FedEx rides the IoT wave with near real-time tracking

In the logistics industry, the ability to allow customers to track items from the time they place a delivery order to the time they arrive at their destinations is important.

While barcodes and 2D barcodes give visibility of items, they don't allow dynamic tracking and timely update of a shipment's condition.

According to Anthony Leung, managing director, Hong Kong and Macau, FedEx Express, the company started R&D for its SenseAware service a few years ago when there were corporate customers demanded more tracking capabilities and timely updates.

"SenseAware provides near real-time data of shipments and the ability to share that information collaboratively with business partners, he said. "FedEx is the first logistics company that provides such a service."

Monitoring your shipment

The service was originally designed to meet the needs of industries like life science, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, said Leung. Commonly monitored items include unique or rare samples from clinical trials; temperature sensitive pharmaceuticals; light-sensitive biological specimens; and valuable items such as medical devices, he added.

FedEx gives a SenseAware customer a small multi-sensor device to be placed together with the shipment and access to a Web-based application for vital statistics of the shipment--including exact location, precise temperature readings, relative humidity, and barometric pressure--while it's in transit. Customers receive alerts when their shipments are open or exposed to light, said Leung.

According to him, all a customer needs to do is to set up a route via the web-based application. The customer will then able to monitor the shipment via the application, receive alerts, and customize the types of triggers and alerts they want to receive.

Customers can also change the types of alerts received while the shipment is in transit.

Asked how often the battery for the multi-sensor device needs a charge, Leung said it lasts up to 16 days if alerts are sent hourly, and up to 60 days when alerts are sent once every 24 hours.

If customers want to share pre-determined types of data with business partners, they can also create permission-based access, he noted. This allows users to collaborate with partners and take immediate action together when unforeseen situations arise," said Leung.

In addition, customers can create a 'geo-fence' along the actual route that a shipment should follow and set up alerts to be sent if the shipment deviates from this pre-established route, said Leung, adding that this feature is available for ground shipments.

Triggers can also be set up to notify customers when geo-fence events don't occur as expected by a specified time. This helps customers determine if a package is off-pace or off-track.

Benefits besides visibility

These types of alerts make intervention at crucial moments possible. "Knowing your shipment is off-route or has been opened prematurely or for too long give you an extra layer of security," said Leung. "Your ability to stay ahead of the information curve and take control of challenging situations will also help inspire confidence in business partners."

Data available from the service will help customers better plan their routes in the future. "You gain a deeper understanding of their supply chains with in-depth analysis that results in improved asset management," said Leung. "Now you're able to know whether your packaging, storage, and transportation methods are right for your businesses."

Using SenseAware with other carriers

Initially launched in its home market in the US in 2009, the SenseAware service is now available in Hong Kong and on a growing list of air and ground transportation carriers--including Cathay Pacific; Delta Air Lines (including Delta Connection Carriers); Qantas Airways; Singapore Airlines Cargo; United Airlines mainline jets; third-party ground carriers; and private fleets.

"That means you can still make use of SenseAware if you don't ship your items with FedEx," said Leung.

He declined to reveal the monthly charge for using the service, saying it depends on the length of the contract period. The monthly charge covers the use of the multi-sensor device, the web-based application, support, and all telecom charges related to the tracking service. "It's a cost-effective way to track shipments because you don't need to set up your own infrastructure," said the FedEx MD.

He revealed FedEx is in talks with various companies in Hong Kong to gauge their interest in the service.

Regulatory challenge

To make the service available in more markets, Leung said FedEx must comply with local regulations. "Different countries have different regulations when it comes to placing an activated, multi-sensor device in a shipment," he pointed out. "FedEx is working on it and hopefully the service will be available in more markets."

As airlines also need to make sure that those multi-sensor devices won't affect flight operation and security, getting the OK from airline partners will also take some time, he added.


« Apple sneaks in changes to AppleCare+


A transformational journey »
IDG News Service

The IDG News Service is the world's leading daily source of global IT news, commentary and editorial resources. The News Service distributes content to IDG's more than 300 IT publications in more than 60 countries.

  • Mail


Do you think your smartphone is making you a workaholic?