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U.S. Forest Service Tracks Capitol Christmas Tree

A real-time location system from SkyBitz captured the route, minute by minute, of this year's Capitol Christmas Tree, as it traveled from Arizona to Washington, D.C.
By Beth Bacheldor
Nov 30, 2009An 85-foot-tall blue spruce weighing nearly 8,000 pounds has nearly completed a 21-day, 4,167-mile circuitous journey from Arizona's Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Since Nov. 21, however, anyone could have viewed its location in real time by visiting the official tracking Web site for Capitol Christmas Tree 2009, thanks to a satellite-based tracking system provided by SkyBitz.

SkyBitz worked with the U.S. Forest Service, which has supplied the Capitol's Christmas tree since 1970. According to Rick Davalos, a district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service and the coordinator of the 2009 Capitol Christmas tree project, this year's tree was selected in July from a final list of 10 by Ted Bechtol, the superintendent of the U.S. Capitol grounds. Davalos and others made stops along the way, presenting the tree to onlookers at local libraries, schools, courthouses, shopping centers and other sites.

"Typically," Davalos states, "we'll park the tree in a very prominent position, so everybody can see. We give a quick presentation, talk about the route and do a brief presentation on the sponsorships." The sponsors, he says—including SkyBitz and Southwest Industrial Rigging (which provided the truck)—helped fund the initiative. According to Davalos, the tracking application has met with enthusiasm. "People think it is great," he says. "They get on [the site] day to day, and find it fascinating that they can see where the tree is. It really brings people into the whole project."

The technology behind the tracking application is SkyBitz's GLS210, which measures 9 5/8 inches by 7 inches by 1 inch and contains integrated electronics, antennas and AA batteries. The unit does not leverage a commercial GPS chip; instead, it utilizes SkyBitz's proprietary application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) that communicates with commercial satellites. The chip captures data from the satellite, then relays that information back to the central server at SkyBitz's data center in Virginia, via the satellite.

The server calculates location based on the data it receives. Each GLS210 unit also transmits its own unique ID number, so the server knows not only which unit is communicating, but also that unit's location. The GLS210 usually remains in quasi-sleep mode, awakening only when it needs to communicate. The unit can be programmed to communicate depending on a customer's particular needs; the U.S. National Forest Service decided to set communications at every four minutes. The server then delivers the information to SkyBitz's Web-based Customer Insight application, which presents the tracking data and can be accessed via the Internet.

This is the third year SkyBitz has been involved in the Capitol Christmas Tree initiative. The company leveraged Customer Insight for Trackthetree.com, which offers an interactive map that pulls information from SkyBitz InSight, in order to populate the map. Though nothing new was done this year to the Customer Insight application, SkyBitz did add new features to the Trackthetree.com site. For example, this year, the map has such additional features as push-pins in the form of candy canes that visitors can click on to access pop-up images and facts from the various landmarks at which the tree stops. SkyBitz also added social media components, like Facebook and Twitter, to enable visitors and fans to interact with each other about the tree.

Capitol Christmas Tree 2009, along with nearly 10,000 handmade ornaments and 80 companion trees that will be placed in offices throughout the Capitol complex, is expected to be presented today to the U.S. Congress. The tree-lighting ceremony, hosted by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, is scheduled to take place during the week of Dec. 7.

SkyBitz's roster of customers also includes organizations in the trucking, logistics, rail, utilities, oil and gas, chemicals and government industries. For example, freight-transporting companies Epes Transport System and Texas Star Express are using SkyBitz technology to manage their fleets of approximately 2,800 trailers. Covan Worldwide Moving, based in Midland City, Ala., uses SkyBitz's solution to keep tabs on its trailers too. In December 2007, the company was able to locate a trailer hauling high-value goods that was stolen from a truck stop in Texas. According to the moving company, the trailer was taken shortly after the driver had unhooked it and gone to get something to eat. Using SkyBitz's tracking technology, the moving company was able to locate the trailer shortly after it was stolen, and notify police. The trailer was recovered.
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