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DOD Completes Large-Scale Tests of Mesh-Networking Tags

The technology is being considered as a means for tracking high-value or mission-critical items, even in remote locations.
By Laurie Sullivan
Jul 27, 2009The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) recently completed large-scale tests of mesh-network location-tracking asset tags from ARINC and Impeva Labs. The tests involved hundreds of battery-powered asset tags that formed secure local mesh networks spanning up to half a mile in length.

With the ARINC-Impeva system, dubbed Next Generation Wireless Communications (NGWC) for Logistics Applications, each tag on goods being transported serves as a network node, transmitting its unique ID number and GPS coordinates. The tag also forwards other tags' ID numbers and GPS coordinates, encoded in signals it receives from neighboring tags. The tags employ a proprietary 2.4 GHz mesh communication protocol to form a network with each other, as well as with mobile RF gateways that transmit each tag's ID number, GPS location and sensor data over secure long-range communications channels, such as satellite, cellular or other available networks, including WiMAX or Wi-Fi. Fixed locations, such as shipping ports, would require only one or two gateways, because the tags communicates with each other, thereby reducing the need for a great deal of infrastructure.

According to Dave Evans, a consultant in the technology group at LMI Government Consulting, a nonprofit organization set up by the government in 1961 to provide research and advice regarding logistics, a DOD official has been in discussions with numerous U.S. Armed Forces divisions and business units regarding the adoption of mesh-networking tags to track cargo. At the DOD's request, Evans and LMI have been working with U.S. Army government personnel to find a better technology to monitor the movement of goods, and to build a system to manage logistics for their transport. As part of that effort, LMI evaluated the ARINC-Impeva NGWC system.

"We now have a working system that we can take to the rest of the Armed Forces," Evans says. "We'll transfer it from a test to a production environment, but there's still a long process to get the software certified by the Department of Defense Information Assurance Certification and Accreditation Process, to make sure it's kept secure and reliable."

The biggest test to date of the NGWC asset-tracking system was conducted in March 2009 at Moffett Field, operated by NASA's Ames Research Center in California, for ARINC's customer, the U.S. Army Logistics Innovation Agency (LIA).

The key, Evans says, is the "mesh tag," a relatively inexpensive battery-powered tag enabling military organizations and commercial companies to monitor and track goods and assets through terminals and seaports or airports, in boxes and refrigerated containers. The NGWC system can provide continuous visibility of assets anywhere on Earth, without the need for ground infrastructure.

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