ITRI GPS Tracking System

Taiwan has invested heavily in Research & Development efforts and has been the technological leader of the bicycle industry. One of the major driving forces behind this advancement is the strong support from their Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI). ITRI is a semi government funded agency focusing in technological research for commercial application. It focuses in 5 major areas of R&D, including Material, Advance Manufacturing and Electronics, which are relevant to the cycling industry. Notably, they have worked with Giant to produce the first mass production carbon frame back in 1985. In our recent visit to ITRI, we were shown a GPS based system that is designed to assist in the management of a group of people.

For those who have experience in organizing cycling trips, you will understand the frustration of not knowing where your team mates are at all times and it could be difficult to get in contact with all as walkie-talkies have limited range and dialing the phone means you have to stop, breaking your momentum. To make matter worst, it would be difficult for your mates to describe their location in the trails, when there could be a lack of prominent landmarks.

The System

The GPS System developed by ITRI could potentially make the frustration a thing of the pass. The whole system consists of GPS transponders, Smart Phone, Personal Computer and Server at the backend. Everything runs on the backbone of a 3G network, thus the system will still fail if you are out of range of all telecommunication networks.

A. GPS Transponder
This is the fundamental building block for the whole system. Each member of the group will carry one transponder and it will trace the location of the member via GPS. Each of these transponders contains a SIM card each and their location will be send back to the Personal Computer through 3G network. In addition to their primary function as a locating device, they are also a communication tool that allows members to communicate with each other. In the event of emergency, user can also click on the SOS button and request for help. Last but not least, it is also an image capturing device from which you can take a picture and tag the image to its location.

B. Smart Phone
Essentially, the Smart Phones will be carried by the appointment holders within the group, and multiple Smart Phones can be used depending on the requirement. The location of each member will be displayed on the screen of the phone and appointment holders can thus monitor the progress of the whole group. If instruction needs to be pass down, just press on the person you want to talk to, and you can communicate with them through the transponder they are carrying. Should any of the members ask for help by pressing on the SOS button, their symbol on the screen will turn to red. (An application needs to be downloaded to activate this function)

C. Personal Computer
All the monitoring work is actually done by the computer, rather than the Smart Phone. At the backend, the PC will monitor the progress of all the members and communicate the information to the Server. It is through the Server that the Smart Phone gets the data from.

D. Server
The Server is likely to be centrally run by a service provider and keeps track of all worldwide users of this system. When given the access, it will allow your loved ones to monitor the progress of your trip, useful if you are overseas or doing a trip that spans across multiple days.

While it can be a very useful system for managing a large group, not only for cycling, the potentially high cost could deter mass adoption. Equipment wise, users are likely to already have the phone and PC, so the only thing they need to purchase will be the GPS transponder. But in order to run the system, users will need to download the system software on the Smart Phone/PC, subscribe to 3G data network and the Server. In all, everything would not be cheap, especially with the high cost of International data roaming currently.

For those keen, you might be disappointing to know that ITRI is still in the process of testing and commercializing this system and it is not available in the market yet. On the bright side, if you see this as a potential business opportunity, you can contact ITRI to find out more.

In addition to this GPS system, ITRI is also in the process of developing an electric bike which is durable and practical to run in an urban setup. They already have a prototype in place, and my guess is that it would not be long before they have a production model.