Picture this, delivery drivers: A dash-mounted computerized device that uses a Global Positioning Satellite system to give you audible turn-by-turn directions to a delivery destination. Late deliveries due to bad directions — eliminated.

And check this out, operators: In your store is a visual tracking system that shows you exactly where every one of your drivers is at all times. If they've delivered an order, you know it — and where they're headed next.

Seeing a need for fleet navigation management in the pizza industry, Pi Star Communications in Louisville, Ky., developed the PiMobile Pizza Delivery System. A successful test in 2004 with Domino's Pizza has the No. 2 chain interested (a call for comment from Domino's wasn't returned) and apparently other pizza companies are interested.

The time for such devices has come, the company's officers believe.

"(Pizza) drivers are unmanaged and unmonitored, and we have a device that will manage employees in the field," said Kevin Daley, vice president of sales for Pi Star. "This creates an incentive for the driver not to deviate from the task at hand while he's at work."

The system also puts pizza customers at ease, he added, by using an optional automated pre-arrival call that lets the customer know the driver is minutes away.

J.W. Callahan, president of the Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers, used a similar device while working for a multirestaurant delivery service. The pizza industry has needed such devices for a long time, he said.

"I live in a city that is expanding so rapidly that cartographers can't keep up with all the changes," said Callahan, a resident of Warner Robbins, Ga. He has delivered pizzas for nearly two decades and also been a pizzeria manager. That group, he said, could benefit from fleet management tools. "If you can control productivity by keeping a driver from stopping somewhere and fooling around, that's really helpful from a management point of view."

How it works

PiMoble is a three-component system that communicates between the pizza shop, GPS satellites and a handheld computer unit mounted to the dash of a driver's car.

When an order comes to the shop, it is entered into the POS system and sent to the kitchen and a driver dispatch station. When it's ready for delivery, the driver takes the order to his car and uses the handheld device to signal the store that he's on the move. Immediately, the handheld begins giving him audible directions and distances to the destination. As the driver moves about, his progress can be tracked by store personnel via computer monitor.

Five minutes before he arrives, the system triggers an automated call which notifies the customer the pizza is coming and reminds him of the total due. When the driver arrives, he pushes another button on the touchscreen letting the manager know he's arrived. He removes the handheld from the dash and takes the order to the door, where the transaction is completed.

Should the customer want to pay by credit, debit or gift card, the driver swipes the card through a belt-mounted combination reader/printer, waits for approval and presents a receipt.

When the driver returns to his car, he places the handheld back into the cradle and pushes a button ending the transaction. If he has another delivery, the handheld immediately provides directions to the next destination. If not, the operator will see that he's headed back and can put him in cue for the next delivery.

"With it that organized, you could meet the driver at his car with the next order — he wouldn't even have to get out — and he's on his way," said Patrick Moldt, Pi Star chief software architect. All new order information is updated instantly, and the "handheld starts giving him directions again. It's all automatic."

The PiMoble service costs $85 a month per store. Equipment costs range from $150 to $350 per automobile; the higher amount includes the combination card reader/printer.

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