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2011 International Conference on Business Computing and Global Informatization

Low-Cost Mobile GPS Tracking Solution


Raj Kishen Moloo

Varun Kumar Digumber

Lecturer, Computer Science and Eng. Dept.


University of Mauritius
Reduit, Mauritius
r.moloo@uom.ac.mu

Student, Computer Science and Eng. Dept.


University of Mauritius
Reduit, Mauritius
varunism@live.com

Abstract- This paper proposes and implements a low-cost


GPS tracking system using GPS and GPRS on cheap mobile
phone devices. The proposed system allows a user to view
real time positioning and recorded tracks of a mobile phone
adapted for the system. It reads the current GPS location of
the mobile phone device using a GPS Receiver which may be
external to or integrated in the device and sends data to a
GSM network via GPRS where the data is forwarded to a
main server database. A web application has been developed
using PHP and MySQL and the free version of Google Maps
APIs is used for the location visualization. The system also
use the free email-text messaging attribute of the two major
mobile network operators in Mauritius namely Orange and
Emtel, to send Geofence alerts to the users if in case an
adapted mobile phone device has reached a restricted zone
set through the web application. This system has also been
built in an intelligent way to send data to the server at the
lowest cost possible. It is very useful for fleet management,
family monitoring, and can be adapted to the needs of any
user. The system meets its objective of being low-cost and is
even the cheapest system developed with many
functionalities of all existing tracking systems investigated.

As per the 2009 report of the Information and


Communication Technologies Authority (ICTA), there
are over 1 million mobile phone subscribers and over
170,000 Mobile Internet Subscribers (GPRS, 3G, and
WAP) in Mauritius[3] which make it a huge market for
launching a useful application such a GPS Tracking
system. There exist GPS tracking systems already
available in Mauritius such as Exact from Island
Communications Limited (ICL), and Garmin as well as
Geotab from Naveo Solutions (Naveo GPS Solutions) but
these systems are rather expensive to use and none of
them exploit the ability of a mobile phone device to
provide GPS Tracking, hence users of such systems need
to buy additional devices to get a tracking service. Mobile
phone users could easily find an application that provides
GPS Tracking on the internet but in most cases, such
systems have limited functionalities or their
functionalities are not free. These reasons are the motives
for the implementation of a low cost GPS Tracking
system that can provide more than the functionalities of
existing tracking systems.
With the changing speed of Mobile Technology,
nowadays a lot of features beside mere phone calls are
being offered at a cheaper price. Being ubiquitous and
flexible, mobile phones today can provide a lot of
facilities, such as staying connected to social networks,
viewing and sending emails and geolocalising services.
Hence a mobile in hand symbolizes the world in your
hand, being connected and getting access to remote,
contextual [5] and situational facilities[6]. Besides being a
service consumer, a mobile phone can also provide a pool
of valuable information about its owners behavioural
pattern.
Hence, instead of using expensive GPS equipment for
tracking purposes, this paper aims at providing a low cost
GPS tracking solution providing all the existing and even
more features than current tracking systems using the
mobile technology. Our research examines available GPS
tracking system in Mauritius with a breakdown of initial
startup and running cost in section 2. Section 3 discusses
our low cost solution architecture using open source
technologies while section 4 deals with the conclusive and
successful results we obtained. Finally we conclude with
our achievements, limitations and future work.

Keywords: Low cost GPS tracking, Mobile Phones

I.

INTRODUCTION

The Global Positioning System (GPS), is a radio


navigation system that allows land, sea and airborne users
to determine their current exact location, velocity and
time 24 hours a day, in all weather conditions and
anywhere in the world, supporting a broad range of
military, commercial and consumer applications [1]. With
the development of the GPS, a notable growth in the areas
of location determination has been observed with a
variety of geolocalised applications mushrooming,
providing current location information relevant to an
individual or any objects current position. Location
determination can also be used to track motion patternswho goes where, how often, for how long. And this can
provide value added services for live tracking of
individuals, vehicles and any other assets. The current and
historical movement of people and equipment is a useful
tool, when looking to develop more efficient work
practices by removing wasted time or movements [2].
Today, there exist a lot of GPS tracking systems that have
a number of facilities, but investing in such systems costs
quite a lot. There is a need for a cheaper system that can
be easily adopted by people.
978-0-7695-4464-9/11 $26.00 2011 IEEE
DOI 10.1109/BCGIn.2011.136

516

II.

EXISTING GPS TRACKING SYSTEMS

along with a breakdown in terms of the initial investment


cost and the yearly operational cost. A significant
difference is to be noted among these systems.

In Mauritius, GPS Tracking systems have gained


importance in the last decade. There are currently five
major systems that people and businesses can use for
tracking purposes. The first system is provided by Island
Communications Limited (Pioneer in GPS Technology in
Mauritius) and is called Exact. It is a device which when
equipped with a SIM card can be used for vehicle or any
other asset tracking. Exact comes with a web based
system that can be upgraded to IFleet for fleet
management, and it uses Google Maps for location
visualization. It has many facilities such as live and
recorded tracking, email alerts, and report generation [4].
Another existing GPS tracking system is the Garmin
Nuvi 215/205 series, a device sold by Naveo GPS
solutions [7] in Mauritius. This devices main
functionality is for navigation purposes since it comes
with a detailed map of Mauritius. However for GPS
tracking, there is the passive mode option which records
all positions of the device and the user will need to load
the tracks from the device to a computer which has the
appropriate software to view the map. There is only
recorded tracking which is possible on this system
The third system is called Geotab[8]. It is a system
which consists of a small device which needs to be
connected to the battery of a vehicle and the device will
transmit data to a web based application through which an
individual will be able to see the device live and also the
past tracks of the device. There is the option of Geofence
which allows an individual to be alerted by email and
SMS if in case the device leaves a particular zone. This
system also makes use of intelligent logging, that is, if in
case there is no GPRS connectivity, it backs up data up to
a certain limit.
Onertrack[9] is the fourth system identified and it is
the GPS tracking solution outsourced by a Mauritian
representative of OnerAlarm, a China based company.
This system is mainly for vehicle tracking and it comes up
with a GPS tracking device and a web based system with
a server (which needs to be bought for all functionalities).
Onertrack provides live tracking, SMS/Email alerts, SOSPanic button, speeding alerts and the user can also request
for its position via SMS.
The last system identified is Instamapper[10], a free
system that can be adapted on most Symbian phones,
Iphone and Android phones. The user has to install a
mobile phone application and can use the online
application provided by the system for live and recorded
tracking.

TABLE I.

COST ANALYSIS OF EXISTING GPS TRACKING SYSTEMS

To make a feasible low-cost system, it should cost


less than the Instamapper system and still provide most of
the features that other systems offer, that can be
implemented for the proposed system. The targeted cost
of investing should be less or equal to Rs 4000, unless the
person already possesses the appropriate devices, and the
yearly costs should be less than Rs 1500.
III.

OVERVIEW OF PROPOSED SYSTEM

Our proposed system is a low cost, seamless and


platform independent solution based on open source
technologies like PHP, MySQL, Google APIs and J2ME.
It works on any J2ME and internet enabled mobile phone,
connected to a hosted web server for tracking activities. It
is a three (3) phased approach, the first being the Java
application (Midlet) that needs to be installed on mobile
phones which are either internally or externally connected
to a GPS receiver. The user can login and start a new
track for live tracking. If an external Bluetooth GPS
receiver is used, a device search is done for connection
and retrieval of GPS coordinates. Once connected, the
application will send data to the server while the device is
moving. The application however does some calculations
before sending the data. It checks how much difference in
distance there is between the previous data locations and
will send to the server only if a minimum change in
distance has occurred.
The second part of the system is the server which
gets data from all devices connected to the system and
stores it in a database for visualization purposes. It is
worthy to note that all data received are already parsed
into decimal format, and not the NMEA format which is
given by external GPS receivers.
The third part consists of web-based application that
allows registered users to view their devices live on
Google maps or the past tracks of their devices. The user
can download reports of tracks and even place Geofence
zones for each device. They will be notified by SMS or
email if one of their devices has entered into the area of a
Geofence zone. Reports can also be downloaded for each
track, with important information such as highest speed,
mileage and time taken for a track.

A. Cost Analysis of Existing GPS Tracking System in


Mauritius
In this section, we present a cost analysis of the
existing systems as an indication of the price range of
having a GPS System for tracking purpose in Mauritius.
Table1 shows the features proposed by these systems

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A. Features provided by our System


The system provides visualization of routes/tracks via
the front-end of the web-based interface with details such
as speed and direction heading to. The features are as
follow:

registered by a device. The red marker shows the starting


and finishing spots of the track. Information such as speed
can be obtained by clicking on the markers. The user can
also view past tracks from the web application.

1. Live Tracking. It allows any registered user to have a


real time Google Map view of the position of devices
corresponding to the user. It can allow simultaneous view
of several devices at the same time or a single device
view.

Figure 1. Recorded Tracking

For the purpose of analysis, we tested our system


against the Instamapper application (lowest cost
application from our cost analysis) over the same track.
The difference in costs was then calculated. This
difference is based on one primary factor namely the
number of GPS positions the applications send to the
server. It has been noted that for the Instamapper
application, GPS positions were sent to its server and
from there that there was processing whether to store the
data or not.
With the new developed system, the concept is that
the calculation is done on the mobile phone itself and thus
fewer data is sent to the server, reducing costs. Also the
system has an automatic logging ability to log data to a
Recordstore whenever there is no internet (GPRS)
connection. For a track to be complete, the user needs to
stop it on the application. This stop button then checks
whether or not there is data in the recordstore. If yes, it
sends all those logged data to the server which can be
visualized in the recorded track part of the system.
The system was tested for a track of 50Km, Beau
Bassin to Reduit, and then to Mahebourg which took
around ninety minutes by bus. The number of tags that
were sent to the server was around 250 and it was less
than 200kb of data. The cost was around Rs 2 for such a
track, which is still cheaper. With Instamapper, the cost
was around Rs 4.50, from which it can be deduced that
around 450kb of data was sent to its server. In addition to
this, Geofence alerts were also sent via SMS and email
freely. One Geofence zone was set up at Reduit. When
approaching to around 500 meters to that point, a text
message was sent to a mobile number.

Figure 1 - Live Tracking Architecture

2. Static Recorded Tracking. Recorded track on a users


mobile device can be statically viewed on Google Maps
view based on time and date.
3. History Playback (Animated Tracking).Via Google
maps and the web-based interface, the user have an
animated view of a track previously carried out by a
mobile phone device.
4. Track Reports. Reports and charts for each device and
each track can be downloaded in PDF and Excel format.
Tracks can be visualized on Google Charts with
information such as speed, altitude, time, coordinates,
name of location and speed.
5. Alerting Services using SMS and Email Alerts
Alerts are automatically generated based on Geofence
options set up by the user for each device. In the event
that a specified device enters a Geofence zone, an
automatic text alert is sent to the specified mobile
number. If the user has chosen an email alert as his
preference, an email alert will be sent instead of a text
alert.
IV.

RESULTS AND ANALYSIS

Our system was implemented successfully and


showed interesting results. Figure 3 below shows a track

518

The automatic logging was also tested by calling the


device with another mobile phone, which blocks the
GPRS connection. When ending the track, an alert
message was displayed showing that there were records in
the Recordstore, later tested on the recorded track.
The accuracy of the GPS position varies from place
to place, but the difference was rather small for such a
low-cost system. It actually matched the accuracy of
Instamapper and the real track. Any user could get a clear
overview where the device has been with the system.
There was no big difference in the order of hundred
meters at all, unless the device is in a building.

The proposed system, though cost-effective, has


some limitations. The application to be used is compatible
only with phones having MIDP 2.0. Also the short span of
the battery life of the mobile phone is to be considered.
Being connected via Bluetooth and to Internet consumes a
lot of battery life. It would be best to use the mobile
phone while it is connected to the battery of a vehicle or
in an alternative way. Also, the SMS alert could be sent
only if the mobile phones of the recipients have WAP on
their mobile phone, though it does not cost them to get the
message. The system can give false GPS position if
confined in a building or under a bridge where there is no
possibility to capture a GPS position. Another limitation
might be the memory of the mobile phone. Actually one
hundred records are allowed to be stored on the mobile
phone when there is the automatic logging. Absence of
enough memory space will block the application. Again
concerning memory, the application cannot be installed
on the mobile phone if it does not have sufficient
memory.

CONCLUSION
With our proposed system, a successful attempt was
made to reduce both initial investment cost as well as the
operational cost in terms devices and services. There is no
need for someone to buy other expensive and specific
devices. A cheap Bluetooth GPS receiver connected to a
simple Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone or a mobile
phone with integrated GPS receiver, works great for the
proposed GPS tracking system. By using free Google
Maps APIs, HTTP protocol, intelligent logging, and an
intelligent positioning calculation, the service cost has
been reduced dramatically, providing most services
provided by existing systems. The intelligent positioning
calculation reduces the amount of GPS data sent to the
server. If a devices position is static, the application in
the device checks whether there is need to send GPS data
to the server or not. There is a distance calculation
performed by the application prior to the last GPS data
received. In the event that there is a small change in the
GPS position, no data is sent to the server, thus reducing
costs. Using the free Google Maps API for tract
visualization, there was no need to develop a map solution
and this contributed in the cost reduction of developing
the system. Also for SMS alerts, the existing option of
Email SMS is exploited. A mobile phone having WAP
can receive the SMS alerts and implementing this type of
alert is totally free. Orange and Emtel, the two major
mobile network operators allow their subscribers to
receive text messages sent as an email in the appropriate
format. Thus there is no need to have a paid SMS gateway
for Geofence alerts.

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