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Cubic Global Tracking Gets Approval for RF Sensors on Planes

The FAA says the company's low-power mesh-networking devices will not interfere with an airplane's navigational equipment.
By Mark Roberti
Sep 18, 2012Cubic Corp., a San Diego, Calif.-based company focused on the development, manufacture, integration and maintenance of high-technology systems for government and commercial customers, reports that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved its low-power mesh-networking sensors for use on airplanes.

The company's sensors are battery-powered tags that form ad hoc networks, communicating with each other via radio waves. Eventually, the data is passed to a node that forwards it to a back-end host, where the information can then be analyzed and acted upon. Cubic acquired the mesh-networking technology in 2010, when it purchased the assets of Impeva Labs (see RFID News Roundup: Cubic Acquires Assets of Impeva Labs). Cubic set up a subsidiary known as Cubic Global Tracking Solutions (CGTS) to market the technology to military and civilian organizations.

The individual network nodes, sometimes called motes, support temperature, humidity and shock sensors. Mary Ann Wagner. CGTS' president, says the company plans to market the solution to pharmaceutical manufacturers that airfreight temperature-sensitive drugs around the world. The system will be able to report, in real time, if a shipment's temperature falls outside a preprogrammed range.

CGTS has been working to secure approval from the FAA and airlines—both of which must authorize the technology's use before the devices can be attached to shipments—for nearly two years. The firm performed tests, based on FAA guidelines, in order to determine whether the CGTS system performed within FAA specifications. After reviewing the test results, the FAA sent CGTS a letter indicating that the agency had approved the use of its low-power mesh-networking sensors on aircraft.

"Because of the nature of our technology, which uses very little power, the FAA found that our system would not interfere with RF and other navigational equipment on the plane," Wagner states. "Getting approval is a big deal, because there are a lot of companies that would like to monitor shipments in real time."

United Airlines is the first carrier to accept the use of CGTS' solution on its planes. Each airline must approve the technology's use individually.

According to Wagner, CGTS' mesh-network system has been adopted recently by a major railroad to detect possible maintenance issues, as well as by a major aerospace company that needs to control the humidity and temperatures of certain pieces of equipment. The U.S. Army has also deployed more than 10,000 CGTS tags to manage logistics regarding military equipment used in the Middle East (U.S. Army Deploys 'Soldier-Friendly' System to Track Thousands of Vehicles in Kuwait). The army plans to expand this deployment to Afghanistan, where it intends to begin tracking retrograde cargo using the mesh-network tags.
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