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Category: RFID, Automated Data Collection, and Internet of Things

RFID, AIDC, and IoT News: Intel Demonstrates New Mote that Can Track Parcel Handling History



Idea Not New, but Approach Is, with Tiny More Powered by Wi-Fi Networks


Aug. 22, 2016
SCDigest Editorial Staff

It's been a long time since SCDigest has written anything about motes, the small wireless chips that can easily network with each other and be connected to a range of sensors to monitor factory machinery, bridges and lots more. These motes are sometimes connected to the concept of “Smart Dust.” (See Technologies to Watch: Motes.)

Supply Chain Digest Says...

In fact, why would parcel carriers even bother to deliver a package that is known to have been mishandled.

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Well just recently, the smart folks at Intel demonstrated a new potential use for motes: tracking how small packages are handled in their journey from shipper to business or consumer.

According to Stephen Lawson of the IDG News Service, at the Intel Developer Forum last week, the chip giant showed some developing technology that uses a tiny mote as the brains and communication vehicle for a smart label that has various low cost sensors connected to the mote.

In the demonstration, a real-time graph generated by sensor readings automatically showed a box getting shaken up in its journey, with the idea that the technology might be used for parcels containing fragile items that could identify where and when in the delivery chain rough handling might have damaged the item.

That basic idea is not new. In 2013, SCDigest reported on new technology developed by research firm Cambridge Consultants called the DropTag, which combined a battery, a low-energy Bluetooth transmitter, an accelerometer and a memory chip.

The accelerometer measured if the package was subject to any G-forces above some pre-determined level. When the package arrived, the consumer would turn on Bluetooth, "connect" to the package with the phone app, and check the status.

Initially, the DropTag simply provided a binary indication of whether the parcel was mistreated. But Cambridge said then it developing the sensor platform further to log critical event data so that, when DropTag is interrogated, it can provide information on exactly what happened to the package and when, similar to the technology Intel demonstrated last week.

Cambridge Consultants is still actively marketing the DropTag, though it is not clear if there has been much market adoption.

While the DropTag is referred to as a "puck," the heart of the Intel technology is a mote that is much smaller in size than a fingernail. (See image below)

The mote is connected to the sensors (notion, temperature, etc.), and receives its power from local Wi-Fi networks.

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The tiny size of the processor is key, as it keeps both energy requirements and chip costs low.

According to IDG's Lawson, the mote doesn't talk directly to the Cloud. Instead, it uses a short-range, low-power network, such as Bluetooth Low Energy, to connect a local gateway device that forwards the data over a longer-range network like cellular. The local gateway might also process or store the data first.

The mote is so small and efficient that it needs only about 1 milliwatt of power to operate. Therefore, it can run on energy harvested from ambient Wi-Fi radio waves

For example, a Wi-Fi network on a truck might cover a trailer full of packages with enough RF energy to power motes on every one of them, Intel said.

While that's handy if there is a Wi-Fi network around, it means the mote can't operate without such a network, potentially a real limitation. The DropTags have their own batteries, but would clearly be a lot more expensive, although they can be reused.

SCDigest notes this whole concept of tracking fragile or temperature-sensitive parcels opens up a kind of can of worms.

Assuming a consumer or business can access the logistics history of such a package, such as via a smart phone app, many will refuse to accept a parcel that has been roughly handled or mishandled delivery.

If there are very many parcels that are refused based on this data, it will put huge pressure on the parcel carriers to find ways to limit the number of packages that are dropped or jolted.

In fact, why would parcel carriers even bother to deliver a package that is known to have been mishandled, at least for certain product categories?

Wouldn't the carrier want that information first so it doesn't deliver a package the customer is going to refuse? This would be especially true for items like electronics, where consumers can't just visually inspect the product. Or if a medicine has been exposed to high or freezing temperatures - the customer just isn't going to accept that delivery, and the carrier would know that before driving to the home.

It appears that in the Intel system, the labels would not be reusable. One question is whether they can simply be thrown away, or if other handling is needed for environmental reasons, which would probably doom the approach.

The mote used by Intel in the demo was built Intel's Quark architecture.

Do you think we will see this kind of handling tracking any time soon? Why or why not? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


Your Comments/Feedback


Consultant, Olsen Systems
Posted on: Aug, 23 2016

I work at company that specializes in mail processing. One side of the business is dedicated to processing outsourced mail and corporate catalog/literature fulfillment. The other side of the business revolves around developing software that streamlines the processing of incoming and outgoing parcels for businesses of all sizes.

Competition is fierce between USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL; with all looking for any added edge over their competitors. Companies like Google (Alphabet,) Amazon and others are developing drone delivery systems. A variety of alternative shipping methods are being developed (i.e. Uber, Lyft, etc.) to meet same-day or within the hour delivery in large metropolitan areas. 

This ecommerce explosion has led to massive innovation within the world of logistics and has changed the design of quickly evolving corporate Supply Chain Networks. Part of these Supply Change Network designs take into consideration Reverse Logistics. This aspect of Supply Chain methodologies takes into account all operations related to the reuse of products and materials. It is "the process of moving goods from their typical final destination for the purpose of capturing value, or proper disposal. Remanufacturing and refurbishing activities also may be included in the definition of reverse logistics (see This is a very big issue in the e-commerce world, since every effort is being taken to reduce product returns.

Adding a small wireless chip to every parcel that is capable of tracking/measuring when and where a parcel is ‘bumped’ above a predefined value into the logistical equation would be a major game changer! All ecommerce companies and all shipping companies would be able to address problems with ‘real-time’ problem detection. Facilities with ‘real-time’ reporting can be identified quickly to see why parcels are incurring damage. Companies can identify potential fraud throughout the supply chain network. Businesses can demand more detailed shipping statistics from their shippers.

With a little more brain storming within the e-commerce community, I can see this technology being embraced very quickly to solve a multitude of logical issues and challenges. This is also right up the alley of the ever growing industry of big data!





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