Which Technologies Power Logistics App Development

We receive lots of inquiries about developing apps that work like Uber. That doesn't necessarily mean that everyone who wants something "Uber-like" is looking to build a taxi app. Transportation is a huge market that is currently embracing mobile apps at a growing rate. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the logistics industry is one industry investing in mobile technology by creating applications for smartphones.

Tapping into these tools helps logistics companies improve productivity, reduce costs, and increase customer satisfaction. This means a better chance at acquiring new customers and holding onto old ones in an extremely competitive market environment.

So what exactly can a mobile app for a transportation service do to let all those magic things happen? Let’s shed some light on at least a few of these app's main functions. They include location tracking, traffic information, fleet management, asset tracking and management.


Tracking Location

There are two types of vehicle location tracking — cellular and satellite. The former relies on cellular network coverage and therefore is typically used in cities, where connectivity is better. A mobile device transmits vehicle location coordinates to the server via a cellular network enabling real-time location tracking. When the network is unavailable, data is stored on the device’s memory and will be transmitted later, when the network becomes available again.

In order to do satellite tracking, you can either equip a vehicle with a GPS tracker or use the driver’s mobile device. GPS trackers are receivers that collect location data from a satellite and communicate it to a server 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 is not the only data GPS tracking devices can capture. Other vehicle information that can be collected includes the amount of fuel (check a truck fuel efficiency guide), the temperature of engine, altitude, tire pressure, battery status, network coverage status, and a lot more.

Data stored on the server can be accessed from a mobile app with two types of user interface — one for the driver and the other for the dispatcher. This way dispatchers get more accurate information about the real-time vehicle locations, carriers can better project their actual arrival times, and service as a whole benefits from optimization of the delivery network.

DHL Global Forwarding, an app owned by the leading logistics provider of the same name, gives users the ability to track cargo. Along with tracking shipments in real time, the app also provides a detailed shipping history of 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 when you develop an app for logistics services is geofencing. A geofence is basically a perimeter around a definite location point. The location point in our case may be a carrier’s destination point. In order to mark it you need to specify the latitude, the longitude and add a radius to adjust the proximity to the location.

When integrated in a mobile application, a geofencing feature shows when a user has entered or exited a given area or geofence. This feature provides a dispatcher with the possibility to automatically confirm an appointment once a truck moves to a certain distance and enables a shipping company to effectively monitor the process of delivery.

Geofencing can also be used for security purpose to prevent unauthorized vehicle movement.

Read Android documentation for more information about geofencing functionality. iOS has a similar Region Monitoring functionality which is used to determine entry and exit into known geographic locations.

tracking vehicle location technology

Traffic Information

Embedded GPS does more than just tracking. It can also analyze data on driving patterns, which can potentially improve driver safety. Traffic data can be accessed via Google or Yandex Maps (the latter being more applicable to the Eastern Europe market).

In order to complement Google Maps with useful real-time traffic information, Google had to buy 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.

In order to access this feature, you need to select «Traffic» from a drop-down menu on Google Maps and look at the colored overlay. Green represents that traffic is moving at a normal speed, yellow indicates slower traffic conditions, red — the slowest speeds, and gray means there is no data available. You can also check traffic conditions while viewing directions.

Drivers can access both real-time traffic info and historical data that shows typical traffic for a particular area based on the time of day and week. Google Traffic also displays «traffic incidents», such as construction, accidents, and road closures.

So how does Google get all of this traffic data?

There are two major sources. One is road sensors and the other one is drivers themselves. When you use Google Maps with GPS / location enabled, your phone sends your location data back to Google anonymously.

This data describes your driving speed, which in combination with the phones of other drivers, contributes to an overall picture of traffic conditions on the road. Speed patterns and location data is collected from your phone by default. However, you can «opt out» in the settings if you prefer not to share your location information with Google. Crowdsourced traffic data is considered to be less reliable, than sensor-based data though.

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 the parties involved in the freight transportation process. 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 Trucker Path provides is crowdsourced and includes details on the nearest truck stops, rest areas, weigh stations (with their addresses), phone numbers, current weather conditions, directions, and map views. Trucker Path provides information about every highway patrol weigh stations in the U.S.

traffic information

Fleet management

Other than tracking location and getting traffic info, a service engaged in freight transportation can improve its fleet performance by making use of mobile fleet management tools. This is exactly what the mobile app KeepTruckin does. This 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 those drivers' current location on the map.

Electronic logs help KeepTruckin automatically detect Hours of Service violations and alert drivers if they are at risk of getting one. The app also tracks vehicle inspection allowing drivers to select problems with their rig from a list of options, mark them as corrected and have a mechanic sign off on them. KeepTruckin automates the fleet management process, effectively changing the way shipping companies manage their fleets.

Keep Truckin fleet management platform

Asset Tracking and Management

Asset tracking and management is essential for shipping companies, as they need to manage their inventory in some way. By inventory I mean trucking equipment, load carrying units, and the cargo itself. If you can track a vehicle, you can also track a trailer independently of the cab used to drive it. The combination of vehicle location with inventory management is used to reconcile which item is currently on which vehicle. This way you can identify physical location down to the level of individual packages.

There are two ways in which inventory management can be implemented. One is a unique QR Code used 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 barcode scanning functionality which eliminates the need for their workers to key in long track and trace numbers.

The other way is a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag and near field communication (NFC) tag. NFC is a specialized subset within the family 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. The read range 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 due to the fact that they do not have their own power source. Instead, they are powered by the electromagnetic energy transmitted from the RFID reader itself. Active RFID tags, on the other hand, contain their own power source and can therefore 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 the data can only flow from tags to the 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 and create new info. However, NFC tags can operate at a maximum range of about 4 inches (10 centimeters) only.

With an NFC tag all the user needs to do is wave their phone near the tag area without having to open the app. The data on these tags can contain commands for the device, such as opening a specific mobile application. In this case, information is transferred instantly.

Asset tracking and management

In summary, logistics app development 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 definitely be looking to invest in transportation mobile app development.

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