Thinking outside the box

Geman telematics specialists have developed a cargo transport container that can monitor its own contents and location using RF technology.

The Smart Box is a prototype system developed by Fraunhofer Institute researchers and telematics company Enaikoon to meet demand for a high-security transportation device for the movement of goods across Europe.

The Smart Box uses radio frequency identification tags (RFID) to constantly monitor its own contents. The data is forwarded to a small computer unit, where software combines the information with data from the box’s GPS positioning receiver, which provides its location.

Depending on the needs of individual companies, application specific sensors can also be integrated into the box such as temperature monitors for volatile chemicals. Manufacturers of sensitive electronics could use it to closely monitor vibration during transportation, its developers said.

Data is transmitted to a central system by mobile wireless links. Logistics companies and clients will be able to access the database via the internet to check on the condition of their goods.

Marcus Semm of Enaikoon said: ‘We originally conceived of the box being used to transport valuable or dangerous items across Europe. It is something we could offer companies for an increased fee so they would always know where their goods were en route.’

The team had the technical problem of positioning the antennae inside the box so that every last centimetre was covered by RFID while using the minimum number of radio tags.

Tests will be conducted in September when a truck loaded with a Smart Box will be driven from Amsterdam to Vienna. Objects will be secretly removed at intervals during the journey, and researchers will attempt to work out exactly what was taken out, when and where by analysing the data from the box’s sensors.

Semm said that, providing the test is successful, the first order of around 2,000 boxes will be placed by a European transportation company before the end of the year.