GPS tracking solutions can be very beneficial for both individuals and businesses. However, choosing the right type of hardware can be a real hassle, especially if you’ve never done it before.
We have experience developing vehicle tracking software, and we’ve written this article to help you understand what the differences are between tracking devices and safely navigate the many choices on the market.
The first thing you should know is that there’s a difference between what you should be looking for when choosing a GPS tracker for personal use and for business use. This mostly has to do with the data you might want to monitor and pricing expectations. While for a personal GPS unit you might only be interested in navigation, geofences, and real-time map display, for instance, as a business owner you probably also want to monitor such things as fuel consumption, hours of inactivity, accident reports, and driver behavior.
Before buying a tracker, decide what you’re going to use it for.
- locate people and pets and track their movements in real time;
- locate vehicles and track real-time movements of a single vehicle or a whole fleet of vehicles to retrieve useful data and guard against theft;
- track the location of valuable possessions;
- monitor mileage and fuel consumption along with equipment and maintenance issues;
- monitor various aspects of driver behavior, including speed and driving patterns, aggressive maneuvers, hours of inactivity, and so on;
- get historical data on vehicle movements for a certain period of time along with a list of addresses a vehicle has been to (possibly animated on a map);
- set geofences (mark areas on the map and receive notifications whenever a tracker crosses the boundaries);
- receive notifications and status updates via SMS, email, or push notifications;
This list could easily go on – there are as many uses for GPS as there are individuals and businesses interested in it. An important thing to keep in mind is that GPS hardware manufacturers are usually rather flexible when it comes to producing devices. If there’s no solution on the market that fully meets your business’s needs – and especially if you’re looking to buy a large number of devices – it’s generally possible to have a device manufactured specifically for you.
GPS trackers come in many shapes and sizes, but there’s also a number of other characteristics that set them apart.
In terms of data retrieval and storage, there are three types of GPS trackers: loggers, pushers, and pullers.A GPS logger is the simplest of all. It logs a vehicle’s position at regular intervals and either saves that data to a memory card or built-in memory. This data can then be downloaded to a computer for further analysis in a variety of formats (GPX, KML, NMEA, etc.).
Data pushers, or GPS beacons, are the most common type of tracking hardware. They regularly send data about a device’s position and certain car metrics (e.g. speed, driving patterns, maneuvers, etc.) to a server, where the data is then stored and automatically analyzed. Typically, the end-user accesses this data that’s been sent to the server via software installed on a computer or (more often) on a mobile device.
Last but not least, there are data pullers, a.k.a. GPS transponders. Usually, these are always on and don’t send data on their own but can be queried whenever necessary.
In terms of size, trackers vary greatly. Smaller options work best for tracking people and animals, since they need to be carried around.
Such GPS tracking units are rather small, usually not exceeding 60 grams (~2 ounces) in weight. Devices for animals can either be made in the form of pet collars or attached directly to an animal. Being battery powered, such hardware can last anywhere from one to ten days, and some devices have interchangeable batteries. To make sure that animals are free to go anywhere while the device remains in working condition, manufactures have to make the hardware durable enough to survive temperatures all the way between -20°C to 55°C (-4°F and 131°F) and levels of humidity varying from 5% to 95%.
Bigger devices work well for tracking transportation units and large possessions (such as shipments or cargo) since they include more sensors and can hence provide better monitoring.
Pardon us for plugging a product so shamelessly, but we’re going to provide the technical specifications for a device we’ve actually worked with. Possio trackers, which are tailored for vehicle tracking, have the following characteristics:As for the power sources these devices run on, you can have hardware running on batteries or connected to the vehicle voltage. Devices of the first type are great when tracking needs to be portable or discreet, but also when it doesn’t have to go on for long stretches of time. Depending on battery type, such devices can work for a couple of days. With car-powered hardware, everything is simpler: a standard tracker will run for as long as the vehicle itself if running, and you can switch to the internal battery whenever necessary.
No matter what your final choice is, make sure that there’s a backup power plan available, be it a spare battery or an additional power source.
When it comes to discretion, there is an option to have a covert tracker. Although most devices already look like a simple dark-colored box, some can be specifically manufactured to mimic an everyday object. When choosing this option, please remember that staying within the law and making sure your employees or loved ones know that they’re monitored for safety and efficiency is always the best way of providing a healthy and trusting work and living environment.
We should also mention devices that can be plugged into a vehicle’s on-board diagnostic (OBD) port. It is this particular type of tracker that can, apart from location and movements, also monitor internal car systems, providing regular diagnostic updates and statistics on fuel consumption.
System complexity. There are some very complicated GPS tracking systems that need to be connected directly to a vehicle’s electrical system. If you don’t feel confident installing and maintaining a system like this yourself, it’s better to ask a professional do it for you. It could be a bit of a hassle but could help avoid many issues in the future.
Documentation. Before buying anything, you should make sure that there’s sufficient documentation of how to install and use the device to its full potential. Otherwise, you may end up having more problems than you did before implementing a GPS tracking solution.
Customer support. You really want to find a vendor that offers an easily accessible support system, preferably with an option to contact a real person. This way if anything does happen to either your GPS hardware or software, there’ll always be someone to guide you and help figure things out.
Data processing server. If a tracking device collects many types of data at once, chances are you don’t want to receive it all raw. Not all GPS tracking hardware manufacturers provide servers for data processing.
Mobile access. A mobile application is probably the most comfortable way to monitor the status of your GPS device(s). Mobile access is a must-have for pusher-type trackers, but could also be implemented with pullers so that you can request data by pressing just a few buttons on your phone.
Device settings. GPS trackers are capable of offering a large number of different features, but you don’t necessarily want all of them enabled at all times. However, not all devices are flexible when it comes to enabling and disabling features. With some devices, it’s simply impossible to change anything. Before purchasing your tracker, check whether you’ll be able to customize it so it fits your own needs and doesn’t simply offer a standard set of features, half of which you don’t even want.
Wholesale or retail. This isn’t much of a problem if you’re looking to buy one or a handful of trackers for personal use. However, if you’re buying trackers for business purposes, it’s probably best that the vendor or manufacturer you’re buying the devices from is able to provide as many as you need.
Alerts. Having an alert system in place is integral to staying up-to-date on the latest metrics and events: if a vehicle goes off-route or an accident takes place, you need to know about it right away whether by email, SMS, or push notification.
Deciding on what GPS tracking hardware to use is a complex process that entails a lot of thinking and research. We hope that this article is a helpful guide in making this decision.
If you’re interested in learning about our experience creating software for Possio trackers, you can read our Medium article about it. The article contains an in-depth explanation of all the technologies and techniques we implemented both for design and backend development.
Looking to integrate GPS tracking software with your business? Feel free to contact one of our sales representatives to discuss your idea.