In the United States alone there are over 26 million commercial vehicles on the roadways and in operations1, ranging across the spectrum of logistics and heavy moving equipment to agriculture equipment and waste management vehicles. In today’s connected enterprises, these commercial fleets are managed through tightly integrated operational systems that perform a multitude of services, including fleet management (automatic vehicle location, asset tracking, route optimization), monitoring of vehicle health and diagnostics, vehicle operator console operations, electronic data recording, and video capture. These systems improve operational efficiencies, reduce costs, and enable delivery of enhanced services.
Enabling technology for all of these applications is the “Mobile Edge”, the ability to extend an enterprise’s operational systems to mobile computing platforms on deployed fleet vehicles. A variety of options present themselves to both operators deploying these systems and technology companies offering communications solutions to those operators. In choosing the right solution for the Mobile Edge, the operator or integrator must consider both hardware and software aspects of their system requirements.
Some key characteristics that should be investigated include the following:
- Computing Performance – High performance, multi-core processor-based systems are essential for the on-board devices to handle the computational needs at the edge of the enterprise. This is especially important for applications requiring display or capture of real-time video, or data-intensive operations requiring local processing. The ability to process data locally, on-vehicle, means that less data needs to be transported across wireless links to enterprise data centers or Cloud-based servers.
- Device Reliability – Ruggedized hardware platforms are needed to assure long life of assets deployed in the field. The devices must be capable of handling the shock and vibration requirements for on-road or off-road travel, high operating temperatures, and high dust and humidity environments. Equipment failure means both the loss of operational systems and maintenance stops, defeating the inherent benefits of the deployed operational systems.
- Flexible I/O Options – Connectivity to on-vehicle systems via interfaces such as CAN bus, opto-isolated digital I/O, and wireless links are needed to leverage the power of the computing platform.
- Wireless Connectivity Options – Connections to the enterprise are made via cellular 3G/4G services, localized wireless via WiFi, Bluetooth, and ZigBee, or newer technologies such as LoRa. The operator or integrator should not be locked into a single connectivity option – ideally the operational systems should be ‘connectivity-agnostic’ based on fleet deployment, application requirements, and operational cost targets.
- Modularity – Modularity is an often overlooked but critical factor that the operator or integrator must consider very early in the selection process. Computing products must be modular so that new requirements such as I/O or wireless connectivity can be supported without entire hardware replacements. Software should be modular and decoupled from hardware configurations so that new device configurations can easily be ‘dropped in’ over the life cycle of the system without complete overhauls.
- Manageability – Device and data management cannot be overlooked. The ability to manage and reconfigure devices remotely and perform remote software upgrades minimizes maintenance costs and optimizes system availability and performance. Data management, as well as data security, become more problematic as the size and scope of the fleet grow. Therefore, a robust software architecture providing necessary data management tools accelerates deployment times and minimizes operational expenses.