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Wireless sensors could aid shipping industry

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June 2, 2010

UPNA's wireless shipping container sensors

UPNA's wireless shipping container sensors

If you were shipping, say... a cargo container of pineapples from Hawaii to Poland, you would probably want to know what was happening to those pineapples along the way. For instance, were they allowed to get too hot or too cold? Did they clear customs? Did they follow the planned route? Using wireless radio frequency identification sensors recently developed at Spain’s Public University of Navarre (UPNA ), you could know all these things and more, in real time.

The sensors and their data network have been in development since 2007, when a consortium of corporations and research facilities was established to develop the technology. A member group of that consortium, Navarre-based TB-Solutions, called upon UPNA to develop the software. Now, prototype sensors have been created and put to the test inside containers at the Port of Valencia.

“With this device, I know what goods are being moved by which truck and in what conditions of temperature, luminosity, etc. If and when it arrives at a customs post, who has been involved in this customs check and if they have been given the green light,” UPNA’s José Javier Astrain explained. “I know if there are hazardous goods and if they are driving along an authorized route or not, etc., and I can arrange that, when the container arrives at the port, I don’t have to do any paperwork and the container can be loaded on board directly.”

TB-Solutions made a point of installing security mechanisms in the system, so that outside parties can’t intercept the data as it’s being transmitted. As far as they know, theirs is the only such system to offer this feature.

The sensors would communicate both with a central control facility, and with each other. Astrain gave an example of how they could make all the difference with multiple shipments. “It can occur that three trucks carrying fruit make contact with the operator at the same time in order to give updates on incidents: one load is not in such a good state, another might be making better time than expected,” he said. “This information, in real time, enables the company to take decisions ahead such as, for example, diverting the container with the more delicate load of fruit to a closer destination.”

The team is currently working on developing the sensors for commercial clients. For an earlier version of a similar product, check out the Smart Box.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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