US 8494581 System and methods for management of mobile field assets via wireless handheld devices

ABSTRACT -Communication from enterprise servers to handheld devices in the field supports dispatch, data synchronization, logistics and personnel. Bi-directional data delivery from enterprise-based servers over wireless data networks is enabled using wireless capabilities resident in handheld personal computing devices. Real time communications facilitates real-time access to remote programs, assistance and/or information related to the field operations and asset (personnel and inventory) resource management. Management is facilitated for at least one of: construction industry project analysis, HVAC system analysis, project management, equipment readiness inspection, troubleshooting, inventory tracking, inventory ordering, sales (e.g., providing cost estimates to customers), customer invoicing, conducting legal investigations, field data collection, and multi-user remote function coordination.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is generally related to systems and methods of managing mobile assets in the field such as personnel, equipment and inventory via communications with handheld data management devices (e.g., personal digital assistants, handheld computers, two-way pagers, Web/WAP-enabled telephony, etc.) located in the field. More particularly, the present invention is related to systems and methods in the management of mobile field assets via wireless handheld devices.

BACKGROUND

Limitations that have been experienced with the growth of services in many of the professions, trades and industries can be attributed to the expansion of remote or distributed field activities, such as situation/location assessments, estimates or appraisals. New technology and less experienced personnel may be undertaking the initial tasks of customer interaction, sales, data collection and/or the analysis and troubleshooting of problems in the field. Personnel in field are usually required to collect data regarding a field situation that is generally be used later by more senior, experienced and/or responsible personnel to make decisions (business, technical, administrative and/or political). Even the most experienced professionals may find themselves lacking access to critical information or support that would be helpful in undertaking field operations. Efficiency in the remote dispatching of personnel given personnel vs. customer or field locations, as well as asset and inventory control can also be improved.

As an example of a field situation, individuals in the construction industry are often responsible for carrying out field assessments and providing estimates. The consequences of under bidding a project in the construction field can be very costly and/or can affect performance and quality of services/activities related to the underbid project. In cases where a project cost estimate, or bid, must be provided for a construction project, a business owner or senior journeymen can oftentimes be compelled to personally go to the field and collect information regarding a project in order to render a realistic and profitable bid because an inexperienced estimator might render an inaccurate appraisal. Construction project estimates require an accurate assessment and analysis of a job-site/projects in order to develop the data/facts necessary for an estimate to be rendered regarding use of labor, materials and completion time for a project.

If an operator in the field was provided with guidance, access to supplemental information and/or years of experience (e.g., lessons learned by senior personnel), field operations might proceed more accurately and professionally. Field operators, however, are unlikely to have reasonable means to efficiently access the information or the information can not be updated. Materials typically used in the field can include reference materials such as codes, regulations, inventory and price lists.

Personal digital assistant (PDA) is a generic name used for a device belonging to a family of portable handheld data managing devices well known in the art. Another word used to refer to such devices is the word “Smartphone.” Currently, handheld data management devices such as PDAs or Palm PCs can have as much computing power as desktop personal computers and can be used in a wide variety of applications, including wireless communication (infrared and radio frequency), GPS (global positioning system) mapping, Internet access and database storage. Web-phones are also being introduced into the wireless marketplaces that have PDA-like capabilities.

Handheld data management devices are generally enabled with wireless connectivity to data sources over, for example, the connection-oriented Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) or message oriented TME/X protocol. Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) is a TCP/IP based technology that supports Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) or Serial Line Internet Protocol (SLIP) wireless connections to mobile devices. Cellular service is generally available throughout the world from major service providers. With CDPD, data can be transferred over switched Public Switched telephone Network (PSTN circuits or packet-switched networks. Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) and Personal Communications Systems (PCS) networks operate in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz, and 1900 MHz range. PCS provides narrowband digital communications in the 900 MHz range for paging, and broadband digital communications in the 1900 MHz band for cellular telephone service. In the U.S. as of the priority date for the present embodiments, PCS 1900 is identical to GSM 1900. GSM operates in the 900 MHz, 1800-1900 MHz frequency bands. GSM 1800 is widely used throughout Europe and throughout many parts of the world. In the U.S., GSM 1900 is the same as PCS 1900; thus, these two technologies are compatible.

The Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) network is a digital wireless network that defines how a single channel can be segmented into multiple channels using a pseudo random signal (or code) to identify each user’s information. Because CDMA spreads each call over more than 4.4 trillion channels across the entire frequency band, it is more immune to interference than TDMA or other current wireless networks and can support more users per channel in some situations. Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) cellular/wireless systems are currently deployed throughout the wireless communication markets. Wideband CDMA (W-CDMA), which is called CDMA 2000 in North America, will be implemented in the U.S.A. in the near future. W-CDMA is a true 3G wireless technology. W-CDMA increases transfer rates by using multiple 1.25 MHz cellular channels compared to the single channel currently used by CDMA 1.

The General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) network is a 2.5G technology that bridges the gap between the current wireless technologies and the next generation of wireless technologies known as 3G wireless technologies. GPRS is a packet-data transmission technology. GPRS will work with CDMA and TDMA, and it supports X.25 and IP communications protocols. It will also enable features like Voice over IP (VOIP) and multimedia services. Bluetooth is a Personal Area Network (PAN) technology. Adopted by a consortium of wireless equipment manufacturers called the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (BSIG), it is emerging as a global standard for low cost wireless data and voice communication. The current specification for this standard is the 2.4 GHz ISM frequency band.

Bluetooth technology is based on a short-range radio transmitter/receiver built into small application specific circuits (ASICs) and embedded into support devices. Initially, Bluetooth enabled devices will have 1 mw of transmitter power and will be capable of asymmetrical data transfers of up to 721 Mbps over distances of 10 M. The Bluetooth specification permits up to 100 mw of power, which will increase the range to 100 M. In addition, it can support up to three voice channels. Using short data packets and frequency hopping of up to 1600 hops per second, it is a true 3G wireless technology that will enable a host of new applications and possibilities for wireless data communication. Wireless application protocol (WAP) and Extensible Markup Language (XML) are examples of current technology being used in wireless devices and system to provide Web-based (Internet) content on wireless devices.

Despite the growing power and popularity of portable data management devices and the diverse telecommunications alternatives for data communication, few applications were available as of September 200 (the priority date for the embodiments herein) that directly relate to interactive or industry-specific programs providing management of associated data and providing users with access to daily business practices and procedures related to a particular industry.

As of the priority date of the present embodiments (Sep. 18, 2000), what was, and continue to be, needed in business, government and industry where field operators are utilized is a system and method for managing assets in the field via wireless handheld devices. Systems were, and remain, needed by businesses that could enable their field operators (e.g., users, operators, estimators, investigators, salesmen, and the like) to more efficiently and accurately operate in the field.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

It is an object of the present invention to provide a system and methods for managing asset in the field (e.g., personnel, equipment and/or inventory) via handheld devices.

It is an aspect of the present invention to provide field operators portable access to industry-specific field data management programs (“programs”) and data useful in carrying out field operations.

It is another aspect of the present invention to provide a handheld data management device and solutions for assisting personnel in finding and conducting field operations.

It is another aspect of the present invention to provide methods for field operations data synchronization and/or delivery using wireless capabilities resident in handheld personal computing devices. Data can be synchronized from handhelds with a server operating as their manager over a network using wireless radio transmission.

It is another aspect of the present invention to provide for two-way communication between remote computing means (e.g., servers, desktop computers) and handheld data management devices to facilitate real-time access to remote programs, assistance and/or information related to the field operations being undertaken by handheld data management device users.

A handheld device for use in the management of assets and data during operations in the field can include a server for operating at least one field data management program and managing remote assets in the field and field data; a microprocessor for executing said at least one field data management program; at least one field data management program stored within said memory and including instructions for enabling users to: find a field location, collect data at the field location, communicate with a remote server while at the field location, retrieve new data from the server that is associated with the collected data; a wireless communication module for providing access to the remote server by said handheld data management device; and a user interface adapted for enabling the handheld data management device user to interact with said at least one field data management program.

A programming module containing field data management software can include software used to accomplish at least one of: construction industry project analysis, HVAC system analysis, project management, equipment readiness inspection, troubleshooting, inventory tracking, inventory ordering, sales (e.g., providing cost estimates to customers), customer invoicing, conducting legal investigations, field data collection, and multi-user remote function coordination.

A method of conducting a field operation using a handheld data management device can include the steps of providing access to an industry-specific field operations program module; executing said program module to conduct a field operation; providing field-specific information required by said program module for said program module to render data from said module useful in support of said operations; and retrieving data from said handheld data management device in support of said operations. The method can further include providing data to a remote resource (e.g., server or live expert) for analysis, and retrieving enhanced data from said remote resource for use in conducting the field operations.

A method of conducting operations in the field utilizing a handheld data management device, can also include the steps of obtaining directions to a field location using positioning and navigation means provided through said handheld data management device; starting a program associated with the field problem; providing specific information required by the field data management program and related to the field problem; analysis of said specific information by said handheld data management device; and rendering output by said handheld data management device for use in support of said field problem.

The foregoing has outlined some of the more pertinent features of the present invention. These features should be construed to be merely illustrative of some of the more prominent features and applications of the invention. Many other beneficial results can be attained by applying the disclosed invention in a different manner or modifying the invention as will be described. Accordingly, other aspects and a fuller understanding of the invention can be had by referring to the following Detailed Description of the preferred embodiment.

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