GPSIII (pictured) has an accuracy of around 1-3 metres, but with real-time kinematic (RTK)  technology, this can be slashed to centimetres or even millimetres (photo: US Government)

While Hong Kong may not be ready for autonomous driving in the near future, the ultra-high-definition satellite positioning technology behind it already has mass market application in creating a more sustainable logistics fleet. The commercial sector is waking up to the benefits of cost control and resources deployment that smart positioning brings.

Cherry Cheung, chief operating officer of ORBiz International, checks the precise location of a Hong Kong fleet

Cherry Cheung, chief operating officer of Internet-of-things (IoT) platform provider ORBiz International Limited, says the firm uses real-time kinematic (RTK) positioning, a satellite navigation technique, to boost the precision of position data derived from satellite-based positioning systems.

RTK can enhance typical Global Positioning System (GPS) or Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) accuracy to within centimetres or millimetres, something of great interest in Hong Kong where satellite positions can frequently “bounce” from the crowded buildings and skies.

“The technology has a broad range of civilian uses and is especially relevant for the logistics, mass transport and construction sectors,” Cheung says.

“To put it simply, the ‘positioning’ technology can be effectively applied to moving objects, and that is why it is popularly deployed in fleet management.”

Airport vehicles need very precise tracking

Positioning tracking works with sensors installed in a moving object, for instance a truck in a logistics company. Fleet managers track the route and time taken for each journey, along with idle time, detours, traffic jams and so on. It is often seen as a management tool to monitor staff, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

“In the bigger picture, it has a lot to do with sustainability and workflow enhancement,” says Cheung. “This is about big data collection. When [accurate] data is collected over the months, it is often insightful for companies to perform quarterly analyses: Are certain routes consuming more fuel per kilometre? How do different truck models perform over different routes/terrains/driving patterns? Such big data is very useful especially for big fleets with several hundred or even thousand vehicles.”

In addition to fuel efficiency, tracking is also used to help companies set efficient and cost-saving maintenance goals. “Every truck comes with a service schedule – say, an engine oil change every 10,000 kilometres or every six months. But vehicles driven over different terrain or given different uses (heavily loaded at construction sites, for instance) would differ in their actual needs.”

Cherry Cheung says fleets can safe 20-30% in fuel and maintenance costs

Cheung explains that a “heavily used” truck would benefit from a more frequent oil change. One that regularly negotiates the hilly roads of Mid-levels would need more vigilance with its brakes and suspension, while a vehicle coasting on the flat or mostly idle can enjoy a longer service break. And realistically, Cheung says, this adds up to serious fuel and cost savings: “That can add up to a cost saving of 20-30% for some fleet managers.”

RTK positioning is not limited to fleets but also used by construction companies to track their machinery, such as backhoes, bulldozers and cranes. This is not so much for efficient deployment, but covering security concerns, such as theft – and typhoons. “There were cases when these machines were blown from their original positions during typhoons,” says Cheung. “And for road safety too. Such vehicles can be hazards on the road if unmanned or not located at where they were meant to be. For this purpose, what we do is to install a geo-fencing feature – that’s to build a ‘fence’ within which the vehicle is supposed to operate. Once it leaves the fence, an alert will be sent to the managers.”

As the technology gets more popular, its price may drop. For Cheung, wider acceptance would bring even safer roads if the smart system can detect driver fatigue. “The technology is already here,” she says. “We can have sensors installed on board the vehicle to detect the driver’s eye motion. An alert will be sent to the driver and to the office once fatigue is detected. But the cost is high and our clients have not yet gotten to try.”

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