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Power up: trailer tracking systems are beating the odds

Commercial Carrier Journal

By Aaron Huff

The odds always have been stacked against using technology to track and monitor trailers.

Exterior-mounted devices are exposed to a harsh environment. Power also is a formidable foe, as batteries are drained quickly by receiving and attenuating signals constantly from the Global Positioning System, as well as from transmitting messages to satellites or cellular towers and sensors surrounding the vehicle.

Fleets are unforgiving if dead batteries or anything else stands in their way of receiving timely, reliable and accurate information. On top of this, they expect to spend a fraction on the technology compared to their onboard computing and communications systems.

Despite these and other obstacles, a number of companies have beaten the odds, but it has not been always easy. Looking back, the first generation of self-contained or “untethered” trailer tracking systems was severely limited with their communications to conserve power. Meanwhile, tethered systems powered by the tractor were fairly expensive and difficult to install.

Cellular and satellite communication platforms have expanded bandwidth and coverage. Hardware and power sources, including solar panels, have become more reliable, compact and ruggedized.

In general, these five developments – most of which have happened in the past two years – have put trailer tracking and monitoring systems on a fast track forward.

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