In transport and logistics, there are select technologies which are considered to be cornerstones of the industry. Without the practicality of which, it would be difficult to function let alone achieve high standards of productivity.

Especially in today’s environmental context, fleet fuel efficiency is a collective requirement for commercial vehicle fleets. However, the only way to attain such efficiency is by adopting a fleet tracking solution. The principal form of technology which fundamentally facilitates these are GPS systems. 

But, in order to get the most out of GPS technology for your fleet, it helps to inform yourself on the numerous details and features which comprise it. And so, for this reason, we’ve put together this piece to answer: what is GPS and how does it work?

What is GPS Technology?

The Global Positioning System, most commonly referred to as GPS, is a satellite-based navigation system which provides users with the ability to determine location and track movement anywhere in the world.

GPS consists of three segments that interface with one another to produce information. These refer firstly to a constellation of 24 or more satellites that orbit the Earth and transmit signals containing geographical position and time of day data. Secondly, to a control segment consisting of monitoring stations, a master control station, as well as ground antennas distributed across our continents. And lastly, to user equipment that includes receivers which capture satellite signals and thereby enable devices such as smartphones to calculate accurate positions.

How does GPS Technology Work?

GPS works by using a technique called trilateration. Trilateration is where a GPS receiver calculates its position by measuring the time it takes for signals to travel from multiple satellites orbiting the Earth. These satellites send signals which are then received and interpreted by a GPS device at a receiver's location.

Trilateration involves comparing the time differences between signals received from various satellites. This comparison allows the receiver to gauge the distance between itself and each individual satellite. To achieve accurate positioning, the receiver needs information on distance from at least four satellites, given that a single satellite can only provide the receiver with its distance relative to that particular one.

Therefore, by combining the distance data from multiple satellites, a receiver is capable of precisely calculating its three-dimensional position - i.e., with reference to latitude, longitude, and altitude - alongside determining the exact time.

Finally, it should be noted that as a GPS device moves, the distance to the satellites changes. With these changing distances, new spheres of potential locations are generated. By analysing these spheres and considering the time data received from the satellites, it’s not only possible to determine the device's position but also calculate its velocity. Consequently, from here, estimated times of arrival (ETA) for destinations can be predicted, an evidently important factor in fleet management.

The History of GPS

The idea of using satellites for navigation first arose in The Soviet Union. Thereafter, the U.S Department of Defense began development of GPS for military purposes.

Despite its space-age and military history, GPS was quickly recognised for its potential in regard to civilian application, and so it was eventually made publicly available in 1983. In the 21st century, advancements in technology gave rise to generally better receivers, ultimately making GPS more usable within consumer devices and whole branches of industry such as fleet management.

Currently, it’s easy to see that GPS is now a part of our daily lives. Yet, while this timeline is certainly helpful, it should be mentioned that other countries have also created their own satellite navigation systems, those which make up the GNSS network.

What is GPS Used For?

GPS use cases fall into five main categories. Namely, to determine the geographical coordinates of a certain position (location), to aid in getting from one place to another via directions and routes (navigation), to monitor the movement of objects, vehicles, or people in real-time (tracking), to create detailed geographical representations of areas (mapping), and to take accurate time measurements (timing).

More specifically, GPS usage is often found in emergency response teams during rescue operations, weather applications for location-specific forecasting, health and fitness applications to track outdoor activities, and of course, the logistics departments of transportation companies who manage vehicle fleets.

GPS in Fleet Management Solutions

As mentioned, GPS vehicle tracking solutions are singularly useful in fleet management and have been exercised for decades. This is because it is a fleet manager’s responsibility to know where each of their vehicles are at any given time. Reason being, that this information essentially equates to actionable insights concerning optimised route planning.

The chosen routes for commercial vehicles underpin how efficient the fleet as a whole is. Further meaning, that it’s in the best interests of the fleet manager to be able to discern which routes take the shortest amount of time, while also being able to make adjustments for weather and traffic in order to cut down on idling.

However, GPS usage in fleet management is not only important for the implied cost reductions and time savings, it is also a matter relating to environmental impact. Selecting the most efficient routes is a primary method to reduce your fleet’s CO2 emissions. As a result, instead of just increasing productivity, GPS usage intrinsically makes the fleet management industry more sustainable.

It’s for this reason why we at MICHELIN Connected Fleet have developed GPS-driven fleet management solutions that bring all of these benefits to fleets by way of a cloud-based dashboard. Our effective services and solutions constitute a leading interface between purpose-built software, professional services and hardware which makes fleets more efficient, safe, environmentally-friendly, and competitive. If you’re interested in how we can improve your fleet with GPS, then be sure to make an enquiry into our services today. For further reading, feel free to browse our resources center.