We receive lots of inquiries about developing apps that work like Uber. But not everyone who wants something Uber-like is looking to build a taxi app. Transportation is a huge market that’s increasingly embracing mobile and web apps. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the logistics industry is heavily investing in mobile technology by creating applications for smartphones and big screens.
Tapping into these tools helps logistics companies improve productivity, reduce costs, and increase customer satisfaction, which means a better chance of acquiring new customers and holding onto existing customers in an extremely competitive market.
So what exactly can a web or mobile app for a transportation service do to make all these magical things happen? Let’s shed some light on some of the most important features of a logistics app — location tracking, traffic information, fleet management, and asset tracking and management — that help logistics companies significantly improve their business processes and increase their overall business performance.
Location tracking can solve several problems. First, you can easily monitor a truck’s location and predict whether it will be on time. Second, in case a truck breaks down, a dispatcher can see where the breakdown happened and find the nearest service center.
In the past, in case of a breakdown a driver called a dispatcher or road breakdown department, which searched for the nearest mechanic that sent a service truck. Now, location tracking helps to facilitate communication and avoid financial losses due to delay.
So the first step in transportation mobile app development is enabling location tracking. There are two types of vehicle location tracking — passive and active. In the past, the logistics industry mainly used passive devices. But data can only be downloaded from them after a vehicle returns to a predetermined point. Now the industry is using active tracking devices that can transfer information in real time. Active tracking comes in two types: cellular and satellite.
[This is how location tracking works]
Cellular tracking relies on cellular network coverage and therefore is typically used in cities, where connectivity is better. In this case, a mobile device transmits vehicle location coordinates to a server via a cellular network, enabling real-time location tracking. When the network is unavailable, data is stored on the device and is transmitted later when the network becomes available again.
To do satellite tracking, you can either equip a vehicle with a GPS tracker or use a driver’s mobile device. GPS trackers are receivers that collect location data from satellites and communicate it to servers using a mobile network, radio, or even a satellite modem that establishes a communication channel if the vehicle is also equipped with satellite antennas and frequency converters
In fact, location information isn’t the only data that GPS tracking devices can capture. Other vehicle information that can be collected includes the fuel level, engine temperature, altitude, tire pressure, battery status, and network coverage status.
Data stored on the server can be accessed from a mobile app with two types of user interfaces — one for drivers and the other for dispatchers. This way dispatchers can get accurate information about real-time vehicle locations, carriers can better project their actual arrival times, and the service as a whole can be improved.
DHL Cargo Mobile Tracking, an app owned by leading logistics provider DHL, lets users track cargo. Along with tracking shipments in real time, the app also provides detailed shipping history for the past six months and a location finder that shows the nearest DHL Global Forwarding office and its contact details.
Another important feature to include while logistics app development is geofencing. A geofence is basically a perimeter around a location on the map. In our case, this location may be a carrier’s destination. In order to mark it, you need to specify the latitude and longitude and add a radius to adjust the proximity to the location.
Read also: How to Develop an Uber-like Trucking App
When integrated into a mobile application, geofencing shows when a user has entered or exited a given area, or geofence. This provides dispatchers with the possibility to automatically confirm an appointment once a truck reaches a certain point and enables a shipping company to effectively monitor deliveries. Geofencing can also be used for security purpose to prevent unauthorized vehicle movement.
[Google's geofencing API]
Read the Android documentation for more information about geofencing functionality. iOS has a similar Region Monitoring functionality that’s used to determine entry into and exit from known geographic locations.
Traffic information and route optimization
Time is money. This is especially true for logistics, where the timely arrival of cargo is of great importance. Previously, truck drivers had no ability to trace or predict traffic on the road. As a result, getting stuck in traffic jams was a common cause of shipment delays and financial losses.
With the help of traffic information, truck drivers can build the fastest possible routes to their destinations by avoiding traffic jams.
Traffic data can be easily accessed via Google Maps. In order to provide useful real-time traffic information in Google Maps, Google bought a company called Zipdash back in 2004. This is how Google Traffic service, a feature in Google Maps, appeared. Google Traffic displays real-time conditions on major roads and highways in over 50 countries.
To access this feature, select Traffic from a drop-down menu in Google Maps and look at the colored overlay. Green shows that traffic is moving at a normal speed, yellow indicates slower traffic conditions, and red shows the slowest speeds. Gray means there’s no data available. You can also check traffic conditions while viewing directions.
Drivers can access both real-time traffic information and historical data that shows typical traffic for a particular area based on the time and day of the week. Google Traffic also displays traffic incidents such as construction, accidents, and road closures.
[Traffic information in Google Maps]
So how does Google get all of this traffic data?
Until 2009, Google mainly relied on road sensors for traffic condition data. It contacted private data providers and transport departments to get traffic information. In 2009, Google started using more accurate crowdsourced traffic data.
When a user chooses to enable Google Maps with My Location, their phone sends anonymous bits of data back to Google describing how fast the user is moving. Google combines the user’s speed with the speed of other phones on the road. With thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time, Google can get a pretty good picture of live traffic conditions. Google continuously combines this data and sends crowdsourced traffic back to users for free in the Google Maps traffic layers.
Speed patterns and location data are collected from a driver’s phone by default. However, users can opt out in the settings if they prefer not to share location information with Google.
Traffic information became more accurate after Google acquired the Waze app in 2013. Waze users feed information about accidents and traffic jams on their routes into the app, which Google can use to improve the navigation experience.
You can create your own navigation app that crowdsources GPS data from users to generate a live traffic feed or include this feature in your transportation app.
The Trucker Path app, for example, facilitates improved productivity for all parties involved in freight transportation. Carriers can find out where their trucks are, shipping firms can move cargo, and both can get up-to-the-minute info about traffic conditions. The information that Trucker Path provides is crowdsourced and includes details on the nearest truck stops, rest areas, and weigh stations (with addresses), current weather conditions, directions, and map views. Trucker Path provides information about every highway patrol weigh station in the US.
[The Trucker Path app]
Finding the fuel station with the best value for the money
The price of fuel has a major impact on the price of logistics services. That’s why choosing the gas station with the cheapest fuel can cut costs for transportation. This is especially significant for shipping companies, since high prices for transportation can cause customers to search for cheaper options.
Typically, drivers fuel up trucks before trips. But there’s a high probability that a driver will need to refuel during a trip. When driving in unknown areas and running low on fuel, a truck driver may simply go to the nearest gas station. But with the help of modern technology, drivers can search for the cheapest gas stations in the area and cut down on the company’s expenses, decreasing the cost of shipping for customers.
GasBuddy is an app that lets drivers not only search for gas stations near them but also pay for fuel and track fuel consumption. It has a large database of more than 150,000 gas stations across the USA. GasBuddy not only shows the locations of gas stations on the map but also provides information on gas prices and special offers for drivers. GasBuddy makes it possible for drivers to choose the best price and cut costs on fuel.
[The GasBuddy app]
GasBuddy provide developers with an API so that you don’t need to waste time creating your own database of gas stations.
Other than tracking location and getting traffic info, a service engaged in freight transportation can improve fleet performance by making use of mobile fleet management tools.
This is also a good way to fight the wear and tear on vehicles. You can’t avoid it, but with the help of fleet management tools you can immediately define critical situations and prevent serious accidents and breakdowns. For instance, drivers who can’t meet deadlines may rush to get to their destinations. But harsh acceleration and aggressive braking will strain a vehicle.
What’s more, fleet drivers don’t need to waste their time on routine paperwork. Dashboards in fleet management tools gather data, form this data into reports, and shows it to you. GPS fleet tracking solutions can also allow you to see the approximate amount of fuel used by each vehicle.
This is exactly what the mobile app KeepTruckin does. The KeepTruckin fleet management platform lets drivers log driving time using smartphones. Fleet managers can view logs submitted by drivers in real time and can also see drivers’ current locations on the map.
[The Keep Truckin app]
Electronic logs help KeepTruckin automatically detect hours of service violations and alert drivers if they’re at risk of getting one. The app also tracks vehicle inspections, allowing drivers to select problems with their rigs from a list of options, mark them as corrected, and have a mechanic sign off on them. KeepTruckin automates fleet management, effectively changing the way shipping companies manage their fleets.
Asset tracking and management
Asset tracking and management are essential for logistics startups and companies providing logistics solutions, as they need to manage their inventory (trucking equipment, load carrying units, and the cargo itself). If you can track a vehicle, you can also track a trailer independent of the cab used to pull it. Combining vehicle location with inventory management can help reconcile which item is currently on which vehicle. This way you can identify physical location down to the level of individual packages.
Implementing this feature helps build trust between customers and logistics companies. At any time, a user can check the location, condition, and security of their shipment. Supply chain visibility is a competitive advantage for any logistics company.
There are several ways in which inventory management can be implemented. One is with unique QR codes to identify each individual asset, which a user can scan with their mobile device. In order to read QR Codes, the user needs to open a scanner app on their smartphone, hold it over the QR code, and wait for the phone to analyze and react to the code. The DHL ActiveTracing app by DHL Freight, for example, has a barcode scanning function that eliminates the need for workers to key in long track and trace numbers.
The other way of managing inventory is with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and near-field communication (NFC) tags. NFC is a specialized type of RFID technology.
RFID tags contain an antenna and a memory chip that stores data that can be accessed via an RFID reader. There are two types of RFID tags: active and passive. The main difference between them is their read range, which depends on the strength of the radio waves that power the tag.
Passive RFID tags have a limited read range of up to 25 meters since they don’t have their own power sources. Instead, they’re powered by electromagnetic energy transmitted from the RFID reader itself. Active RFID tags, on the other hand, contain their own power sources and can broadcast with a read range of up to 100 meters, which is perfect for the logistics industry.
In comparison with NFC technology, RFID is a one-way communication system, which means data can only flow from tag to reader. On the other hand, NFC can be set up for one- or two-way communication, which means you can simply overwrite the information currently on the tag with new information. However, NFC tags have a maximum range of only about 4 inches (10 centimeters).
With an NFC tag, all the user needs to do is wave their phone near the tag without having to open the app. The data on these tags can contain commands, such as to open a specific mobile application. In this case, information is transferred instantly.
Another convenient option for managing inventory is using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons. BLE or Bluetooth Smart is a indoor network technology that provides accurate object location data inside buildings without consuming much energy. Installing beacons is more expensive than RFID tagging but provides more accurate data about asset locations.
[Asset location tracking. Source: lighthouse.io]
Small beacons can be mounted to permanent fixtures and assets. When a tagged asset is nearby, the BLE receiver broadcasts this information back to a cloud service via Wi-Fi or a cellular network.
Thanks to beacons, you can easily track and locate assets in big warehouses. The distance between beacons can vary depending on technical characteristics of a device, and can exceed 150 meters.
Driver check-in and check-out
Traditionally, to enter or leave a warehouse, a driver should manually fill in a gate pass, which is a document containing the load details. This measure is required to secure outbound transactions and ensure a smarter way of managing and keeping track of inventory. It goes without saying that registering all these items can be time-consuming, however, especially when it comes to long lists of products. With the help of solutions available on the market, truck drivers can register their loads and get in and out of warehouses much faster.
[The Amazon Relay app]
Take Amazon Relay, released back in 2017, as an example. Before picking up or dropping off at facilitates, Amazon drivers enter cargo information in the Amazon Relay app and get a special gate pass, a QR code containing all cargo data, that allows them to enter an Amazon warehouse. This approach mitigates long queues during check-in and check-out and saves drivers a lot of time.
The increasing incidence of hacking at logistics companies nationwide makes companies pay special attention to security. Protecting personal information of customers is especially critical for shippers.
We recommend switching to a transport management system (TMS). To build a TMS, you should choose a reliable technical partner who has expertise in data encryption and can build highly secure applications. For web apps, you should also consider purchasing an SSL certificate.
Developing logistics software will allow you to make your service far more effective. Mobile apps can help you simplify work, lower expenses, and improve sales. Sounds like an excellent deal, doesn’t it?
If you want to face the heat of competition fully equipped, you should be looking to invest in transportation software. Write us if you have any questions on how to create an Uber for logistics app.