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February 2007
Experts voice

Bull, geolocation solutions integrator
Interview with Franck Potiez

Consultant in New Technologies, Franck has headed up the Mobile Enterprise team at Bull’s service center in Bordeaux for the past two years.

Working with a team of around a hundred engineers, he is responsible for creating mobility solutions for the Group’s entire customer base, both in France and internationally.

Technological advances in the mobility sector are opening up new horizons for applications aimed at all kinds of businesses and organizations. GSM, GPRS, Edge, 3G, HSDPA, etc., the state-of-the-art for mobility never ceases to evolve, with generations of mobile communications succeeding one another, networks extending ever further, and mobile terminals offering more and more technical capabilities.
Among these applications, geolocation is bringing some innovative solutions to a multitude of problems:

  • In the public transport sector: improved customer services, provision of dynamic time-tabling, passenger information
  • For local authorities: co-ordination and computerized tracking of refuse collection, vehicle tracking and management, improved staff working conditions
  • For businesses: optimized appointment scheduling for maintenance technicians, optimized routing and appointments for sales staff, itinerary calculation
  • For transport and logistics companies: route optimization, accurate prediction of arrival times for staff and goods
  • In the health sector: finding closest rescue and emergency vehicle locations for optimized incident response times
  • In banking and high-end industries: securing and tracking a journey trajectory, defining corridors through heavy traffic.

For businesses as for public services, these new applications can bring considerable benefits, whether for the purpose of safeguarding goods or people, improving productivity of certain functions, or even setting up new customer loyalty services. Both of these customer groups are therefore taking a closer look at how to implement and gain maximum benefit from geolocation solutions.

How does it work?

Geolocation systems usually depend on GPS (Global Positioning System) solutions. GPS is the most widely used, globally operational, satellite positioning system. The system identifies an object’s position on the ground so long as it is equipped with the hardware necessary to the system’s operation (sensors, emitters etc…). An alternative European civil system, Galileo, is currently under development.
GPS solutions are combined with mobile telephone technologies (GPRS, Internet), for secure data transmission of co-ordinates, speed, course, etc. to the company’s information system, where they can be accessed from workstations or mobile terminals.

The object being geo-located is fitted with a receiver or flag that can receive satellite signals, used to calculate the different localization parameters. Data is then transmitted in GPRS mode to the operator’s communication center, before being re-routed into the company’s information system. These transmissions can be triggered by particular events (break-in, etc.), initiated on demand or at defined intervals.
These technologies facilitate the supply of data to back-office fleet management, alarm analysis and response applications. Linked in with mapping tools, they then interface with the customer’s information system to consolidate the information gathered.
Today, various other technologies are being combined with geolocation applications, and as a result the potential applications for them are rapidly multiplying, as for example in mobile video monitoring or embedded systems.

Bull, geolocation solutions integrator

Implementing a geolocation system is a sizeable project in itself, with a significant technological element (mobility, telecoms, computing…).
Bull – as a professional systems integrator – employs a global approach that includes:

  • Definition, installation, and integration of the full technical solution and its component parts
  • Interface with information systems
  • Support and training services
  • Initial consulting and requirements definition
  • Change management support
  • Overall prime contractorship
  • Integration of GPS receivers and dedicated sensors
  • Provision of back-office applications
  • Specific development work on mobility
  • Interface with information systems, and processing embedded data
  • Multi-media publishing (passenger information)
  • Providing server infrastructure
  • On-site implementation and skills transfer
  • Hosting or ASP mode
  • Maintenance and technical support.


Bordeaux service center

Bull co-ordinates all these skills from its Bordeaux (France) service center, capitalizing on R&D investments made over the past decade in innovative projects for telecoms operators, and enterprise portal and mobility solutions such as geolocation, mobile workforce services and embedded video monitoring systems.

More and more practical applications for geolocation

Bull has designed and created a number of geolocation systems, and contributes to customers’ strategies to implement such systems within their organization, from the organizational, technical and software points of view. These applications include:

Route optimization: working for a cleaner city center

The transport sector is clearly concerned with route optimization, but so are local authorities, town and city councils. Bull has been chosen by a leading city council to put in place an experimental system for ‘geolocating’ the vehicles in their street cleaning fleet (rubbish collection trucks and road sweeping vehicles). The customer’s brief was to optimize the regular routes traveled, fulfilling existing security constraints, but providing elected representatives and citizens with a traceable result of the service provided.
Bull designed a complete geolocation solution including:

  • Vehicle position (course, speed, place) information uploading via GPRS, plus data concerning events on the ground (declaration of tags, bulky waste objects, diverse incidents…). Data is entered via an embedded touch-screen console, and then uploaded to the central control unit in real time. Here it will be interpreted and the relevant actions will be triggered. The solution also enables a vehicle’s exact journey to be recorded, so providing a traceable record of the service provided (place, time, nature of the intervention)
  • Specialized sensing equipment to monitor the weight of the truck, tachography, the presence of staff members on the step-hangers/running boards, to ensure that employee safety concerns are being met
  • Real-time navigation assistance: an essential help when replacement staff are unsure of the established route, or in the event of traffic problems.

Improved service quality at controlled cost for one passenger transport company

Real-time information about whether a bus is due to arrive early or late, or use a different route from usual, is of vital importance to passenger transport companies, and especially so in the event of an incident, as the company can warn other passengers of changes to the schedule and take corrective action. A major urban and inter-urban transport group has entrusted Bull with the job of developing a passenger assistance system that is operationally light, and based on geolocation technology. This solution includes installation of a command and control interface for uploading real-time information about routes, speed and locations, enabling dynamic calculation of early and late arrivals. This system is linked to a passenger information system. The advantage of using geolocation in this case is to be able to take advantage of ‘light’ technologies not requiring embedded systems that are often more costly, and so less accessible to medium-sized local authorities.

For one operator’s technical staff, optimization resulted in improvements to their quality of work
This operator sought to optimize its routing function for mobile technical staff by gaining access to more operational information, so as to be able to respond better to the needs of business customers or individual clients. For each customer request, the aim was to identify not only the nearest available technician, but also the one best qualified to solve the problem identified.
Bull has designed a wireless console-based geolocation solution, so technicians in their vehicles can interface, via GPS, with the operator’s mission management software.
Bull has also integrated within this project an alarm console used to guarantee the security of lone workers, called the PTI (Protection du Travailleur Isolé or lone worker protection system), linked to the vehicle’s GPS. In the event of a problem or sudden illness, the technician simply presses the alarm button on the console, the alarm is transmitted via the GPS to the staff member’s base location, which in turn identifies where the worker is and takes appropriate action.

An example of freight security and fraud prevention by customs and excise staff, or the way to transport goods from one place to another while guaranteeing the integrity of the load

The authorities are facing increasing incidence of fraudulent import and freight transit declarations. Bull has designed a satellite geolocation system linked to electronic security systems (RFID-type locks for containers, and optical cables for lorries carrying tarpaulin-covered loads). This type of installation will detect any unauthorized interference with the load and immediately transmit the information via satellite to the customer’s information system.

  

Emergency handling, or managing critical interventions in real time

The way incidents are managed is of crucial importance, whether in the health, security or fire and rescue services sectors. Geolocation is a key tool for these services. During forest fire fighting missions, for example, team coordination for the fire and rescue services is vastly improved by having access to accurate data about their positions in relation to the fire. And fighting the fire from above with aircraft is more effective and less wasteful when there is a precise target to aim at. During a fire-fighting operation, the fire services need detailed maps with key points of interest (water source points, fire hydrants, high-risk buildings such as chemical depots, etc). Part of this project is to deploy a system for updating this embedded mapping in the field. Uploading the ground information is best achieved via satellite (Irridium) since the GPRS network is often overloaded in the event of fire. 100% reliable links are absolutely indispensable in this situation.

Managing a vehicle fleet: geolocation is at the heart of the operation

Finally, the most commonly cited application for geolocation is vehicle fleet management, as it fulfills many of the most vital requirements of transport or car rental companies, and also of regional authorities. Geolocation can be deployed to:
Optimize a group of vehicles
Inform passengers, users or customers in real time
Re-route vehicles in the event of an incident, an emergency or a major public event
Anticipate vehicle maintenance…
For Bull, the real challenge presented by these systems is how the different components can be made to work together, and globally, how they integrate within the information system for optimum exploitation of data.

 

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