This is our fourth post on interoperable active RFID and the ISO 18000-7 standard. So far, we have discussed how the standard allows true interoperability in the active RFID technology environment and we have discussed where the value of that standard can be derived in the international shipments market. We have also posited a technical and solution framework that is needed to deliver on the value proposition. In this post we will discuss what has been tried before so that we can understand what hasn’t worked or delivered on the promise and can apply those learnings to the new world of interoperable active RFID.
There have been many initiatives over the past several years focused at creating the “intelligent container”. This space seems to have a revolving door of participants. Most notably, IBM and GE have left this market in recent years. At the same time, others have made a strategic push to commercialize the technology and create a revenue stream. Discussed here are several of those previous initiatives and what has transpired with them.
GPS and vehicle tracking, Schneider National
Early GPS was nurtured by Schneider National, specifically Don Schneider was attempting to expand his company’s image as a technology leader. They partnered with Qualcomm, guaranteeing to outfit their fleet with Qualcomm GPS units. Although the price was high (per unit and in total), Schneider generated significant competitive advantage and became known as the industry technical leader. This technology/customer relationship was critical in establishing the product as a standard. Schneider paid a more than “reasonable” price per unit, but got the jump on competition (image-wise and technology-wise), and Qualcomm got a customer and a case study that they could promote, as well as a national beta test.
Although this example isn’t really about active RFID, it does demonstrate how technology standards when coupled with appropriate solution processes can turn into a bona vide success.
Intelligent Containers, Migration from DoD, Savi Networks
Born out of the military, Savi Networks is the commercial arm of Savi Technology. This company provides devices and a SaaS (software as a service) ITV product, providing visibility of containers as they traverse the globe. The original concept was to create commercial visibility via RFID. However the infrastructure costs were too large. The solution migrated to its current state, utilizing a GPS/GPRS platform. The devices obtain their location via GPS and communicate this data via 2G/3G cell service. The data can go directly to the SaviTrak visibility tool or directly to the client ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution. Savi Networks does not support two-way communication, and therefore its solution was not configurable after it had been deployed.
Savi Networks has two devices currently. Both devices provide location updates via the GPRS platform. Its legacy device has an array of sensors that track light, shock, temperature, and humidity. In addition, it has an arm that senses whether the door has been opened. It is not meant for theft deterrence. This device was adopted from Savi Technology and will not be supported long term. The second device is a form of electronic seal. It attaches to the container through the hasp and creates a physical deterrent. If this device is removed, a message is sent immediately to a predefined list of recipients.
Savi Networks started as a device neutral offering, looking to provide a visibility solution that was populated by mobile tracking devices. The company has since changed gears and is selling a particular device that populates its visibility platform. Although this device will interface with other devices to create a solution, it is not the company’s primary focus.
Finally, the venture has taken a long time and consumed significant capital and other resources. Recently, Savi Networks has dramatically reduced staff and limited its future plans.
Asset Visibility and Security, OnAsset
OnAsset positions itself as a “mobile to mobile” (M2M) solutions provider. The company’s focus is on asset visibility and security. In the asset visibility space, OnAsset has solutions deployed that incorporate RFID, 2-way satellite, GPS & GPRS. Furthermore, the company claims the technology will interface with WiFi and Mesh networking utilizing ZigBee (interoperable device to device communication like Blue Tooth or WIFI). Like Savi Networks, it offers a visibility platform named OnAsset that provides internet visibility of the devices and their respective status.
OnAsset’s Sentry platform is used in a multitude of devices tailored for specific applications. The company offers a standard sensor unit that is utilized in a variety of form factors which track location, temperature, humidity, and shock. Currently, it offers a device designed for ocean container tracking which is similar to the Savi Networks device. This device attaches to the door and will alert designated recipients if the door has been opened. In addition, the company has a product called FlightSafe that is approved by the FAA for in flight use (air containers). Finally, there is a magnetic unit that is appropriate for container, trailer, or rail use. This magnetic device can incorporate a security cable that will notify the shipper of any breach.
The OnAsset solution allows for multiple communication paths based on the lowest cost method. In addition, the units can support 2-way communication via GPRS, RF and Satellite, and are configurable over the air.
Intelligent Containers, Migration from DoD, Qinetiq-NA
Like Lockheed Martin (Savi parent company), Qinetiq North America is heavily tied to the Department of Defense. It intends to push into the commercial space in order to broaden its revenue portfolio. The intelligent container is an area the company is starting to develop. Currently it is developing the visibility platform and data integration points. To get to market quickly, the company is using devices and limited technology from OnAsset. Long term, it will work with device manufacturers like Impeva Labs/Cubic.
Interoperable Solutions, DoD RFID III and ISO 18000-7
This full solution set as implemented by DoD with its 40 NATO country allies and other allied militaries is the only existent interoperable active RFID solution that functions globally, provides visibility via an on-demand SaaS-like solution, and includes the ability to operate independently of access to any network or computer solution. The technical RFID capabilities are provided through four prime contractors; Unisys Corporation, Savi Technologies, Systems Process and Engineering Corporation (SPEC), and Northrup Grumman. The hardware providers included Savi Technologies, IDENTEC SOLUTIONS, HiG Tek, and Evigia. The in-transit visibility system is primarily operated by the US Army as the single largest user of the RFID II and III solution and is called TAV-ITV (Total Asset Visibility, In-Transit Visibility). Additionally, the USAF, USN, and DLA (Defense Logistic Agency) operate their own ITV systems. This solution is viable, active, and being rolled out globally as a replacement for the current Savi proprietary RFID II solution that has been in use for over 10 years.
The problem DoD, NATO, and the other allies have used active RFID to solve is nothing new to commercial entities. Simply put, it is ”How do I track my stuff from shipment to destination when there is no common infrastructure, technology, or agreement to allow such tracking to be both timely and cost effective?” Shipping companies have resisted adoption of any one particular technology without a significant adoption base. After all, these companies can’t afford to attach multiple types of transponders on their containers. The new ISO standard and its adoption by DoD, NATO, and pending adoption by other US government agencies, has created the opportunity for shippers, ocean carriers, port operators, truckers and airlines to follow their lead and begin to build that flexible infrastructure to answer the question: “Where’s my stuff?”
Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security has failed to lead. It has failed to mandate a standard, define a standard, or adopt a standard. Hence, it has not taken advantage of the groundwork laid by the US DoD.
Manufacturers in this post include:
Related posts in this series are :