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Better and Smarter

Routing and mapping software is a mature product, in use by 90% of American carriers, according to one vendor. Yet there is still room to improve the resolution of the maps, update route information a...

Routing and mapping software is a mature product, in use by 90% of American carriers, according to one vendor. Yet there is still room to improve the resolution of the maps, update route information and, thanks to advances elsewhere, tie the software to newer technologies like truck GPS systems and wireless communications systems.

ProMiles Canada now has street-level mapping for about 32,000 Canadian cities and towns in its ProMiles XF (extended feature) package, something truckers and dispatchers badly want, according to company president Mark Bowie. “This is the first time we have had Canadian street mapping of any kind. Before it was just highways and major arteries. But now you can look up street addresses.

“We started late in the game with Canadian content, but because we started late, there was more data available. I’m pretty sure ProMiles is the first company to use postal codes as routing points. This is why we are so popular with Canadian finance departments, which use us as an auditing tool.”

The spring 2004 release of ProMiles XF will be even more detailed, with, for example, information on amenities, which is hard to get for Canada, according to Bowie. “In general there will be more of everything; e.g., more specific services available to truckers on the road in Canada and the US.”

Street-level routing in Canada is perhaps a year away. “We want to get to the point where we can actually track truck routes on streets,” says Bowie. The software would exclude streets that are not passable by trucks.

ProMiles also sees more integration of its software with truck hardware. “A lot of owner-operators and trucks are equipped with GPS [global positioning system] tracking equipment. We would like to tie that into our program or tie our program into truck hardware,” says Bowie. The future will also bring more reporting on services available at truck stops.

On the mapping side, the granularity of the data; e.g., churches and schools, zip codes and new streets, is getting better and better, according to Bill Ashburn, vice president of Prophesy Transportation Solutions, which markets FuelLogic, a fuel optimization and mileage and routing product. “[We are] adding bridge heights, low underpass information, commercial vehicle information, speed changes, toll road changes and seasonal closure information.”

As for integration with other products and technologies, which Prophesy has always emphasized, Ashburn says, “The new things the software is being integrated with is telecommunications systems like Qualcomm, an application where a Nextel provider phone will be able to access routing and mileage information. Users will key in origin and destination point zip codes and the device will be able to return detailed but easy to read, leg-by-leg driving instructions you can scroll up through. Every leg is a relatively short instruction set.” Users with a Nextel account will be able to sign up for this service, which will be ready in about late 2004.

Rand McNally, which markets a suite of routing software products called IntelliRoute, announced several enhancements to its mapping and routing solutions last fall. They provide fleet managers even more accurate and cost-effective routing information, according to Alan Yefsky, vice president of finance. “We added more than 200,000 updates to the National Highway Network in November to our IntelliRoute software. These extensive upgrades, which include new mileage functionality, aim to more accurately calculate driver pay, audit tax records and driver logs, and confirm bills of lading, helping fleets improve their overall return on investment.

“We also updated our widely used RouteTools Professional Driver Edition software in October with more than 200,000 data updates for Quickest Routes to the North American Highway Network. With more accurate routing information, truck drivers potentially can travel more safely and realize more cost savings, improving overall profits for the fleet.”

Princeton, NJ-based ALK Technologies, Inc. quadrupled the size of its map database five years ago when it added a full street-level database to PC*Miler, its routing, mileage and mapping software solution. Since the end of 2003, thanks to wireless communication, drivers can easily tap into that database from the truck cab with the push of a button on their wireless computer that tells it that they need directions.

“This gives the driver the ability to say ‘I need directions’ and get directions without any input at all from the driver. This really interacts with the truck management software to pull out the next destination and utilize that information,” says ALK director of sales Dave Scowby.

Also since the end of 2003 ALK Technologies began hosting a Web site that makes available to companies an on-line database of HAZMAT road restrictions, to which the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has standardized. It gives companies the ability to generate routes that avoid HAZMAT-restricted roads.

An advance related to the directions button is CoPilot Truck, which, says Scowby, “gives the driver the ability to verbally receive detailed driving instructions using the truck GPS. This is the next generation of ALK.”

Ed Siciliano, vice president of sales and marketing, illustrates how CoPilot Truck, which has been available for about a year, works. “It uses turn-by-turn verbal instructions. In the truck version it lets the driver know well in advance of, for example, an exit, that he should switch into the right lane. CoPilot is dynamic. If you make a wrong turn it will put you back in route.” Because drivers rely on voice prompts to follow their route, rather than look at their dashboard screens, it improves road safety.

ALK was also slated to bring out an accurate toll database at the end of January, 2004. “A lot of companies do not have their arms wrapped around [this] cost. You will be able to enter origin and destination and get an accurate dollar amount of the tolls,” says Siciliano. Scowby believes this feature will improve companies’ managing of the routing arm of their business. “How efficient is it to route[trucks] over toll roads versus non-toll roads? It enables better routing and cost estimation than they can do today.”

A PC*Miler feature that is not new, but which carriers have been using more as border crossings delays have increased, is called the via point. By designating a stop, with the amount of time the user thinks they will be there, as a via point, Scowby says, “Customers are discovering they can accommodate the delay they experience at border crossings.”

Version 18 of PC*Miler, due out in April, 2004, will contain census data ALK Technologies has licenced from Statistics Canada; e.g., road restrictions and truck restrictions across Canada. “We added a street-level network to what was already a huge Canadian network,” says Scowby.

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