A Brief History Of GPS Vehicle Tracking


Fleet managers know the power of accurate information: Whether they are concerned with theft prevention, vehicle logistics, improved efficiencies or simply correcting driver behavior, data is the key to making sound decisions in the field. Today, that data comes from GPS fleet tracking systems. A closer look at the history of GPS tracking devices can show how beneficial they are to your fleet.

GPS Technology — Not a Recent Development

The history of vehicle tracking dates to the beginning of GPS technology in 1978, when the experimental Block-I GPS satellite was launched into space. Manufactured by Rockwell International, this system was a successful test; and by the end of 1985, 10 more Block-I satellites were launched to further validate the concept.

In the early years, the technology was not yet operational, due to an insufficient number of satellites orbiting the earth. On Jan. 17, 1994, after years of gradual growth, the final of the first 24 satellites was launched, and the GPS system was considered fully operational. Today, fleet tracking taps into this same technology.

The Public Catches On

Early GPS technology was designed primarily for use by the military. The uses for the military were clear in the 1980s and 1990s, but public interest in GPS technology was minimal. In 1996, President Bill Clinton determined that the system would be an asset to civilians as well as the military, and issued a policy directive that would require the creation of a dual-use system benefitting the everyday user.

This policy change made GPS technology available to the average individual, including fleet managers, who could see the benefit of using the technology to keep tabs on their vehicles.

In the 1990s, further modifications were made to GPS technology. These included policy and accessibility changes. In 2006, the last GPS satellite was launched.

GPS and the Fleet

In the early days of fleet tracking, in order to properly track a fleet, each vehicle had to be enabled with a costly GPS device. The company was required to pay a typically high monthly fee to use the satellite tracking system. While helpful, these early systems were difficult to implement, costly to use and sometimes inconvenient for drivers and fleet management alike. Thus it took several years for the concept to catch on. In the earliest days, only large, wealthy fleets took advantage of the technology.

The basic concept of fleet tracking has not changed since its inception. A GPS tracking system uses the Global Navigation Satellite System network. This network incorporates a range of satellites that use microwave signals that are transmitted to GPS devices to give information on location, vehicle speed, time and direction. Essentially, a GPS tracking system can potentially give both real-time and historic navigation data on any equipped vehicle. GPS provides special satellite signals, which are processed by a receiver. These GPS receivers not only track the exact location but can also compute velocity and time.

Fleet tracking has been embraced by both fleet managers and the drivers they hire. This technology provides accountability and protection to both parties, helping drivers do their jobs better and providing fleet managers with accurate information about fleet vehicles.

Modern GPS Vehicle Tracking (And a Look at the Future)

The modern fleet tracking system provides the necessary data to fleet managers allowing them to run their operations more efficiently. Reports on driver behavior, vehicle performance and fuel use all make it easier for the fleet manager to cut costs and increase efficiencies. These systems go beyond simple reporting of each vehicle’s location, offering fleet managers a wealth of information about their vehicles and their drivers.

Today, fleet managers have a number of fleet tracking technologies they can use. These include:

  • Cellular Tracking — Cellular tracking taps into the growing cellular network to provide GPS data in real time.
  • Satellite Tracking — Ideal for fleets that regularly travel outside of cellular coverage. Satellite tracking uses traditional GPS satellites to track vehicles. Real-time satellite tracking is possible.
  • Passive Tracking — Whether it be satellite or cellular based, passive tracking provides periodic location updates rather than real-time tracking data to help with asset management and vehicle tracking.

These three options show the clear evolution of the technology to the point that it now can accommodate fleets of all types and sizes. Today, GPS tracking is increasingly efficient, able to provide data in real time and able to be used on mobile devices for tracking on the go. Fleet management professionals can have as little or as much tracking data as they want at their fingertips, making it a viable option for small fleets as well as large corporations.

In December 2015, a new option for the modern fleet tracking system became necessary when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a ruling that will require all commercial vehicles to maintain electronic logs instead of paper logs. According to the mandate, electronic logging devices will have to replace paper record-of-duty logs in trucks by Dec. 16, 2017. Because electronic logging capabilities are built into most modern fleet tracking systems,
this new mandate is expected to increase the use of GPS fleet tracking systems among fleets that are not currently using the technology.

What does the future of fleet tracking hold? Only time will tell, but based on its current evolution, we can expect to see an increased demand for accuracy, more data to track and improved mobile capabilities. If you are ready to embrace fleet tracking or if you need help ensuring that your fleet is operating in line with the FMCSA mandate, contact Track Your Truck to discuss your options. Our simple-to-use fleet tracking systems will make it easy for you to be compliant while offering all the benefits of GPS fleet tracking.

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