Smart containers track cargo, improve port security

Jan. 1, 2004
Three supply chain security and asset tracking firms just made ports safer by making marine containers smarter. E J Brooks Company, RAE Systems, and Savi

Three supply chain security and asset tracking firms just made ports safer by making marine containers smarter. E J Brooks Company, RAE Systems, and Savi Technology have developed an integrated system for containers that tracks location as well as sensing interior temperature and humidity, detecting hazardous cargo such as radioactive materials and broadcasts this data across a global network in real time.

Global trade moves an astonishing number of containers into US ports. More than 90% of world trade moves in the global container fleet of 20 million. More than seven million containers enter the US annually. The system is designed to provide information about containers and their contents as outlined by the Maritime Transportation Security Act and other Homeland Security programs. In addition to helping prevent the use of containers by terrorists, the system will give shippers access to a constant stream of location and cargo condition data.

These systems, which include multiple sensors, Electronic Product Code-compliant smart tags and active radio frequency identification tags attach to the nose of a standard refrigerated marine container. The combined system was first demonstrated at the recent US Maritime Security Conference in New York City.

The smart container uses a Brooks door sensor door seal, a RAE Systems radioactivity sensor, and Savi network communications. Information is transmitted by radio to Savi SmartChain software. Savi security systems are used for real-time cargo monitoring and management. In actual practice, fleet can configure the sensors for a wide variety of conditions including temperature, humidity, physical orientation, vibration, atmospheric pressure, and light levels. Containers also can be equipped with sensors for hazardous chemicals. Sensors and communication devices can easily be retrofitted to the existing container fleet as well as incorporated into the manufacture of new containers. Cost varies with system configuration and over the life of the container can range from about $1 to $10 per shipment. The demonstration container used passive radio frequency identification tags supplied by Matrics to provide data about container contents at the individual item level.

The system is designed to be compatible with the Smart and Secure Tradelanes program. It is built using some of the technology already deployed by the Department of Defense in its Total Asset Visibility network, which has RFID tracking capability in 45 countries.

Core elements of the smart container include the Savi Sentinel, which is about the size of a baseball glove and clamps to the edge of the container door. It serves as a door sensor and a collection point for other sensors mounted inside the container. An electronic E-Seal from Brooks is a one-time use item for door security as well as sensing and transmitting attempts to tamper with the container. It can interact with a communications network on its own or send data through the Savi Sentinel. RAE Systems provides a small module of sensors that can be mounted anywhere in the container. Information from the sensors can be retrieved by wireless interrogation. Of particular importance in the anti-terror program is the RadRAE gamma radiation sensor that uses a lithium-iodide crystal that is more sensitive than Gieger-Muller detectors of the same size. The radiation detector alerts security personnel to attempted radioactive material smuggling and provides that information to those responding to the alert before they become exposed to the threat.

About the Author

Gary Macklin

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