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More Detailed Parcel Tracking Coming?

Image Of The Intel MoteIntel’s Mote Tags could report on shipping conditions in real time without needing a battery to stay powered…

Fierce Competition

Competition is fierce between USPS, UPS, DHL, and FedEx; with all looking for any added edge over their competition. Companies like Alphabet (Google,) Amazon and others are developing drone delivery systems. A variety of alternative shipping methods are being developed (i.e. Uber, Lyft, etc.) to meet same-day or within the hour delivery in large metropolitan areas.

This e-commerce explosion has led to massive innovation within the world of logistics and has changed the design of quickly evolving corporate Supply Chain Networks. Part of these Supply Change Network designs take into consideration Reverse Logistics. This aspect of Supply Chain methodologies takes into account all operations related to the reuse of products and materials. It is “the process of moving goods from their typical final destination for the purpose of capturing value, or proper disposal. Remanufacturing and refurbishing activities also may be included in the definition of reverse logistics (see Wikipedia.org.)

Parcel tracking has become a very big issue in the e-commerce world since every effort is being taken to reduce product returns; let alone delivering damaged parcels in the first place. Some have been advocating for real-time parcel tracking to address these issues.

Intel’s Mote Parcel Tracking

At the Intel Developer Forum, Intel demonstrated how motes can be used to track how small packages are handled in their journey from shipper to business or consumer. The chip giant showed some developing technology that uses a tiny mote as the brains and communication vehicle for a smart label that has various low-cost sensors connected to the mote.

In the demonstration, a real-time graph generated by sensor readings automatically showed a box getting shaken up in its journey, with the idea that the technology might be used for parcels containing fragile items that could identify where and when in the delivery chain rough handling might have damaged the item.

Remember the Drop Tag?

That basic idea is not new. back in 2013, Cambridge Consultants developed the DropTag, which combined a battery, a low-energy Bluetooth transmitter, an accelerometer and a memory chip.

The accelerometer measured if the package was subject to any G-forces above some pre-determined level. When the package arrived, the consumer would turn on Bluetooth, “connect” to the package with the phone app, and check the status.

The DropTag simply provided a binary indication of whether the parcel was mistreated. But Cambridge said then it developing the sensor platform further to log critical event data so that, when DropTag is interrogated, it can provide information on exactly what happened to the package and when; similar to the technology Intel recently demonstrated.

While it is not clear if it has been used much in the market place, Cambridge Consultants is still actively marketing the DropTag.

While the DropTag is referred to as a “puck,” the heart of the Intel technology is the much smaller mote.

The Mote

The mote is connected to sensors (motion, temperature, etc.), and receives its power from local Wi-Fi networks. The tiny size of the processor is key, as it keeps both energy requirements and chip costs low. The mote doesn’t talk directly to the Cloud. Instead, it uses a short-range, low-power network, such as Bluetooth Low Energy, to connect a local gateway device that forwards the data over a longer-range network like cellular. The local gateway might also process or store the data first.

Wi-Fi Waves Power the Mode

The mote is so small and efficient that it needs only about 1 milliwatt of power to operate. Therefore, it can run on energy harvested from ambient Wi-Fi radio waves.

For example, a Wi-Fi network on a truck might cover a trailer full of packages with enough RF energy to power motes on every item being transported.

While that’s handy if there is a Wi-Fi network around, it means the mote can’t operate without such a network, potentially a limitation. DropTags have their own batteries, cost more, yet they can be reused.

Potential Applications

Individuals or businesses with access to the logistical history could use a tablet or smartphone to advise the recipient to refuse the parcel because of rough handling.

Carriers with access to the logistical history could quickly identify and correct problems within their supply-chain. Items like electronics, where consumers can’t just visually inspect the product or medicine that has been exposed to high or freezing temperatures would be quickly detected. Carriers could even stop delivery and take alternative actions on how the parcel needs to be processed for specific product categories.

Manufacturers and merchants with access to logistical history could use the data to determine the best carrier for specific products.

It’s a new and advanced spin on parcel tracking.