Taking the better road

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Like a scene from a spy thriller, the driver hauls himself up into the cab, pushing a briefcase ahead of him. Once seated he opens it up, flips up the lid of a laptop computer, jacks in a palm-sized global positioning (GPS) unit, yanks the cigarette lighter from the dash and plugs in the GPS power cord. Booted up, receiving satellite signals and eyeing a color map on the laptop showing each new turn ahead, he wheels out of a strange city with no hesitation.

This is what ALK Technologies, Inc. offers with its CoPilot Truck|Laptop 9, available since this spring. For about US$400 (laptop not included) a trucker can climb into any rig and, independent of any under-the-dash communications equipment, request the shortest, most efficient, or otherwise load and multi-stop-optimised route from point A to B. Laid out on a 3D map, it looks like it was shot from an altitude of about 800 metres.

ALK has combined its PC*MILER routing, mileage and mapping software and the GPS route-guidance of its CoPilot navigation technology, and added updates for hazardous commodities classified as general, caustic, explosives, flammable, inhalants and radioactive. A toll avoidance feature suggests alternate routes and is smart enough not to take the trucker further out of route than is economical.

If a driver goes off-route because of traffic, construction, accident or simply a missed turn, CoPilot Truck recalculates a route to get back on track.

“CoPilot Truck eases the hassle of driving a large truck in unfamiliar territory,” says Craig Fiander, ALK’s senior director, marketing. “The key benefit of this application is efficiency, reduction in out of route mileage, and increasing your revenues.”

The updated database includes 24,000 kilometres more road than the previous version, bringing the total to 1,233,600 kilometres of truck-specific roadway and 560,000 kilometres of truck restrictions, including 36,288 kilogram weight, 4.1 meters height, 2.6 metres width and 48- and 53-foot trailer length restrictions. It applies to Canadian and US map data, and the owner can buy an optional annual update. Although the base package is for the US, users can purchase a million kilometres of Canadian roadway and street-level map data as an add-on.

The database includes three million Points of Interest (POI) including truck stops, weigh stations, rest areas, fuel locations, and 31,000 exit numbers. More POIs can be imported into the system, accessed through the trip planning feature and overlain on the map.

The software also gives spoken directions in the driver’s choice of 10 different languages. And if hauling a laptop is just too gauche for today’s natty trucker, CoPilot Truck works with those little pocket PCs too.

In August Prophesy Transportation Solutions announced the release of EasyStreet, its first commercial street-level routing and mapping package, sold as an optional add-on to its Prophesy Mileage & Routing software.

Developed in partnership with navigational solutions provider Maptuit, EasyStreet has a completely new and highly-detailed map database. Instead of city-to-city routing, it offers commercial routing using origin and destination street addresses.

EasyStreet’s database resides on Maptuit servers and users are accessing what amounts to a living document through a password-protected Web browser. The company updates EasyStreet 24/7, with the help of 80,000 drivers who regularly provide feedback and notifications on road conditions.

“We can shut down a road in an instant if, say, we get a report that a bridge is washed out, then re-open it when it becomes available,” says Bill Ashburn, vice president, Prophesy. “What typically happens is that a dispatcher learns about a problem and alerts the driver. A driver can ask the dispatcher for a new route. To our knowledge nothing else exists like this today.”

Clients can customise their EasyStreet account by adding customers to their menu of addresses. The maps can also show nearby customers to a destination, with contact information for addresses, for potential backhauls.

EasyStreet gives on-demand driving directions. “If a driver is in a location and needs to get from, say, 123 Main, Connecticut to 456 Ren Lvesque, Montreal, the dispatcher simply keys in the two addresses. The system returns the narrative driving directions, miles between the two points, estimated driving time and the digital map,” Ashburn explains. “The goal is to provide, not only the estimated miles and driving times from A-B, a common use for paying a driver or setting a rate, but also to deliver safe, accurate, easy-to-follow commercial routing instructions.”

Information of interest to commercial drivers is included; e.g., avoiding dangerous intersections, low-traffic roads and low weight-limit bridges. EastStreet tends to avoid oddly-named streets, favour left turns and provide routes that are easy to follow. It also has data for 53-foot trailers, height and weight restrictions and more than 16,000 toll roads. Its full-color maps clearly show landmarks like schools, hospitals, railroads and bodies of water.

In November 2005 the ProMiles Software Development Corporation (PSDC) released ProMiles XF V.12 of its heavy-truck mileage and routing software which, among other updated features, included updates to zip and postal codes, the road database, road restrictions, HAZMAT restrictions, toll road fees, and the interface to ProMiles dispatch partners such as Maddocks, Tailwind, FreightLogix, and Axon. V.12 and the Owner/Operator version TruckMiles routing and mapping program also boasted GPS-compatibility.

Although ProMiles and TruckMiles reside on the users computer; i.e., the databases are frozen between updates, there is an exception for fuel pricing, explains ProMiles Canada president Mark Bowie. “When you build a route we consider all the fuel prices at stops along that route, your MPG, fuel capacity and starting fuel level in your tanks, and suggest the best places to buy fuel. Daily price updates via the Internet keep fuel prices current.”

In late 2006 or early 2007 PSDC will introduce street routing with the release of ProMiles XF V.13. “We have always had truck routing at higher levels and routing to major streets in Canada and the US. But when you get down to side streets, turn by turn, this is something we haven’t done yet,” Bowie says. “Currently you can look up a street address, but when you get to the corner of Yonge and Lawrence, say, V.12 does not give you routing directions to Wanless, two blocks away but the street is visible in our map.”

A truck’s current location will be displayed on the map as an icon: as the truck moves along, the icon will move along too; the map refresh rate is user-selected.

Like V.12, V.13 will be able to simultaneously project several routes; e.g., optimised for truck size, number of stops, material being hauled and the shortest route. V.13 will also answer the obligatory truck routing questions that keep truckers out of trouble. “We want to get the truck restrictions, time-of-day restrictions, truck routes through cities, one way streets, no right turn, no left turn, etc.,” Bowie says.

Although ProMiles XF V.12 cannot currently be used on a palm pilot, users can e-mail trips; e.g., pictures of a map, text, state or province breakout, to other computers, including palm pilots.

The company’s first venture into street routing will include major Canadian and US cities; PSDC will add more in future builds.

Carroll McCormick is an award- winning writer who has been covering transportation industry issues and technologies for more than a decade. He is based in Quebec.

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