Wednesday, September 21, 2005

New Real Time Cargo Security Tracking with Zigbee

Today I attended the US Maritime Security Conference in New York City at the Javits Center. IBM and Maersk Logistics kicked off the show with a press conference announcing real time monitoring for cargo security called TREC or Tamper-Resistant Embedded Controllers. The brains at IBM Research developed the controllers using a plethora of propeller head technology, including iridium satellite GPS and a wireless open standard technology I never heard of called Zigbee. Zigbee is as cool as its name implies. Imagine a stack of cargo containers five high by twenty long. With RFID you can attempt to scan the entire lot, but chances are you will not get a reading on the bottom containers. Using the Zigbee wireless technology, the containers on the bottom form a virtual link to all of the containers in the lot to identify themselves, which then gets passed up to the reader. So none of the containers get missed.

The TREC controllers come standard with eight sensors, which can pick up changes in temperature, climate, tampering, lighting and radiation. Up to 65,000 sensors can be included on the TREC tags, depending on the type of cargo. So for example, if you are shipping chocolate bars from Europe and the temperature drops below room temp, the TREC tags can notify the shipper, the retailer or the manufacturer that the bars are now syrup. Competitive advantage, you bet.

IBM and Maersk plan to start a pilot this November and then by the 2Q next year the devices will be commercially available. The question came up several times during the press conference about the cost and ROI. While the cost is still being determined, the ROI can be looked at several ways. Maresk Logistics can offer this to its clients as a competitive differentiator in a field that is very similar. For manufacturers and retailers, it could lead to faster customs inspection, which means faster time to the store shelves and real-time updates can allow for last minute changes to the port of destination, which could be crucial when one is trying to avoid a closed port for example like in New Orleans. So ROI may not be directly in dollars and cents, but the collateral benefits are clear.

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