The new Empirica Mobile computing product developed by Chess Logistics Technology contains a number of advanced features which allow rapid development of robust, flexible solutions offering key advantages over other products. Empirica Mobile is an application framework that supports development and hosting of applications for Windows Mobile platforms and is designed for rapid development and deployment with maximum usability and flexibility.
Empirica Mobile is a self-contained product, which means no other software is required to develop, deploy, run or maintain the mobile application. It is also hardware independent, so users are not tied to particular PDA manufacturers and can mix devices freely. The key advantages of the product are the way it manages business logic and communications. It does not need complex version control to ensure software on the device is up to date, and contains a sophisticated ‘message manager’ which handles secure data transmission and efficient selection of available communications networks.
A problem with some mobile applications is the difficulty in maintaining the latest version software on the remote devices, which can involve complex version management, third party software or even device recall. Empirica Mobile overcomes this with its advanced ‘update manager’. When users log on to a PDA this checks the version of the framework, application and resources installed. It automatically requests and receives a live update from the host server, when needed, to ensure the device is running the latest version of all software components.
Another key requirement for good mobile applications is the ability to utilise any available communications infrastructure. This makes them truly ‘mobile’ but also means they can take advantage of the most (cost) effective communications option. Empirica Mobile is designed to use USB, WiFi and all mobile telephone communications, with the PDA based ‘mobile message manager’ handling all transmission between device and host. This includes managing updates, data security, message priority and selectable communication path rules.
To ensure that mobile devices are genuinely independent of the host server and available communications, the Empirica Mobile framework incorporates its own database. This is installed on the device to allow storage of permanent and temporary data, and to maintain a message queue based on store and forward logic. In practice this means that if users working remotely on data collection lose the means to transmit data due to poor coverage, any data collected will be stored and transmitted in the correct sequence once communication coverage is re-established.
Hardware independence of the Empirica Mobile solution is achieved through the use of software ‘plug-ins’ which control access to manufacturer-specific hardware features such as scanners, cameras and GPS receivers. Using these it is possible to build applications which utilise bar-code scanning, signature or photo capture and transmission, and GPS location data transmission. The integral display manager is also ‘resolution aware’ so user screens are automatically configured to the correct size for the PDA on which the application runs.
The success and benefits derived from using mobile solutions rely on proper integration with relevant host applications. To make this easier, a key component of the Empirica mobile framework is an integrated ‘server integration manager’. This allows integration with any host software using Web services (SOAP), XML, http, ftp and CSV based formats. The server framework also provides a repository for holding current versions of the business logic required for the mobile application.
The technical merits of this solution are already proving themselves and providing benefits. A recent project involving a 90 vehicle delivery fleet was designed and implemented within just four months, and there is keen interest from Chess’ existing customers about complementary mobile applications. Chess believes the strong, underlying technology and short project development cycle offered by Empirica Mobile make it a highly viable option for mobile logistics applications.