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Vehicle Trackers

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Title Vehicle Trackers
Edited by GMV
Level Basic
Year of Publication 2011

Vehicle Trackers are devices attached to the vehicle that track the vehicle position usually for monitoring purposes. These devices can be used for different purposes such as logistics, theft prevention/recovery, emergency services, tolling and driver behavior monitoring[1]. Besides these applications, that require little interaction with the driver, these devices can be connected to other in-car systems either to provide position or to collect additional vehicle information from other vehicle sensors. It is not uncommon that these device are connected to the communication and entertainment system to provide positioning for interactive services such as navigation.

These devices can be passive when wide area communications are not supported and the data collected in the device is analyzed at the end of the trip. But usually these devices are active and incorporate wide area communications that is used to send the collected information to a central server or service.

Product Description

Vehicle Tracker

Vehicle Trackers are very similar to Personal Trackers in terms hardware and functionality. The main difference is that Vehicle Trackers are permanently attached to a vehicle and normally have at least external power and antenna connections while Personal Trackers are normally smaller and standalone.

These devices consist usually in a box that can be tamper resistant and that is installed permanently in the vehicle. It is connected to the vehicle power supply although some devices might have an internal battery that would allow them to continue to operate for a period of time after being disconnected from the vehicle power.

The main component of the device is the GNSS receiver that is connected to an external antenna that is also installed permanently in the vehicle. These devices incorporate also some processing and storage capability. The storage is normally used to keep a log of the collected information. In passive devices that only support wired connections or short-range wireless connections (such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, DSRC) the upload of these logs is the only way to access the collected information.

Usually these devices have wide area communication capability (normally cellular network communications) either integrated in device or accessed through the in-car communication system. Wide area communication can be used to send the position of the vehicle to a central server or service. This action can be done periodically, by user action (e.g. use of panic button), upon the detection of specific conditions (e.g. airbag activation, geofencing events) or on demand from a central server or service.

Apart from the power, antenna connections and the wide-area wireless communications these devices might have additional connections for input and output of data. Possible connections in these devices are:

  • Serial - Serial connections (USB or other) allow the connection of external devices or sensors and the access to the device console and/or storage for collection of logs and maintenance.
  • Car internal bus - Vehicle trackers might be connected with the vehicle on-board diagnostics (OBD) or to the vehicle's CAN bus. This allows access to the car's internal sensors data and on-board computer. This might even allow the issuing of specific commands to other in-car systems although this usually is only done by factory installed vehicle trackers.
  • Short-Range Wireless - Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or DSRC might be supported allowing the communication with other systems in the car or mobile devices. This can be useful for communications, for the realtime sharing of the collected data (positioning and other) with other devices, for collection of sensor data from other external devices or sensors and the access to the device console or storage for collection of logs and maintenance.

It is common that vehicle trackers don't have user input. Generally they work autonomously and sometimes the driver might not even be aware of its presence. But most of these devices allow some kind of user input. One of the most common types of input are a panic button that can trigger distress calls as described in Emergency Services. When these devices are used for logistics and fleet management it usual that they are attached to a driver console where the driver can register shift starts/end, fixed route used, stops, pickups and dropoffs[2]. This console can be also used to provide messaging or warnings to the drivers. Warnings can be issued if the adequate procedures or schedule are not being followed by the driver.

As described for Emergency Services there is a trend for these systems to be factory installed and integrated with the communication and entertainment systems of the car providing localization services for all other in-car systems. In some cases these systems are also evolving towards a road vehicle black box that can be used to investigate accidents and vehicle malfunctions[3].

Product Characterization

Vehicle trackers are usually application independent either because the main functionality is performed by a central server or by other in-car system while the tracker itself only provides positioning at a configured rate. Besides this most trackers are programmable or configurable to support different types of functionality.

Some of the applications that can use vehicle trackers are:

Product Examples

These systems can be factory installed or can be sold and installed as an aftermarket equipment. Depending on the application, the system can be sold as a product and the application for the management of the service bundled with the on-board devices. For some applications a service needs to be subscribed for the system to be used. Usually more that one application is supported by the device and associated service. Examples of such integrated services can be seen in Emergency Services.

Most vehicle manufacturers provide this equipment as an optional equipment at least for some of their vehicles. Aftermarket equipment and service providers are normally local having each country specific providers. There are too many providers to list here.



  1. ^ Galileo Application Sheet - Road Applications, ESA and European Commission, October 2002
  2. ^ Galileo Application Sheet - Public Transport Applications, ESA and European Commission, October 2002
  3. ^ ESA Portal - Navigation Applications - Road, ESA, June 2007