The backbone and foundation of the free-floating micromobility concept is the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) a key part of which is the well known Global Position System or GPS. For clarity, we will use the more popular term GPS throughout the article.

For the operator and the city, accurate vehicle positioning enables geo-fencing the area where vehicles are allowed to be ridden. Also, to define speed limit zones, exclusion zones for parking and most importantly see if the vehicle has been stolen or moved in order to get it back. These GPS enabled features are all very important to cities to ensure that the urban scenery is not too cluttered with random vehicles and people ride in designated areas for safety purposes.

For the chargers and fleet maintenance team, it is mission critical to find the vehicles as fast as possible. For example, the typical time when service crews pick up or charge vehicles is at night. It’s usually dark and the vehicles are not visible so they solely rely on the GPS. Also, the more accurate the GPS is, the faster they find the vehicle and better unit economics the crew has. Now let's dive into why the GPS accuracy is crucial for shared mobility and how accurate it needs to be.

What is the industry standard accuracy to run shared mobility operations?

Illustration of a shared mobility App displaying vehicle location in an urban environment

Simply said, the more accurate the location is, the easier it is to find your vehicle. For riders, it means a good customer experience. For operators, it means less cost and for the service crew it means less time spent on finding vehicles. Altogether, better unit economics for the shared mobility service provider.

A good accuracy is when a person or a mechanic goes to the pinpoint marker shown on the map and they can see the vehicle. In a busy urban setting, this should be approximately 10-30 metres. Nevertheless, we are seeing the need on the market for even more accurate location data. Mainly due to additional functionalities involving GPS. For instance, if a city has designated parking spots for shared vehicles and the vehicle must be able to tell whether it is parked in that specific location or not. This means that the location accuracy needs to be within 1 metres or even less.

What are the factors that influence the accuracy of the vehicle location and what methods are used to improve it?

There are a variety of inevitable factors that are hard combat with technology or fine-tuning. For example, the GPS signal from the satellites may be disrupted by cosmic and solar activity. Secondly, the atmosphere and weather. GPS signal is highly sensitive to normal occurrences like clouds and rain. Thirdly, the environment where the GPS device is located. In dense urban areas there are high buildings, cars, trees, tunnels and parking facilities that can all disrupt and mirror the signal coming from the satellites. 

Fortunately, where there is a problem, there is usually a solution. In the case of the IoT hardware and the GPS receiver in sharing vehicles, there are a lot of methods and technologies we can apply to improve location accuracy.

IoT hardware that enables remote control via cellular network and positioning of the scooter based on the GPS or GNSS

Methods and technology to improve location accuracy:

  • Tuning the antenna. Since the GPS signal is often weakened by external factors, you would want to tune the antenna on the GPS receiver to be as sensitive as possible. Also, you can make sure that the GPS receiver and antenna would work together as efficiently as possible, again to increase the sensitivity and therefore get the most accurate reading of the vehicle location.

  • Assisted GPS or augmented GPS. GPS itself is based on the signal of the satellites and especially in urban settings with tall buildings, the signal is disrupted and the location data may not be accurate. Assisted GPS improves it by using cell tower data to enhance quality and precision of the vehicle. It also helps to get the location coordinates faster than GPS by downloading the satellite maps via cellular network. For example, assisted GPS is used in most of the cellphones as well.

  • Dead Reckoning - helps to acquire positioning data when GPS signals are completely lost or in the case when they are extremely poor. It is a process of calculating one’s position by using a previously determined position and advancing that position based upon known or estimated speeds over elapsed time and course. In the case of vehicles, it means that it uses the last known position, or fix, and combines it with the data collected from the IoT modules accelerometer, gyroscope and the vehicle’s speedometer to estimate its location. 

Illustration of how GPS and Dead Reckoning solution work together to get an accurate position of the vehicle

  • Multi-band GPS - uses multiple frequencies coming from the satellites to determine its location, therefore is more accurate and reliable than the standard GPS. Nevertheless, it is too expensive to use in sharing as the cost of the different frequency receivers can add an extra 40-100€ per telematics unit.

  • Configurable multi-GNSS support. As mentioned earlier, GNSS is the Global Navigation Satellite System which contains different satellite systems like GPS (American), GLONASS (Russian), Galileo (European) and Beidou (Chinese). Configurable multi-GNSS enables the vehicle to communicate with different satellite systems to get a more accurate position. For example, COMODULE used the combination of Beidou and GLONASS satellites to improve the GPS accuracy for one of our clients in New Zealand.

  • Cellular triangulation - works on the same principle as GPS. You can estimate the vehicle’s location by detecting and comparing the signal strength from different cell towers. This method is not as accurate as GPS and is not commonly used in sharing mobility, because it is not very accurate. Although, if for some reason the GPS on your vehicle doesn’t work, you can get coordinates in the vicinity of 1 square kilometres and for example, go look for your lost vehicle in that specific area.

  • Machine vision aka sidewalk detection cameras - is a concept where you put a camera on your vehicle and it is able to read in real-time where the vehicle is. This is quite a recent development in sharing mobility and not yet implemented. At the moment, there are 2 use cases for it. First, cameras on the vehicles are used to take a picture at the end of the ride to see whether the vehicle is parked correctly. Second use case is that the cameras detect the surrounding scenery in real-time to prevent riding on the sidewalks or the end-user can’t end the session until it is parked in the designated area. This technology is not yet widely used and one of the issues is the public perception of privacy issues.

To conclude, in vehicle sharing the industry standard for vehicle telematics units is using GPS antenna tuning and assisted GPS. The accuracy of these methods depends on how well it is done. In addition, some telematics and IoT providers are already moving towards providing Dead Reckoning as well, as it doesn’t add so much cost to the connectivity device and increases accuracy by quite a great margin. Although, this technology is harder to implement and needs additional development to get data from vehicle sensors and translate it into a reliable and accurate position.

Multi-band GPS and other advanced technologies like Real Time Kinematics and Precise Point Positioning are extremely accurate, but due to the significant extra added cost, it doesn’t make sense to apply them for the sharing industry telematics devices.

What location accuracy methods is COMODULE using and how do we ensure reliable accuracy with good unit economics?

COMODULE has helped to launch vehicle sharing in over 60 cities globally with over 200 000 vehicles by mostly using accurate GPS antenna tuning and assisted GPS technology. Sometimes, we have used solutions like configurable multi-GNSS and cellular triangulation. In addition, we are able to provide Dead Reckoning technology that has been tested it in laboratory conditions and on the streets of Tallinn, Estonia. Soon, we will put it into production. 

In case, you need extra precise (centimeters) accuracy enabled by multi-band GPS or Real Time Kinematics and the extra cost of this technology is justified for your business case, then we can provide it for you as well. Also, we are validating other technologies like sidewalk detection cameras to increase location accuracy even more.

What is important in selecting an IoT partner for your fleet is the expertise and the service level of the provider due to complex technology of not only the GPS solution, but the whole IoT hardware device itself. We at COMODULE offer Connectivity as a Service. When it comes to GPS and location accuracy, we will find the best combination of different location accuracy methods and adjust it to the conditions where you are operating. 

With our current clients we actively monitor the GPS performance and provide the most cost-effective solution. Whereas, a lot of the IoT providers use the deliver and forget approach - they do not take responsibility for the device’s performance after delivery, thus do not introduce new updates and upgrades. This is especially painful when your operations are stopped due to an IoT issue that you are not equipped to solve.

COMODULE value offer for fleet operators:

  • IoT Hardware installed to the scooter/bike that enables remote control via cellular network and positioning of the scooter based on the global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) or GPS.

  • IoT Firmware that enables communication with the vehicle, e.g. unlock/lock commands and over the air system updates.

  • IoT Cloud Server enables fleet operators to receive system-critical data and execute remote commands to the vehicles.

  • IoT Mobile Connectivity that enables devices to connect to the cellular networks globally.  

  • IoT Service Tool that enables to monitor the system, troubleshoot devices and perform over the air updates to the IoT devices as well as to the vehicles.

  • Connectivity as a Service offered by experienced micromobility experts. Offering a peace of mind with a 24/7 global support.

Feel free to get in touch with our GPS and IoT experts to go over your use case and find the best accuracy for a reasonable cost. Book a demo here.