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Big Brother on the road?
2004 09 13

No, say bosses, high-tech gadget means they can keep an eye on drivers

By Arul John

A PRODUCTIVITY tool or a gadget to help Big Brother watch over you?

Big Brother is the name of the all-knowing mysterious leader of the police state Oceania in George Orwell's novel, 1984.

The makers of the UK-developed Vehicle Management Information System (VMIS), which uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to monitor vehicles on the move, said it's not a Big Brother system.

The system can tell if a driver has lied about working when he could have been sipping coffee at a coffeeshop.

Mr David Roberts, national sales manager of Minorplanet South East Asia, which markets the system here, said a computer organises the data into different reports that show how the vehicles performed.

It's not Internet-based and the data can only be accessed within each firm, he said.

The cost of renting the system is about $150 a month per vehicle.

What do the firms which use the system think?

Mr Hay Hung Hui, general manager of underground cable-laying contractor Yuan Ji Enterprises, said: 'Our staff are disciplined and honest, but the VMIS helped us verify their claims for better vehicle management.'

Mr Poh Peng Hoe, managing director of PH Containers Express (Singapore), said his drivers have become more diligent since the VMIS was installed in the lorries and prime movers about three months ago.

He said: 'Last month, one of our drivers telephoned us that he was on medical leave for two days, but the VMIS showed his vehicle was used during that period.'

He declined to reveal the fate of the driver. But he said two drivers had been sacked after the VMIS found they had taken long breaks on duty and arrived late at their destinations.

Fewer customers were complaining about late drivers, he added.


Vehicle Management Information System (VMI) uses a data collection unit that continually monitors and records vehicle position, speed and distance travelled anywhere in the world using GPS (Global Positioning System).

Data can then be retrieved through a radio frequency link or GSM cellular network.

Command & Control Centre

The data is downloaded into a computer back at the client firm through a radio link or a handphone Global System for Messaging (GSM) network. The VMIS software can organise the data into different reports that show how the vehicles have performed.

Mr David Roberts of Minorplanet South East Asia shows how the VMIS can show a digital map of the movement of the van at each stage.

The map can even show the roads it travels along and landmarks it passes.

Take, for example, a delivery van on a fictional route:

1. The van leaves the firm and the VMIS records his start time and speed

2. As the van moves, the distance it travels, the speed, and even the road it is moving on are recorded

3. If the driver thinks he can sleep on the job without anybody knowing, he is wrong. The VMIS can let you know if the van engine is idling and for how long

4. If the van is supposed to follow a pre-programmed route, and suddenly changes direction, the time and route of the deviation is recorded

5. When the vehicle arrives within the ring fence, the VMIS can be programmed to send an SMS to the customer telling him the vehicle has arrived

Ring fence - The VMIS software can create areas round specific locations on a digital map, usually work destinations. This can inform a customer or supplier that a vehicle has entered or left the area.

6. When the van returns to Company X, its entry time is recorded, signifying the end of the trip

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