asset allocation. A dispatcher can see at a glance where his trucks are,and send the closest one to pick up a special load or make a priority delivery. In construction, AVL may be done via laser beam to a fraction of an inch accuracy to allow accurate grading of roads and foundations. Another interesting AVL niche is farm equipment, where each section of a field is differentially seeded and fertilized based on the location’s previous years’ harvest and its soil conditions. One of the more popular ARM chips at the moment is a unit that integrates an ARM core and GPS receiver on one piece of silicon. While this is fine for the typical consumer level AVL, the 40Mz

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ARM7 lacks the horsepower for the robust OS and graphic applications of most Blue-Collar Telematics. In these more elaborate and more intricately configured applications, the normal solution is a separate GPS, perhaps integrated in the antenna, with a serial link to the system. To handle the high-level GUI and intensive processing requirements, while retaining its low power-draw characteristics, the 206MHz Intel® StrongARM* Processor has quickly become the chip of choice.

Some Like it Hot - NOT!
There are few places hotter than a parked truck in Arizona or colder than a snowplow cab in Minnesota. Blue-Collar Telematics must work in both. Unlike consumer telematics, Blue Collar systems are often hard at work even when the driver is off eating lunch in an air-conditioned diner or asleep in a warm Klondike motel. The Blue-Collar system monitors the vehicle security, and often keeps tabs on the temperature and general well being of the critical cargo. Getting full system operation at elevated temperatures is not easy. Most of the high-tech 32 bit chips are not made in Mil-Spec or Industrial temperature ratings. Their performance (rise times, clock dither, capacitive hold-up) meaningfully degrades ten or so degrees above commercial rating. Working with the CALCE labs of the University of Maryland, Applied Data System developed design methods to extend the temperature specs of its standard products to allow ‘Blue-Collar’ operation, operable through temperature extremes as great as –40 to +85deg C. The process, which involves high temperature characterizing, re-specing components and designing in new ways, is identical to the process used to get extended range temperature certification for FAA approved avionics.

the Microsoft product has a low license fee, (often less than $20 for typical fleet sizes) and inexpensive or even free development tools. Since applications can be developed and tested on desktop or Pocket PC devices, the overall project development cycle can be radically shortened with hardware and application development done concurrently. At the top-end of the volume curve for Blue-Collar Telematics, Windows CE transitions well to Microsoft AutoPC, licensed directly from Microsoft. AutoPC is a special build of CE that includes features like SAPPI (Speech API),‘Skins’ to allow easy changes of look and feel between various model vehicles, and nice inbuilt functions to control FM radios and Audio players. But for most Blue-Collar Telematics applications where units are built by the thousand and tens of thousands, the normal Embedded version of CE, purchased via a distributor, is the most appropriate choice. Applied Data introduced CE and CE.NET platforms when each was initially introduced, and is a recognized leader in low level software work for embedded CE.

TDMA CDPD GSM PDC cdmaOne PCS AMPS iDEN Cdma2000 1x GPRS

EDGE WCDMA Cdma2000 3x

The Path Forward to G3?
The plan to move to a uniform 'G3' Communication system for PDC, GSM, DCPD and TDMA is shown. However, over the next 10 years it is unlikely even one protocol will vanish. A Blue-Collar Telematics system must roam everywhere, and deal with many systems.

Software for the Hard Working

A Blue-Collar Telematic system can be quite complex. Typically, it might have five or six serial ports active, each to a different device, a USB port to a printer or Biometric, a Cellular Modem of some sort, Bluetooth to the operators PDA, and VGA graphics or better. The Modem/Network cards may be in a constant state of change as fleets are automated in different geographies. What is more, Blue-Collar Telematics is almost always part of a true distributed system, working in a client/server or peer to peer architecture with back-office and web-based systems. BlueCollar Telematics contains parts of big relational databases, and must deal with slow, costly and intermittent connections with other nodes on its network. And unlike consumer Telematics where a design is amortized over a 100,000 vehicles or more,most Blue-Collar systems are sold tens or hundreds of vehicles at a time, often with differing network and peripheral options from fleet to fleet. Clearly, this is not a place for do-it-yourself software. Windows CE is the clear favorite for Blue-Collar Telematics applications. Windows CE,soon upgrading to CE.NET,is the most complete solution out of the box with kernel (source now included), windowing, database, utilities, networking and thousands of drivers and applications supported. On top of technical hegemony,

Telematics for the Road Ahead
As more and more companies deploy a larger share of their assets out in the field, niche applications for Fleet Telematics multiply. The growth is of a thousand niche groups.What is good for a long haul carrier does little for the local delivery truck. And the demands for delivery of cement, vending machine refills, frozen food or packages put different demands on the trucks’ systems. Most equipment fleets operate in service oriented, cost conscious markets, and when a new system shows benefits they are quickly adopted across its industry. What then are the technologies that might move into, and reshape, blue collar telematics? Any enabler of heads-up and hands free operation must be at the top of the list. Even if legislation does not eliminate flatpanel displays from vehicle cabs, fleet owner liability probably will. Even today the technology exists for high-quality, speaker independent phrase recognition which could control most Blue-Collar telematics operations. In addition, there are nice technologies available

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for heads-up and head mounted displays. The next generation of Blue-Collar Telematics systems might well consider these technologies, currently available out of the box. There will be no steep, sharp, tidal wave of communication technology, at least not in North America. In most parts of the country the long awaited G3 network will be long awaited for a decade or more; the various carriers just do not have the capital to put up all the towers required for this short wavelength system. G3 will appear in the dense urban areas, but out in the suburbs, on the road and in country where Blue-Collar Telematics go to work, G3 will be the exception, not the norm. We see CDPD, CDMA, and other systems (including unlicensed spread spectrum) proliferating, extending function and overlapping areas of coverage. Further down the path, mid-orbit satellite systems like Inmarsat and satellite paging networks, and low orbit systems like Teledesic could give land-based systems serious competition. In short, any Telematics supplier who can interface five WANS will need to learn another five. Any supplier who can interface to ten, will need ten more. Telematics Suppliers who can deal with fewer than five WANS should make sure they are telecom carriers themselves. Software will be the final technology push that will drive the Blue-Collar telematics space. Telematics applications are arguably the most complex application in current operation. They include fast, real time components, terminal entered data, badge, card, barcode and wand reader data, distributed databases with multiple and intermittent connection paths, back office servers, web clients and web servers, and legacy mainframe applications. As complex as today’s systems are, we want more. We want utility trucks to read water meters as they drive through a neighborhood. We want vending machines to be able to update supply trucks as they move into the 802.11B enabled campus. We want more efficient vehicle and load control, and monitoring of driver activities and actions to detect fatigue. Video feedback to a dispatch center of load, road and driver status may soon become expected. And, of course it must all be secure, virus and hacker proof. On top of this, the Blue-Collar Telematics application of the future will be assembled by a multi-disciplined team, probably working for different companies, perhaps even companies involved in ‘co-optation’, that digital decade word that seems to define the semi-competitive working relationships of so many companies in the IT space today. In today’s economy, applications must be up and running in weeks and months, not months and years. Additionally, the system environment must be stable and easy to maintain at least for the life of the fleet equipment, ten years minimum. The technology to enable this is the Microsoft .NET architecture. Using open, industry controlled standards like XML, SOAP, and C++ multiple teams writing in multiple languages can collaborate on a set of objects that will distribute from the server to the web page, the truck, and even the driver’s cell phone, Microsoft and non-Microsoft platforms alike. The licenses are free or

‘RAND’ (Reasonable and non-discriminatory) with development tools available at low cost, and a huge body of trained and ready programmers. What is most interesting is that .NET makes simple, user-friendly Visual Basic a full fledged networked, embedded system programming tool. This opens the environment of Blue-Collar Telematics to subject-matter experts, people who really understand cement trucks and diaper cleaning, electric meter reading and vending machine stocking. Getting this expertise closer to the system development will be the way the thousands of niched application will be developed with great payback that will cause their broad adoption.

Adam Smith Would be Excited About the Future of Telematics
Fleet after fleet has seen the benefits and adapted Telematics in one form or the other. Where will it end? The need for technology to optimize delivery of newspapers by the local newspaper boy is self-evident. For optimal and even viable operation, the papers must be managed deliberately and efficiently, by necessity. The papers have to be counted and managed so that the final product gets to the consumer dry and current, despite adverse weather conditions. The paperboy’s location has to be tracked, and mechanisms have to be implemented to ensure he’s not playing hooky on the job or getting too tired from extended cycling. Nourishment has to be provided at regular intervals to match the exercise with the power to exercise. Peak loads in cycling should be defused for longevity in the route. Is this really so far out? What if that paper boy carries a GPS equipped phone with PDA processing power? If some paper route operator is interested, Applied Data is ready. Embedded providers, such as Applied Data Systems, lead a bevy of technology companies that provide the keys to a comprehensive Telematics solution: from ruggedized power management to minimized power-draw, from I/O that covers for all critical devices to the User-Interface to maximize a driver’s capability. ADS did a solar car already, why not a delivery boy on a bike? Adam Smith may not have foreseen the proliferation of Telematics in the 21st century, but he would certainly be pleased with the ‘drive’ for economy.

Lawrence (Larry) Ricci is a Microsoft MVP retained by Applied Data Systems for business development. He can be reached at 301 490 4007 x125 or lricci@applieddata.net Fred Salloum is director of marketing at Applied Data Systems. He can be reached at 301 490 4007 x 113 or fsalloum@applieddata.net. For over a decade, Applied Data Systems is a leading provider of single-board, RISC based systems located at 9140 Guilford Road, Columbia MD, 21046 or www.applieddata.net

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