Vol. 5 Num 701 Sat. May 20, 2006  

Local company develops vehicle-tracking system

Recently, some promising young technologists of a local company showcased a prototype vehicle tracking and monitoring system. The device, when fitted to a vehicle, would let its owners or selected third parties to see in real-time the exact location, speed and other technical details of the vehicle.

The vehicle tracking system, named ZERZ, has been developed by Gazi Ehtesham Haider of Ingenious International Information Technology Ltd (IIIT). ZERZ is the result of three year's of hard work and a lot of research. The prototype unit was later manufactured in Canada by Decabell Security Inc.

The system uses GPS modules, which allows easy and accurate tracking of the vehicle's location. It then uses a combination of a cellular network and satellite transmitters to transmit the vehicle's location to a remote user. Vehicle information can be viewed on electronic maps via the internet with specialised software.

Vehicle tracking systems are nothing new, even in Bangladesh. But for the first time, a cheaper and more efficient cellular-based tracking system will be introduced in the country. And more importantly, it is developed by a local company.

Other satellite based tracking systems are also available in the country. But as they are usually completely dependent on satellites for functioning, the cost is too expensive for local users and isn't much popular. ZERZ uses satellite-based GPS for pinpointing the vehicle's location, but uses cellular technology for transmitting the data to the users. IIIT recently signed a deal with Aktel to use their GPRS network for transmitting its data. This cuts down a major portion of the cost. Of course, the system also has auxiliary data transmitting methods in case the GPRS network fails.

In the past, vehicle-tracking systems were used primarily by shipping and transport companies. This enabled them to keep track of a fleet of vehicles from a single location, and also allowed them to determine where a package was en route to its destination. Corporations with large fleets of vehicles also required some sort of system to determine where each vehicle was at any given time. Cab companies could also use them so that they could determine the closest available cab to a called in pick up location. As the technologies have improved and become much cheaper to utilize vehicle-tracking systems are becoming more and more commonplace in family passenger vehicles.

As in all other technologies, vehicle-tracking systems were initially only available in very high end vehicles or occasionally as an after-market accessory. This made sense as these more expensive vehicles would make the vehicle tracking system seem like the most economical solution. As the technology has become more readily available, it can be found in a wide variety of vehicles.

Vehicle tracking systems can now also be found in consumers' vehicles worldwide as a theft prevention and retrieval device. Police can simply follow the signal emitted by the tracking system and locate a stolen vehicle.

Some taxi services using vehicle-tracking system for better customer service. Using vehicle tracking system, their operators can see all the empty taxi, so they can choose the nearest one to pickup their customer.

Vehicle tracking systems are commonly used by fleet operators for fleet management functions such as routing, dispatch, onboard information and security. Other applications include monitoring driving behaviour, such as an employer of an employee, or a parent with a teen driver.

Vehicle tracking systems like ZERZ are also popular in consumer vehicles as a theft prevention and retrieval device. Police can simply follow the signal emitted by the tracking system and locate the stolen vehicle. When used as a security system, a vehicle tracking system may serve as either an addition to or replacement for a traditional Car alarm.

In extreme cases, where car-jackers are escaping with a car, the owner can not only see exactly where the car is and where it's heading to, but he can also shut down the car's engines. And knowing exactly where the car is will help police recover the car and nab the criminals faster and more efficiently. As the units are tucked safely out of harms way deep inside the car, if the car-jackers want to get rid of the tracking unit, they would have to stop and disassemble the car.

With the recent unfortunate increase in car jacking in the city, the ZERZ tracking system can almost seem like a blessing. In fact, in the United States, vehicle tracking systems are an integrated part of vehicle protection, recommended by the United State's National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) to prevent vehicle theft and they are described by the NICB as "very effective" in helping police recover stolen vehicles.

ZERZ also has normal day-to-day use. Here in the country it's common for car owners to hire a driver, and for driver's who like to accelerate aggressively, a speed limit can be easily set using ZERZ. The ZERZ unit always monitors the car's speed, as well as the positions and directions, and it can be easily programmed not to let the car accelerate more than, for example, 75 kmph. Now after the car has reached 75 kmph, no matter how much the driver presses the acceleration paddle, the speed won't increase at all.

Another notable feature of ZERZ is "Geo-fencing," that allows the user to set a fixed area the car would be allowed to travel in. For example, a user can geo-fence his car to Dhaka only. Now, if the car were driven out of the city, ZERZ would give a warning for a certain time limit and if the car doesn't go back to the city, it'd shut down the car's engines.

ZERS also keeps the vehicle's history in a searchable database. The vehicle's route on any time of any day can be easily found.

Already IIIT has demonstrated the system to several corporations and Government agencies. "The response has been great! They're always highly impressed at the level of control the system offers." Ziad Iqbal, managing director of IIIT. "We are already working for several organisations who are interested in using ZERZ and the response has been promising."

IIIT has started selling the units in Canada a few weeks back. Already several hundred units have been sold. "And that's before we did any sort of marketing," said Ehtesham Haider, pleasant about its success. "It's developed in Bangladesh, and its success abroad means a positive focus on the Bangladeshi researchers."

IIIT hopes one day all cars in the city will have a tracking unit like ZERZ. Not only would it lessen vehicle-related crime drastically, it would work as an efficient traffic monitoring and management system. With the data from all the vehicles in the city, it'll be possible to automate a smooth flow of traffic in Dhaka's roads and make the roads a lot more efficient than it is today.

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Clockwise: Map of a part of the Dhaka city being developed by IIIT, ZERZ pinpointing a vehicle with Google Earth's satellite data, control panel of the specialised software for using the vehicle-tracking system and the ZERZ vehicle-tracking unit