NASA Technology At The Heart Of Innovative Vehicle Tracking System

June 25, 1998

A NASA technology developed to help astronomers probe the depths of the universe is at work today helping municipalities and private businesses track the movements of vehicles in large fleet operations.

Researchers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., first developed the technology -- a software program -- to handle the flow of enormous amounts of information. The challenge was posed by data generation of experiments conducted in orbit on Space Shuttle Spacelab missions.

The technology was later modified to help Marshall Center test NASA's Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility, the world's most powerful X-ray observatory, planned for launch later this year. Marshall engineers Walter Robinson and Larry Taormina worked alongside engineers from Quality

Research of Huntsville to modify the original program so it would pull specific bits of temperature and vacuum information from the stream of information collected in tests of the observatory.

"We were faced with trying to find specific data 'needles' in a vast information 'haystack' that was moving at the speed of light," said Scott Johnson, a software architect with Quality Research.

As it does with many of the technologies NASA develops for space exploration, Marshall Center's Technology Transfer Office offered the technology for commercial application, hoping it might improve the quality of life on Earth. In a commercial spinoff of the NASA-developed software, AVL Systems of Huntsville created the QR Track System-- to track vehicles instead of information.

Charles M. Musitano, AVL Systems president and chief executive officer, said the system is affordable and has many applications in the public and private sector. "For between $500 and $1000 and a nominal annual maintenance fee, municipalities can track police and fire vehicles, ambulances and public works vehicles," said Musitano. "Each vehicle transmits a signal to the base station through one of several communications devices."

Musitano said the city of Memphis, Tenn., uses the system to track sludge pumping trucks for maintaining the city's sewer system. "A dispatcher monitors the location of all vehicles, determines when each vehicle operator's task is completed, and reassigns the vehicle to new tasks," said Musitano.

The system can monitor many types of vehicle fleet operations like delivery vans, armored cars and taxis. It can also help track vehicles carrying hazardous cargo.

"When accidents occur, emergency response crews traveling with the equipment to handle the hazardous material can respond much quicker. If an evacuation of the area is necessary, that decision can be made much sooner. The system can also be used to monitor railroad tank cars, ships and aircraft," Musitano pointed out.

Musitano also believes the technology has potential uses in vehicle theft prevention and recovery, locating school vehicles and as a tool to help emergency crews locate lost hikers. "Using a two-way interchange of data, exact locations can be used to assist in emergency recovery," Musitano said.

Note to editors: Photographs and video are available to support this release. If interested, please call Steve Calatrello at the Media Relations Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., at 256-544-1634.

Prepared by: Stephen A. Calatrello

NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center News Center

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