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LA-Area Food Distributors Use Active Transponders to Track Trucks, Temperatures

StarTrak's ReeferTrak Scout system, installed on refrigerated trucks, transmits temperature, location and other data to base stations up to 3 miles away.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 12, 2006Several Los Angeles-area food distributors have begun deploying an RFID tracking system manufactured by StarTrak Systems, a subsidiary of Alanco Technologies. The ReeferTrak Scout is a new product consisting of base-station transceivers that communicate with transponders installed on refrigerated trucks ("reefers"), enabling transportation companies to track the temperatures and movements of products in their trucks.

StarTrak will not release the names of the companies using the system. However, according to the firm's CEO and founder, Tim Slifkin, five companies have completed pilot projects lasting about one year, and are now tracking a limited number of trucks in their fleets before extending the system company-wide.

Tim Slifkin
ReeferTrak Scout is a less expensive alternative to StarTrak's Command system, which uses satellite communications, or its Sentry system, which uses cellular communications, to track the locations of trucks or rail containers in transit. The system also monitors the temperature and conditions inside those vehicles, to watch for heavy shaking and other risks. The Scout system is less costly because instead of using cellular or satellite communications systems, it utilizes a base station (a transceiver connected to an RF antenna mounted on the roof of a warehouse or distribution center). The base station is linked wirelessly to a StarTrak computer, which sends data via the Internet to StarTrak's data center and, ultimately, to a secure Web site. "It's just like you had a wire out of the computer to every asset in the yard," says Slifkin.

The onboard transponder measure 5 inches by 5 inches by 8 inches and is powered by either a battery or solar panel. Each unit consists of an RF transceiver, an embedded processor and interface to process incoming and outgoing data, a GPS receiver and a variety of sensors for measuring such things as the amount of fuel in the vehicle, oil pressure and the temperature of the truck's refrigerated compartment. The unit's transceiver receives and transmits signals over the 900 MHz frequency band in the United States (2.3 GHz in other countries), and constantly listens for an RF transmission from a base station, according to Slifkin. The device can communicate with a base station up to three miles away, Slifkin says, allowing companies to track all the RF-enabled vehicles on a large lot without requiring multiple antennas.

"If the trucks run a fixed route every day, this system works very well," Slifkin says. A transportation company can deploy base stations at the locations where trucks regularly deliver goods, thereby tracking when deliveries are made—and, perhaps more importantly, when trucks are delayed and idling in warehouse yards while expending energy keeping food cold.

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