Leading the way with the 'internet of things'

 

From tracking fleets to managing electronic toll roads, Celtrak has stayed ahead of the curve using its complex telemetry technology, writes Ciara O'Brien

Every business wants to believe it is leading the way in its chosen field; only now and again does a genuine contender for the title of "pioneer" emerge.

One of these is Celtrak, a company born out of an R&D venture in the 1990s.

Using complex telemetry technology, the company allows clients to do everything from managing electronic road tolls to fleet management. The equipment's capabilities range from tracking what vehicles are in certain areas at particular times to monitoring the temperature of refrigerated vehicles.

Galway-based Celtrak opened its doors seven years ago after it became independent of Connaught Electronics (CEL). Managing director Pádraig Kenny has seen the firm go from strength to strength.

Although logistics firms have been traditionally ahead of the pack in this field, there are plenty of applications for telemetry technology across Irish businesses that are becoming more apparent.

Some of Celtrak's more recent projects include hosting an information exchange agency for the National Roads Authority - a back-office system that allows electronic vehicle tags from one operator to pass through the toll gate of another operator. The system gathers the charging information centrally.

Celtrak also worked with waste management group Greenstar to implement a fleet management system, and with British group Balfour Beatty Utilities on a comprehensive fleet management and reporting system that covered requirements in health, safety, operations and logistics, and workforce management.

Celtrak has overcome several obstacles since its early days.

Although the business had definite potential from the outset, the technology it needed to run was hindering its progress.

"The driver of this industry is the mobile phone industry," Kenny says. "The networks were not as ubiquitous as they are today. They were also more expensive."

The advent of always-on GPRS and 3G data has changed everything, allowing the firm to stream data from moving vehicles back to a base. "We have vehicles connected all over the world," says Kenny. "We have about one million transactions a day. What's making it possible is the availability of the second- and third- generation mobile phone networks."

GPRS/GPS is combined with onboard memory on the vehicle by way of a small computer fitted by the firm. This sends all the relevant data back to base. "It's the internet of things," explains Kenny. "We can network a thing as opposed to a person."

Despite the client list, Celtrak's staff numbers remain small, at 16. The firm is based in Ballybrit, Co Galway, an area that is home to some of the world's best technology firms, including Nortel and Cisco, all of whom are competing for the best and most promising staff.

However, Kenny insists this has not been a hindrance to Celtrak and, despite the competition, it has had few problems in recruiting the right people.

"People are drawn to the type of work we do," he says. "One of the challenges we have from the technology point of view is that as the internet becomes more pervasive and people become more familiar with it, their expectations go way up too.

"It puts huge pressure on the technology companies to produce applications to stay current too. The other side of the coin is that, yes, it's a challenge to compete with Cisco etc, for staff, but it is also drawing in talent from all over."

With the technology developing in leaps and bounds, it's only a matter of time before services expand further.

Celtrak is now looking at building Wi-Fi support into its technology, which will allows its trucks and devices to use wireless networks to send back data, when the networks are available.

"We're not going to be simply dependent on mobile phones for connectivity," says Kenny.

The delayed European satellite navigation system, Galileo, will also bring much more sophisticated services and more accurate positioning for GPS. "In the interim, the mobile phone industry has been developing a positioning system using emergency masts," says Kenny.

This system uses several masts to pinpoint a user's position through their mobile phone.

Kenny has no doubt where the future of his industry lies. "Miniaturisation is a key feature of developing the technology. Smaller, smarter and cheaper leads to the rapid development of the industry."

More and more sectors of Irish industry are beginning to recognise the benefits of telemetry. Facilities and civil engineering sectors are now getting involved - in fact, any industry with mobile assets can benefit from the technology.

The company gives real-time visibility of mobile assets and can generate reports and alarms as needed. For example, if vehicles are travelling somewhere they shouldn't be, or if they are travelling too fast, the system can generate a warning.

"Companies can keep a constant watch on assets as they move outside the normal work environment," says Kenny.

"In the world we live in, there's increasing regulation on health and safety of workers - how long they are driving, if they are speeding and environmental compliance. Increasingly it's impossible to manage all of this unless firms have technology to manage it and report critical information," he concludes.

"This is where we are going with the 'internet of things'."