GeoToll CEO Releases Field Test Results for Toll Collection Smart Phone Device
Q&A with Tim McGukin covers latest tech developments in effort to make smart phones function as multiprotocol transponders
WHO: Tim McGuckin, CEO of GeoToll (www.geotoll.com), whose mission is “to provide toll operators, their customers and integrators with an innovative and robust mobile phone-based toll payment technology that encourages people to want it, adopt it, and in the process, solve the interoperability issues that challenge the tolling industry today.”
WHEN & WHERE: February 11, 2014, by telephone
SUBJECT: The status of GeoToll’s smart phone app and hardware development and its implications for nationwide interoperability
Interview by Kate Holder, TRN Contributing Editor
TollRoadsNews (TRN): Please give us the latest “elevator pitch” on your technology, what is it and what will it do?
Tim McGuckin (TM): The GeoToll solution combines a smart phone and today’s electronic toll collection (ETC) tag protocols into one device that allows you to use your smart phone as a toll tag anywhere in the United States, in an interoperable manner. We’re the first entity to integrate RFID with a smart phone.
TRN: What does it offer consumers?
TM: There are a number of reasons why consumers might not have a toll tag now. They may not be frequent enough users of toll roads to make a down payment for, say, an E-ZPass tag. Or, they may have a principled stance against paying $1.50 a month for a service fee for something that they’re charged for anyway. Or, they’re business travelers who are tired of paying a rental car tag fee of three or four dollars a day on top of tolls.
The biggest thing about GeoToll is that, although we believe we have a revolutionary product, we’re not saying we’re going to end the days of toll tags. It’s another option. The user would use GeoToll for convenience to save some money, to be interoperable, to carry it from car to car whether it’s your car or the family car, or a rental car, or a car share program.
Because smart phones have computing power that’s probably equivalent to what you had in the late '60s to put a man on the moon, you can do a lot of interesting things like a typical app can do. You can segregate business from work trips, you could add other people to your account, you could be the host account where your children could also have GeoToll-enabled phones and you can see what’s going on with them.
There are other promising applications too because the phone is geographically aware of itself. We don’t yet know exactly what we might do in the future with GeoToll using location-based services in geographic awareness. It’s a smart device and it’s making a toll tag a smart device.
TRN: The last time TRN reported on your device, last fall, you were in the middle of testing two prototypes of the 6C standard protocol. What were the results?
TM: I’m only allowed to talk about one, because the other host site prefers to maintain anonymity so for now those results are private. The public results are with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), where we tested on all of their toll road facilities. Between both pilot tests we collected almost 20,000 transactions, and we finished both tests late last year.
Our results were excellent. The GeoToll device worked like a toll tag, as we’d hoped, especially when it’s line-of-sight. RFID is a line-of-sight technology, so when the phone is sitting in a line-of-sight location – on the dash or in a cup holder, it’s reading at the same level of accuracy that the industry has determined as the standard, which is something like 99.75 percent.
The exciting thing about GeoToll is, if it’s not read by the RFID reader, we still know the phone went through the toll point and we can create a transaction from that. With a toll tag, when it’s not read it’s not read, you have to adjust it by other means, mainly video. Or if the video doesn’t work, you just lose the transaction. So we have RFID which is really a toll tag on a phone, but if the RFID doesn’t read for some reason, and it doesn’t sometimes, we have fail-safe approaches which almost guarantee that the vehicle went through that toll point.
TRN: Have you officially reported your test results yet?
TM: Yes, we’re happy to share a subset of the WSDOT data:
Our other news is, late last year, WSDOT put out a Request for Quotes and Qualifications (RFQQ) for RFID tolling technology procurement – basically their version of an RFP – and last month our solution was selected as a winner.
TRN: Good, tell us what that means.
TM: That means that GeoToll’s technology has survived the contracting process, and has been recognized as a valid solution for tags. We were not sure that was going to happen. For one thing, our cost proposal had all zeros, because we don’t cost the toll operator anything, because the person we issue the tag to is the driver. And that’s what WSDOT was excited about, giving their drivers an option.
Also, because they’re very interested in HOV and HOT applications, we shared with them our thoughts on how to declare HOT versus HOV using our solution. We presented a patent-pending algorithm to do that, and they were excited about that. Because that’s still a sticky issue – how do you identify whether somebody who says they’re HOV is actually HOV? You still need eyeballs out there on the road. So they were very intrigued with our solution.
The last factor is the multi-modal applicability of GeoToll. We could use it, for example, to access a ferry system. The Washington State Transportation Commission – who sets WSDOT’s toll rates – is very interested in using GeoToll’s device to grant access to ferries. You could leave your car, take your smart phone with you and walk across a human gantry and under a small e-reader, just hold your phone up and you’re granted access and you’ve paid for the ferry service.
We’ve always envisioned other applications. The device is capable with the GeoToll RFID of what we call its “far-field communications” – as opposed to near-field communications that it also has – where you hold it up and it can communicate 30 feet and more in a secure manner.
WSDOT’s perfect world is having account-based RFID transactions, they’re the lowest cost transactions and because they’re no longer distributing tags, managing point of sale networks, we’re actually a lower cost transaction than they have today. We’re the lowest cost transaction.
So we were selected with the expectation that we will provide products, and become an actual revenue-generating company by the third quarter of this year.
TRN: Who are your competitors?
TM: We’re the only one in the field that actually has integrated RFID, we have about eight provisional patents, no one really can legally do what we’re doing, no one’s been able to figure out how to do it. So we don’t feel we have any competition on smart phone RFID tolling. But, of course, I would consider 3M, Kapsch and TransCore to be maybe among our competitors because they’re also selling RFID devices. We don’t do readers at GeoToll, we just do the carrying device.
We have talked with every one of those companies just mentioned about offering our products, or helping to develop their own version by licensing our technology. So in one respect, I’d say we could be competitors on the tag side, and in another respect we could be collaborators. I think I’ve had more collaboration discussions with those guys than anything else.
TRN: Speaking of collaboration – of a sort – what effect will your technology have on nationwide interoperability?
TM: Well, we think that we can help achieve nationwide interoperability. There are three paths to do that. One, the entire toll industry chooses one protocol and that’s it. But there’s too much invested in E-ZPass, FasTrak, TxTag and SunPass to swap out the entire 3,300 toll lanes in the United States and replace them with one technology. And add to that Title 21 in California, which collects maybe three-quarters of a billion dollars in tolls a year. So, option one is never going to happen.
Option two, everybody modifies their lanes to include multiple protocols, and that means they’re adding the protocol that they don’t have in order to be interoperable. IBTTA’s interoperability committee is establishing a set of requirements for protocols that would be candidates for national interoperability. If we can narrow that down to, say, three protocols, then everyone can have triple protocol readers, which still requires an upgrade. It also requires time to close the lanes down and it’s very expensive, costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
Option three is our approach: bring the protocol to the lane. You can’t do that cheaply with a “dumb” tag, where you build a tag with five or six protocols in it, with several integrated circuits, and it’s a hard-shell tag that may cost $50 or $60 which is completely opposite the trend of lower-cost tags. Rather, you could do it through the GeoToll intelligent approach, where you could dynamically assign the protocol to the tag via the cellular communications network when it is needed.
The biggest advantage is that because of the smart phone’s intelligence and its geographic location awareness, the device knows what protocol is needed and can dynamically assign that protocol to the device when you travel to another region that has a different protocol.
It’s a beautiful, elegant solution that costs the toll authorities nothing. The only thing they have to do for us is to issue us an account ID, and those are free.
TRN: How much progress have you made in terms of adding E-ZPass protocols to the device?
TM: The progress is pretty exciting. Our chief technology officer believes we’ll be able to integrate that in about a year. And that’s a big win for us, because the market for 6C – the protocol we worked on first – is maybe 8 to 10 percent of the entire toll collection market in North America. Whereas E-ZPass accounts for 70 to 75 percent of the value of all tolls, so that’s our next step.
Editor’s Note: Questions and answers were edited for clarity and length.