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CA2349479A1 - Vehicle service status tracking system and method - Google Patents

Vehicle service status tracking system and method

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Publication number
CA2349479A1
CA2349479A1 CA 2349479 CA2349479A CA2349479A1 CA 2349479 A1 CA2349479 A1 CA 2349479A1 CA 2349479 CA2349479 CA 2349479 CA 2349479 A CA2349479 A CA 2349479A CA 2349479 A1 CA2349479 A1 CA 2349479A1
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CA
Grant status
Application
Patent type
Prior art keywords
communications
service
vehicle
terminal
local
Prior art date
Legal status (The legal status is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the status listed.)
Abandoned
Application number
CA 2349479
Other languages
French (fr)
Inventor
Gary Good
Current Assignee (The listed assignees may be inaccurate. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy of the list.)
U-Haul International Inc
Original Assignee
U-Haul International Inc
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date

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Classifications

    • GPHYSICS
    • G08SIGNALLING
    • G08GTRAFFIC CONTROL SYSTEMS
    • G08G1/00Traffic control systems for road vehicles
    • G08G1/20Monitoring the location of vehicles belonging to a group, e.g. fleet of vehicles, countable or determined number of vehicles

Abstract

A system and methods to allow multiple stations in geographically dispersed locations to monitor and track vehicle repair record and service status information in a coordinated fashion. In a service area comprised of a number of geographically-bounded service regions, at least one regional communications terminal is provided in communication with a plurality of local communications terminals. Each local communications terminal and regional communications terminal communicates with a vehicle service status database. Vehicle service events are entered into a vehicle tracking system and maintained using the vehicle status database. Database files are exchanged between local communications terminals and regional communications terminals and with a central equipment manager in order to provide timely and accurate dissemination of service status.
Vehicle service status, including an equipment availability prediction, is shared with marketing offices and retail locations to enable personnel at such locations to make informed decisions in allocating particular equipment to a customer based on the customer's needs.

Description

VEHICLE SERVICE STATUS TRACKING SYSTEM AND METHOD
A portion of this disclosure contains material which is subject to copyright protection. The copyright owner has no objection to the facsimile reproduction by anyone of the patent doc:urnent or patent disclosure, as it appears in the Patent and Trademark Office files o«ecords, but otherwise reserves all copyright rights whatsoever.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to a vehicle service status tracking system and method.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The present invention provides a system and methods to allow multiple stations in geographically dispersed locations to monitor and track vehicle repair record and service status information. In a service area comprised of a number of geographically-bounded service regions, at least one regional communications terminal is provided in communication with a plurality of local communications terminals. Each local comrnunications terminal is typically located at a separate repair or service location having responsibility for servicing the vehicles temporally located within the region.
The present invention provides a system and methods for maintaining and disseminating vehicle service information within and among regions. Vehicle service events are entered into a vehicle tracking system and maintained using a vehicle status database. Database files are exchanged among regional communications terminals and with a central equipment manager in order to provide timely and accurate dissemination of service status.
A further aspect of the present invention is the sharing of vehicle service status with marketing offices and retail locations. This enables personnel at such locations to make informed decisions concerning the likelihood of a particular vehicle performing satisfactorily ins meeting the customer's needs. For example, a vehicle with a recurring repair history can be withheld from rental by a customer planning a cross-country trip, and instead rented to a local customer planning a shorter duration cross-town use of the equipment.
A stilll further aspect of the present invention is the ability to predict vehicle availability or time of return from service. The system and methods according to the present invention provide an availability prediction for operations personnel to allocate fleet vehicles while takincf account of anticipated vehicle demand.

2 0 Other advantages and objectives of the present invention are apparent upon inspection of this specification and the drawings appended thereto.

BRIEh DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
Figure 1 is a block diagram depicting the overall arrangement of a preferred embodiment of a vehicle tracking system according to the present invention;
Figure 2 is a functional block diagram of a preferred embodiment of a vehicle tracking system according to the present invention;
Figure 3 depicts the components of a preferred implementation of a local communications terminal and a regional communications terminal according to the present invention;
Figure 4 depicts the contents of a vehicle status database according to a preferred embodiment of the present invention;
Figure 5 depicts a preferred format for a control number for use with a vehicle tracking system according to the present invention;
Figmre 6 is an information flow diagram depicting the flow of vehicle repair and service status information throughout a preferred vehicle tracking system;
Figures 7A and 7B depict processing accomplished by a local communications terminal in .~ preferred er-nbodiment of the present invention;
Figuire 8 depicts the processing accomplished by a regional communications terminal in ~3 preferred embodiment of the present invention;
Figure 9 depicts vehicle repair history processing performed by a local communications terminal and a regional communications terminal according to the present invention;

Figure 10 is a preferred user interface by which a user enters equipment/location validation information at a local communications terminal according to the present invention;
Figure 1 1 is a preferred user interface for a local communications terminal according to the present invention by which a user may enter portions of vehicle repair/ service event information;
Figure 12 is a preferred user interface for a local communications terminal according t:o the present invention by which a user may modify portions of vehicle repair/ service event information;
Figure 13 is a preferred user interface by which a local communications terminal according to the present invention displays a control number to a user;
Figure 14A is a preferred user interface for a local communications terminal according to the present invention providing the capability for a user to edit location information and view location-related reports;
Figure 14B is a preferred user interface for a local communications terminal according to the present invention providing the capability for a user to view a variety of repair shop oriented reports;
Figure 14C is a preferred user interface for a local communications terminal according to the present invention providing the capability for a user to view a variety of traffic reports;

J _ Figure 14D is a l:~referred user interface for a local communications terminal according to the present invention providing the capability for a user to view a variety of special programs reports;
Figure 15 is a pirefe«ed embodiment of an on-screen pop-up multiple breakdown advisory warning provided t>y a preferred embodiment of the present invention;
Figure 16 is an example of a preferred campaign information warning report provided by a central equipment manager according to the present invention;
Figure 17 is a preferred advisory warning generated by a local communications terminal and a regional communications terminal according to the present invention;
Figure 18 is a preferred report generated by a local communications terminal according to the present invention showing a portion of the out-of-service vehicles whose service has not been completed within a projected repair time;
Figure 19 is a preferred display of a calculated repair/service time provided by a local communications terminal according to the present invention;
and Figure 20 is a preferred down equipment report generated by a local communications terminal .and a regional communications terminal according to the present invention displaying information contained in a vehicle history file.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
The present invention provides a system and methods to allow multiple stations in geographically dispersed locations to monitor and track vehicle repair record and service status information regardless of vehicle location.
Figure 1 illustrates the overall arrangement of a preferred embodiment of a vehicle tracking system 100 according to the present invention. Referring now to Figure 1, vehicle tracking system 100 includes a central equipment manager 101, regional communications terminals 102, and local communications terminals 103.
Preferably, a single regional communications terminal 102 is allocated to support a given particularly-bounded geographical region. For example, Figure 1 shows three regions (Rections A, B, and (:) each having a regional communications terminal 102.
However, one or more additional regional communications terminals 102 may provide backup communications and processing for one or more regions.
Each regional communications terminal 102 is preferably located in a regional company office or other such location having responsibility for maintaining and servicing the vehicles within a particular geographical region or regions.
Each local communications terminal 103 is preferably located in a repair and service station having responsibility for repairing broken-down or out-of-service vehicles, as well as for providing routine service and preventive maintenance, for vehicles temporally within that region. A local communications terminal 103 communicates with a regional communications terminal 102 within its local region; however, a given local communications terminal 103 may communicate with one or more regional 7 _ communications terminals 102 within or outside of its local region. Regional communications terminal 102 is thus provided in shared communication with multiple local comrnunications terminals 103.
Figure 2 further illustrates the logical relationships among these elements of vehicle tracking system 100. Referring now to Figure 2, each regional communications terminal 102 communicates with central equipment manager 101 .
Central equipment manager 101 maintains at a single office location vehicle service status information for all regions, and periodically disseminates this information to all regional communications terminals 102 and local communications terminals 103.
In ;~ preferred embodiment, each regional communications terminal 102 communicates with central equipment manager 101 and multiple local communications terminals 103 using a frame relay network 104. Frame relay is a packet-swutched protocol used for connecting terminals to a Wide Area Network (WAN) supporting T-1 or T-3 data rates. Alternatively, frame relay network 104 comprises public switched or private telecommunications circuits such as telephone landlines, the Internet, or wireless transmission systems including, but not limited to, personal communications services, cellular data, satellite, or point-to-point microwave communications. Regional communications terminals 102 are interconnected via frame relay network 104.
Referring again to Figure 2, vehicle tracking system 100 includes a vehicle status database 200 operably coupled to each local communications terminal 103 and regional commurnications terminal 102. A vehicle status database 200 is also g_ operably coupled to centr~31 equipment manager 101. In a preferred embodiment, central equipment manager 101 is a mainframe computer system, such as a DEC°
VAX"" or ll3M° Model 30-i'0 system, having a frame relay gateway and an Internet interface. Alternatively, central equipment manager 101 is implemented according to a client-server architecture. Central equipment manager 101 preferably communicates with regional communications terminals 102 via frame relay network 104 and with local communications terminal 103 via Internet interface 108.
Central equipment rnanager 101 transmits a multiple breakdown advisory 215 (see Figure 6) to all Focal communications terminals 103 and al) regional communications terminal 102, preferably once per 24-hour period. Central equipment manager 101 transmits a multiple breakdown advisory 215 to local communications terminals '103 as a database file via File Transfer Protocol (FTP) using Internet interface 108. Preferably, central equipment manager 101 transmits multiple breakdown advisory 215 to regional communications terminals 102 as a database file via frame relay network 108. Users at repair/service locations having local communications terminal 103 are able to withhold rental of vehicles listed on multiple breakdown advisory 215 if, in the user's judgment, the vehicle's repair history indicates a high likelihood of break-down during an extended trip such as, for example, an inter-regional or cross-country trip. This allows an operator of vehicle tracking system 100 to achieve higher overall customer satisfaction and to save money on operating costs such as vehicle towing.

9_ Prei'erably, multil:~le breakdown advisory 21 5 is also used to indicate additional conditions affecting the st<3tus of a given vehicle such as, but not limited to, a stolen or missing vehicle. For example, Figure 17 illustrates a preferred advisory warning generated by local communications terminal 103 and regional communications terminal 102 in response to receiving a multiple breakdown advisory 21 5 from central equipment manager 101 providing and indication of a stolen or missing vehicle.
Referring again to Figure 2, a local communications terminal 103 typically provides vehicle service status file 205 to a single regional communications terminal 102. However, as shoran in Figure 2, local communications terminal 103 may alternatively provide vehicle service status file 205 to multiple regional cornmunica~tions terminals 102 located in different regions. The latter situation may occur, for example, when local communications terminal 103 is located sufficiently physically proximate to two or more regional communications terminals 102 such that it is advantageous for that repair/service location to support vehicles within the control span of either or both regional offices.
Referring again to Figure 2, local communications terminal 103 includes an interface for receiving an entity master list 280 (see Figure 6) transmitted from central equipment marnager 101. Preferably, central equipment manager 101 transmits f>ntity master list 280 using FTP via Internet interface 108. The entity master list 280 is useful for identifying the current set of regional company offices, retail locations, and marketing offices.

Local communications terminal 103 includes an interface to an Automated Repair Management System (ARMS) 105 for receiving vehicle history file 210 transmitted from central equipment manager 101. In a preferred embodiment, ARMS
105 is a frame relay network. Central equipment manager 101 preferably transmits vehicle history file 210 to local communications terminals 103 as a database file via File Transfer Protocol (FTf') using ARMS 105.
Referring again to Figure 2, local communications terminal 103 preferably includes interfaces to retail outlet 106 and marketing office 107 using frame relay network 104. Local cornrnunications terminal 103 transmits vehicle service status file 205 to retail outlet 106 and marketing office 107 via frame relay network 104.
In a preferred embodiment, retail outlet 106 and marketing office 107 include an availability database 300 containing, without limitation, information concerning the availability status of vehicles in the fleet. Users at retail outlet 106 and marketing office 107 are able to allocate vehicle resources to customers, and to predict equipment availability to customers, using the vehicle repair and service status provided in vehicle service status file 205 and availability database 300.
Figure 3 shows a preferred implementation of local communications terminal 103 and regional communications terminal 102. Local communications terminal 103 and regional communications terminal 102 include a personal computer based server 150 having standard peripherals including monitor, printer (not shown, keyboard and mouse (not shown), and having an interface to a frame relay network 104 and ~~n Internet interface 108, and having a vehicle status database 200. In a preferred embodiment, server 150 is an Intel°
Pentium""-based personal computer (PC) running Microsoft° Windows'" operating system software, including VUindows NT"" version 4Ø Server 150 executes programmed instructions in accordance with a software application program in order to achieve the functionality described herein. In a preferred embodiment, server 1 50 application software is written in FoxPro"" version 2.6 for Microsoft°
Windows"'.
In a preferred embodiment, vehicle tracking system 100 includes two independent application programs: one application program for execution at local communication terminal 103, and a second application program for execution at regional communications l:erminal 102.
Local communications terminal 103 and regional communications terminal 102 include a web browser and electronic mail capability to enable electronic communication using the Internet, including Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP), File Transfer Protocol (FTF'), and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). In a preferred embodiment, local communications terminal 103 and regional communications terminal 102 use Microsoft' Internet Explorer'" and Outlook'"
application software.
In a preferred embodiment, vehicle status database 200 is implemented using FoxPro"" version 2.6 "" version 7Ø Server 150 interfaces with vehicle status database 2_00 using FoxPro'" queries and instructions.

Figure 4 describes the contents of vehicle status database 200. Referring now to Figure 4, vehicle status database 200 includes one or more vehicle service status files; 205, a vehicle history file 210, and multiple breakdown advisory 21 5.
Figure 6 illustrates t:he flow of vehicle repair and service status information comprising vehicle status database 200 throughout vehicle tracking system 100, as described herein.
Vehicle service status file 205 is comprised of one or more service event notifications 220. A service event notification 220 is created or modified by a user, usual'~ly a service f:rrofessional, at a local repair or service location by logging vehicle repair and service information using local communications terminal 103.
Referring again to Figure 4, service event notification 220 may include, for example, a control number 225, a vehicle identifier 230, an equipment type indicator 235, current status 240, location identifier 245, date-in-building indicator 250, type-of-service-requiired indicator 255, an availability prediction 260, and remarks 2fi5.
In a preferred embodiment, local communications terminal 103 provides for generation of availability prediction 260 by calculating an average repair/service time for the particular location and providing this information to the user.
To calculate the average repair/service time, local communications terminal 103 retrieves from vehicle status database 200 service event notifications 220 for repair/service activities accomplished at this service location during the past thirty days. Local communications terminal 103 then computes an average repair/service time by averaging the number of days from date-in-building 250 to closing of the service event notification 220 for each service event notification within the thirty day period. Figure 19 illustrates a preferred display of the calculated repair/service time provided by local communications terminal 103.
Alternatively, a period of time of shorter or longer duration than thirty days is used in calculating the average repair/service time. Preferably, the average repair/service time is calculated daily. Local communications terminal 103 displays the calculated average repair/service time to the user. Local communications terminal 103 further includes an operator interface that allows the user to enter availability prediction 260 using a keyboard, the user having considered a variety of factors including the average repair/service time.
In a first alternative, local communications terminal 103 calculates availability prediction 260 based on, without limitation, the mean-time-to-repair (typically measured in hours? to complete a particular service job for a particular item of equipment. In this alternative embodiment, vehicle status database 200 further includes a set of mean-time-to-repair values indexed by equipment type 235 and type-of-service-required 255. Mean-time-to-repair values are periodically updated in response to changes in the calculated average repair/service time described above. Local communications terminal 103 sets availability prediction 260 equal to the mean-time-to-repair value associated with the particular equipment type 235 and type-of-service-required 255. Local communications terminal 103 may modify availability prediction 260 based upon user-provided factors such as, but not limited to, the service backlog at this location, staffing levels at this location, and parts availability.
In a second alternative embodiment, local communications terminal 103 automatically calculates availability prediction 260 by setting availability prediction 260 equal to the date occurring three business days following the date service event notification 220 is entered into vehicle service database 200. Local communications terminal 103 further includes an operator interface that allows a user to modify availability prediction 260 by manually entering a different projected availability date using a keyboard.
Local communications terminal 103 stores availability prediction 260 with its associated service event: notification 220 record using vehicle status database 200. In a preferred embodiment, availability prediction 260 is included in the service event notification 220 record as shown in Figure 4. Alternatively, the service event notification 220 record includes a pointer to a memory location containing availability prediction 260.
Figure 5 shows a preferred control number 225 for use with vehicle tracking system 100. Referring now to Figure 5, control number 225 is formed by sequentially concatenating two numeric digits corresponding to the current month, two numeric digits corresponding to the current day of the month, and a three-digit sequential service number 275. Service number 275 is preferably determined by local communications terminal 103 at the time the user enters a new service event notification 220. A distinct control number 225 is provided for each service request for an individual vehicle. Control number 225 thus patently conveys to an observer an indication c~f: (1 ) the date that a particular service event notification 220 was created for the asst>ciated vehicle, and (2) the order in which that service event notification 220 was created with respect to other service event notifications 220 logged by that local communications terminal 103 on a particular date.
Referring again to Figure 4, vehicle service status file 205 is comprised of the service event notific;ai:ions 220 entered or modified at a local communications terminal 103 since the last time vehicle service status file 205 was uploaded to regional communications terminal 102. In a preferred embodiment, vehicle service status file 205 is created by local communications terminal 103 immediately prior to uploading it to regional communications terminal 102. Local communications terminal 103 creates vehicle service status file 205 by formulating a query requesting retrieval all of 'the service event notifications 220 entered or modified (e.g., service ticket closed at the completion of repair, service location changed) since the time of the most recent upload. The retrieved service event notification 220 records are then stored as vehicle service status file 205 using vehicle status database 200.
Referring again to (Figure 6, vehicle service status file 205 is then uploaded to regional communications terminal 102 using frame relay network 104. In a preferred embodiment, local communications terminal 103 automatically uploads vehicle status file 205 periodically at a frequency of once every 30 minutes.

Alternatively, the frequency of upload can be decreased to minimize the number of transmissions or increased to approach real-time notification. Personnel at regional company offices use regional communications terminal 102 to determine equipment status and I<>cation in order to manage reservations. For example, if equipment is scheduled to be serviced in a particula«egion, personnel at other regions will not reserve that vehicle for an inter-regional trip.
Regional communications terminal 102 aggregates each of the vehicle status file; 205 received from local communications terminals 103 into a vehicle service status report 285. Regional communications terminal 102 then transmits vehicle service status rc:rp~~rt 285 to central equipment manager 101 . In a preferred embodiment, regional connrnunications terminal 102 automatically uploads vehicle service status report 285 periodically at a frequency of once every 30 minutes. In a preferred' embodiment, vehicle service status report 285 is uploaded from regional communications terminal 102 using frame relay network 104.
Vehicle history file 210 comprises all of the service event notifications 220 associated with a particular vehicle identifier 230, preferably including all service event notif ications 220 occurring in the previous twelve-month period.
Vehicle history file 210 is received by local communications terminal 103 and regional communications terminal 1'02 from central equipment manager 101 and stored 2 0 using vehicle status database 200. Figure 20 illustrates a preferred down equipment report generated by local communications terminal 103 and regional communications termin~~l 102 displaying information contained in vehicle history file 210 received from central equipment manager 101 .
Vehicle history file 210 preferably includes multiple breakdown advisory 215, a separate indication also provided by central equipment manager 101. In a preferred embodiment, multiple breakdown advisory 215 is provided as a separate record of vehicle history file 210. Users of vehicle tracking system 100 are able to detect root cause problems or other systemic problems based on the pattern of recurring repair/service actions for a particular vehicle provided by vehicle history file 210. For example, a serif>s of dead battery service events can be indicative of an underlying electrical problem. Local communications terminal 103 and regional communic<~tions terminal 102 provide a history search capability to allow a user to review service event notifications 220 for a particular vehicle occurring over a period of time which is preferably the previous twelve-month period.
Figures 7A and 7B describe the processing accomplished by local communications terminal 103 in a preferred method of managing a fleet of vehicles, and vehicle repair record and service status information, in vehicle tracking system 100 Isee Figure 1 ) having multiple geographically remote service locations, according to thc: present invention.
Referring now to Figure 7A, a user of vehicle tracking system 100 uses 2 0 local communications terminal 103 to enter and log vehicle repair and service information (block 301). I=figure 10 illustrates a preferred user interface for local communications terminal 103 by which a user enters equipment/location validation information. Specifically, upon a determination of a repair or service action being required for a particular vehicle, a user enters information specific to the repair/service event using local communications terminal 103. Referring again to Figure 4, such user-entered repair/service event information includes, but is not limited to, vehicle identifier 230, equipment type 235, current status 240, type of service required 255, location 245, date-in_building 250, and any specific explanatory remarks 265. Figure 1 1 depicts a preferred user interface for local communications terminal 103 by which a user may enter portions of vehicle repair/service event inforrnation. Figure 12 depicts a preferred user interface for local communications terminal 103 by which a user may modify portions of vehicle rep~air/service event information.
In a typical application, local communications terminal 103 is located in a repair and service station having responsibility for repairing and servicing vehicles.
Referring again to Figure 7A, a user, such as a service professional, preferably enters the repair/service event information using an interactive data entry screen and keyboard/mouse provided by local communications terminal 103. For example, repair/service event information may be manually entered from a written work order, or, alternatively, in conjunction with creation of a written work order.
Alternatively, local communications terminal 103 receives repair/service event information from an external source via Internet interface 108 (block 303).
External sources include, but are not limited to, a mobile repair unit, a remote repair or service location, or other location not equipped with local communications terminal 103. In this case, an external source transmits vehicle repair/service information to local communications terminal 103 using an electronic message such ;3s, for example, an email message, over Internet interface 108.
After entry or receipt of vehicle repair/service information, local communications terminal 103 generates control number 225 for a new service event notification 220 as described herein in reference to Figure 5 (block 305).
Figure 13 illustrates a preferred user interface by which local communications terminal 1 ()3 displays the generated control number 225 to a user. Local communications terminal 103 also generates availability prediction 260 as described elsewhere hereon (block 307). In a preferred embodiment, cantrol number 22'.5 is generated per block 305 prior to availability prediction 260 being generated per block 307; however, these two operations may be accomplished without regard to any particular sequence, or in parallel as well. After obtaining vehicle repair/service information in blocks 301 or 303, generating control number 225 in block 305, and generating availability prediction 260 in block 307, local communications terminal 103 creates service event notification 220 using this information as shown ir7 Figure 4 {block 309).
After creating service event notification 220, each such new service event notification 220 is stored in the local vehicle status database 200 operably coupled to the local communications terminal 103 that generated that service event notification 220 iblock 31 1 ). Fictures 14A through 14D illustrate a preferred user interface for local <:ommunications terminal 103 by which a user may request to receive a variEay of service event reports generated by local communications terminal 103 using the vehicle repair/service information contained in vehicle repair database 200.
Referring now to Figure 14A, local communications terminal 103 provides the capability for a user to edit location information and view location-related reports.
Referring now tr> Fiqure 14B, local communications terminal 103 provides the capability for a user to view a variety of repair shop oriented reports, including reports indicating various aspects of equipment disposition and availability at this location, including equipment for which the scheduled repair date has been exceeded. Figure 18 illustrates a preferred report generated by local communications terminal 103 showing a portion of the out-of-service vehicles whose service has not been completed within a projected repair time.
Referring now to Figure 14C, local communications terminal 103 provides the capability for a user to view a variety of traffic reports.
Referring now to Figure 14D, local communications terminal 103 provides the capability for a user to view a variety of special programs reports, including campaign information (rec:eived from, for example, a particular vehicle manufactured, equipment history search, control number search, and shop transfers.

Referring now tca Figure 7B, service event notification 220 processing as described 'with respect to F=igure 7A continues as required at local communications terminals "103 (reference leloc:ks 313, 315, and 317). However, new service event notifications 220 are periodically uploaded to regional communications terminal 102 (block 331 ), marketing offices 107 (block 333), and retail outlets 106 (block 335). Local communications terminal 103 maintains a series of software-implemented upload timers used to determine when the current set of new service event notifications 220 are collected and uploaded to each of these destination nodes. In a preferred embodiment, a fir st timer, TIMER_1 , is used to determine when local communications terminal 103 uploads the current set of new service event notifications 220 to regional communications terminal 102 (block 313).
Another timer, TIMER ?., is used to determine when local communications terminal 103 uploads the current set of new service event notifications 220 to marketing office 107 (block 31 51. A third timer, TIMER 3, is used to determine when local communic~~tions terminal 103 uploads the current set of new service event notifications 220 to retail outlets 106 (block 317).
In a preferred embodiment, local communications terminal 103 employs three separate upload timers each having independent expiration times but each being set to a value of approximately 30 minutes. The timer values are each independently modifiable Iby the user. In a first alternative embodiment, a single timer may be used to effect periodic uploading of the current set of new service event notifications 220 to regional communications terminal 102, marketing offices 107, and retail outlets 106. In a second alternative embodiment, service event notification 220 r plload is accomplished aperiodically in response to the occurrence of one or a combination of external events, or upon receiving an upload request from the destination node.
Referring again to Figure 7B, upon the expiration of upload TIMER_1 (block 3131, local communications terminal 103 retrieves from its local vehicle status database x:00 the set of service event notifications 220 entered since the time of the last upload action associated with TIMER 1 (block 319). In a preferred embodiment, this is accornplished by formulating a database query to retrieve service event notifications 220 having entry dates later in time than the most recently accomplished upload action associated with TIMER-1. This database query is then transmitted to vehicle status database 200. Vehicle status database 200 responds by providing to local communications terminal 103 the set of service event notifications. 220, if any, meeting the query criteria.
Local communications terminal 103 gathers the set of service event notifications 220 from block 319 into a vehicle service status file 205 (block 325) as described in Figure 4. In block 331, local communications terminal 103 then uploads vehicle service status file 205 to regional communications terminal via Frame relay network 104. Similarly, upon the expiration of upload TIMER-2 (block 3151, local communications terminal 103 retrieves from its local vehicle status database 200 the set of service event notifications 220 entered since the time of the last upload action associated with TIMER 2 (block 3211. Local communic;~tions terminal 103 gathers the set of service event notifications from block 321 into a vehicle service status file 205 (block 327). In block 333, local communications terminal 103 then uploads vehicle service status file 205 to marketing office 107 via frame relay network 104.
Further, upon the ~=xpiration of upload TIMER 3 (block 317), local communications terminal 103 retrieves from its local vehicle status database the set of service event notifications 220 entered since the time of the last upload action associated with -TIMER 3 (block 323). Local communications terminal 103 gathers the set of service event notifications 220 from block 323 into a vehicle service status file 205 (block 329). In block 335, local communications terminal 103 then uploads vehicle service status file 205 to retail outlet 106 via frame relay network 104.
Referring now to Figure 8, regional communications terminal 102 receives vehicle service status file 205 from one or more local communications terminals 103 via frame relay network 104 (block 351 ). Upon receiving vehicle service status file 205, regional cormmunications terminal 102 stores vehicle service status file 205 using its local vehicle status database 200 (block 353).
Regional communications terminal 102 maintains a software-implemented upload timer to determine when the current set of new vehicle service status files 205 are to be collected and uploaded to central equipment manager 101 (block 355). In a loreferred embodiment, regional communications terminal 102 upload timer is set to a value of approximately 30 minutes. The timer value may be modified ass required by the user. Alternatively, vehicle service status file upload is accomplished aperiodically in response to the occurrence of one or a combination of external events, or upon receiving a request for upload from central equipment manager 1 ~31.
Upon the expiration of the upload timer (block 3551, regional communications terminal 102 retrieves from its local vehicle status database the set of vehicle service status files 20Ei entered since the time of the last upload action iblock 357). In a preferred embodiment, this is accomplished by formulating a database query to retrieve vehicle service status files 205 having receipt dates later in time than the most recently accomplished upload action.
This database query is then transmitted to vehicle status database 200.
Vehicle status database 200 responds by providing to regional communications terminal 102 the set of vehicle service status files 205, if any, meeting the query criteria.
Regional communications terminal 102 collects the set of vehicle service status files 205 from block 357 into a vehicle service status report 285 (block 359). In a preferred embodiment, vehicle service status report 285 is a single tile formed by :sequentially apipending the contents (i.e., service event notification 220 records) of each vehicle service status file 205 in a sequence from oldest to newest (with respect to time of receiptl. In block 361 , regional communications 2 0 terminal 102 then uploads vehicle service status report 285 to central equipment manager 101 via frame relay network 104.

In a preferred embodiment, local communications terminal 103 and regional communic;~tions terminal 102 receive vehicle history file 210, entity master 280, and multiple breakdown advisory 21 5 f« urn central equipment manager 101 once per 24-hour period.
Referring now to Fic3ure 9, c:entra) equipment manager 101 periodically transmits vehicle history file 210 to local communications terminals 103 and regional communications terminals 102 using electronic network 105. Electronic network 105 may be referred to as an Automated Repair Management System (ARMS). Local communications terminal 103 and regional communications terminal 1 (J2 receive vehicle history file 210 (block 371 ) and store the received vehicle history file 210 using vehicle status database 200 (block 377).
Local communications terminal 103 and regional communications terminal 102 receive additional information from central equipment manager 101 via electronic network 105.. For example, Figure 16 provides an example campaign information warning report received from central equipment manager 101 .
Referring again to Figure 9, central equipment manager 101 periodically transmits entity master 280 list to local communications terminals 103 using Internet interface 108 and to regional communications terminals 102 using frame relay network 104. Upon receiving entity master 280 list (block 3731, local communications terminal 103 and regional communications terminal 102 store the received entity master 280 list using vehicle status database 200 (block 379).

Central ecauipmer~t manager 101 also transmits multiple breakdown advisory 215 to all local communications terminals 102 and all regional communic~3tions terminals. 103. Upon receiving a multiple breakdown advisory (block 375), local commuinications terminal 103 and regional communications terminal 102 provide a multiple breakdown advisory warning (block 387) to alert the user to consider this information in assessing the suitability of the vehicle for a particular rental itinerary. In a preferred embodiment, local communications terminal 103 and regional c:ornmunications terminal 102 provide the advisory warning in the form of an on-screen pop-up warning box on the display device of processor 150. Figure 15 illustrates a preferred embodiment of an on-screen pop-up multiple breakdown advisory warning.
In addition, regional communications terminal 102 reviews service event notifications 220 received) from local communications terminals 103 in vehicle service status files 205 for actual service completion times (block 381 ).
In a preferred embodiment, regional communications terminal 102 determines, if the repair/se~rvice action has not occurred by the time specified by availability prediction 260. Specifically, if the repair/service action is not accomplished within 24 hours of the projected completion date specified by availability prediction 260 (block 3831, then regional communications terminal provides a service time advisory warning (block 3891. The time in excess of the availability predicaion 2(>0 that triggers the advisory warning is user-programmable from as little as two hour > to as long as four weeks. In a preferred embodiment, _ 27 regional communications terminal 102 provides the service time advisory warning in the form of an on-screen pop-up warning text box on the display device of processor 150. The user may thereafter take corrective action such as, for example, telephoning the service location to determine the cause of the service delay.
In a~ preferred embodiment, local communications terminal 103 reviews service event notifications 220 for vehicles whose number of repair/service actions exceed a pre-defined threshold (block 385). If the repair threshold has been exceeded, then regional communications terminal provides multiple breakdown advisory 215 as described above for block 387. In a preferred embodiment, the pre-defined threshold for multiple breakdown advisory is two service event notifications 220 within the last sixty-day period. If the threshold is exceeded, multiple breakdown advisory 215 provides the user the option of retrieving and displaying or printing the service event notifications 220 associated with the vehicle.
Thus, a system and methods for managing a fleet of vehicles has been shown that allows multiple geogiraphically dispersed locations to monitor and track vehicle service status, including generating a prediction of vehicle availability.
While the above description contains many specific details of the preferred embodiments of the present invention, these should not be construed as limitations on the scope of the invention, but rather are presented in the way of exemplification. Other variations are possible. Accordingly, the scope of the _ 2g .
present invention should be determined not by the embodiments illustrated above, but by the appended claims and their legal equivalents.

Claims (9)

1. A method of tracking and disseminating vehicle repair record and service status information at a plurality of geographically remote service locations, comprising the steps of:

maintaining vehicle repair record and service status information for a plurality of vehicles at a local communications terminal using a vehicle status database, said vehicle status database operably coupled to at least one of said local communications terminals;

creating a service event notification pertaining to one of said vehicles using said local communications terminals;
collecting a plurality of said service event notifications into a vehicle service status file;

uploading said vehicle service status file from said local communications terminals to a regional communications terminal using an electronic network;
generating an availability prediction for each said vehicle contained in said vehicle status database based on the vehicle service status information contained in said vehicle status database;
collecting a plurality of said vehicle service status files into a vehicle service status report at each of said regional communications terminals;
transmitting said vehicle service status report from each of said regional communications terminals to a central equipment manager; and transmitting said vehicle service status report from said central equipment manager to each of said local communications terminals and regional communications terminals, such that each local service location having said local communications terminal is provided with current vehicle repair record and service status information regardless of the geographic region in which the vehicle is located.
2. A method of tracking and disseminating vehicle repair record and service status information at a plurality of geographically remote service locations, comprising the steps of:
maintaining vehicle repair record and service status information for a plurality of vehicles at a local communications terminal using a vehicle status database, said vehicle status database operably coupled to each said local communications terminal;
providing a regional communications terminal in electronic communication with a plurality of geographically remote local communications terminals;
providing a plurality of said regional communications terminals in electronic communication with a central equipment manager;
creating a service event notification pertaining to one of said vehicles using one of said local communications terminals;

generating an availability prediction for each said vehicle contained in said vehicle status database based on the vehicle service status information contained in said vehicle status database using said local communications terminal;
transmitting said availability prediction to a marketing communications terminal, said marketing communications terminal provided in electronic communication with said local communications terminal;

storing said service event notification at said local communications terminal using said vehicle status database;

collecting a plurality of said service event notifications into a vehicle service status file;
uploading said vehicle service status file from said local communications terminals to said regional communications terminal using an electronic network;
storing said vehicle service status file at said regional communications terminal using said vehicle status database;

collecting a plurality of said vehicle service status files into a vehicle service status report at each of said regional communications terminals; and transmitting said vehicle service status report from each of said regional communications terminals to said central equipment manager.
3. The method of claim 1 further comprising the steps of:

receiving at said regional communications terminal a repair history message transmitted by said central equipment manager, said repair history message listing the service event notifications associated with a particular vehicle;
determining at said regional communications terminal a condition in which the number of service event notifications contained in said repair history message has exceeded a predefined threshold; and providing a warning notification at said regional communication terminal if the predefined threshold has been exceeded, said warning notification useful for prompting a user to take corrective action.
4. The method of claim 1 further comprising the steps of:
comparing the estimated repair completion time to the current vehicle service status for each said vehicle contained in said vehicle status database using said regional communications terminal;
determining at said regional communications terminal a condition in which the actual repair completion has not occurred within a predefined period of elapsed time after the estimated repair completion time; and providing a warning notification at said regional communication terminal if the predefined period of elapsed time has been exceeded, said warning notification useful for prompting a user to take corrective action.
5. The method of claim 1 in which said step of maintaining further comprises forming a control number for each said service event notification by appending an event sequence number to a date indicator, such that said control number conveys timeliness information upon visual inspection.
6. The method of claim 1 further comprising the step of receiving said service event notification at said local communications terminal from an external source via an electronic network.
7. A method of managing a fleet of vehicles comprising the steps of:
maintaining in an availability database information on availability of all of the vehicles in the fleet;
maintaining in a vehicle status database vehicle repair information for a plurality of vehicles in said fleet;
creating a service event notification in said vehicle status database pertaining to one of said plurality of vehicles in said fleet;
generating a predicted service completion date for said one vehicle based on said service event notification; and automatically communicating said predicted service completion date for said one vehicle to said availability database.
8. A method of managing vehicle repair information comprising the steps of:
providing a plurality of local communications terminals located in a plurality of geographically remote locations;
providing a shared communications terminal in electronic communication with said plurality of local communications terminals;
creating a vehicle service event notification pertaining to a service event for a vehicle using a first one of said local communications terminals, said vehicle located at the same geographic location as said first local communications terminal;
transmitting a first service message incorporating information contained in said vehicle service event notification from said first local communications terminal to said shared communications terminal; and transmitting a second service message incorporating information contained in said first service message from said shared communications terminal to a second one of said local communications terminals;
wherein said shared communications terminal, said first local communications terminal, and said second local communications terminal are all geographically remote from each other.
9. A system for tracking and disseminating vehicle repair record and service status information at a plurality of geographically remote service locations comprising:
a plurality of non-collocated local communications terminals;
a plurality of non-collocated regional communications terminals, each one of said regional communications terminals provided in electronic communication with a subset of said local communication terminals within a particularly bounded geographic region;
each one of said local communications terminals and said regional communications terminals provided in electronic communication with at least one marketing communications terminal;
a vehicle status database operably coupled to each one of said local communications terminals and said regional communications terminals, said vehicle status database containing vehicle repair record and service status information for a plurality of vehicles;
said local communications terminals and said regional communications terminals capable of exchanging information with a central equipment manager using an electronic network;
said local communications terminal including means for generating an availability prediction for each said vehicle contained in said vehicle status database based on the vehicle service status information contained in said vehicle status database;

said local communications terminal including means for transmitting said availability prediction to said marketing communications terminal;
said local communications terminals including transmission means for uploading a vehicle service status file from one of said local communications terminals to said regional communications terminal using an electronic network;
and said regional communications terminals including means for collecting a plurality of vehicle service status files received from said local communications terminals and transmitting said plurality of vehicle service status files to said central equipment manager.
CA 2349479 2000-06-29 2001-05-30 Vehicle service status tracking system and method Abandoned CA2349479A1 (en)

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US20050090951A1 (en) 2005-04-28 application
US20030114967A1 (en) 2003-06-19 application
US6813549B2 (en) 2004-11-02 grant
US6477452B2 (en) 2002-11-05 grant
US6308120B1 (en) 2001-10-23 grant
US20020032505A1 (en) 2002-03-14 application

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