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DropTag Knows When a Package Has Been Handled With Care

The wireless sensor tag, developed by Cambridge Consultants, could be placed in a parcel prior to shipment and interrogated via a smartphone to learn if the contents suffered any impacts.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 12, 2013Cambridge Consultants, a British technology company, is looking for customers such as parcel carriers after completing development of a Bluetooth-based RFID sensor tag that could help logistics companies and their customers identify when a package has been dropped. The system is designed to allow anyone with a smartphone equipped with a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) chip to use an app to read the status of a parcel, thereby determining how it has been handled. In that way, customers of a carrier could view, on their own phones, the status of a package as it is being delivered to their door, prior to signing for it. Carriers could also track that data themselves, knowing in real time when a parcel suffers an impact by reading data on a mobile phone installed in the truck.

Cambridge Consultants' Tom Lawrie-Fussey
One of Cambridge Consultants' many spin-off companies is CSR (formerly known as Cambridge Silicon Radio), founded in 1998. CSR makes the kind of BLE 4.0 wireless radio chips that are being used in phones, as well as in the DropTag that Cambridge Consultants has now developed. BLE is characterized by a protocol design that allows for periodic rather than continuous data transfer, enabling the DropTag to operate for up to a year on a small battery, since the tag is usually dormant. In comparison to standard Bluetooth products, a BLE device (also known as a Bluetooth Smart device) transmits a small amount of data—typically about 200 kilobits per second—to an interrogator.

Tom Lawrie-Fussey, Cambridge Consultants' business development manager, helped develop a BLE solution for tracking heart rates to be used by athletes, finding that sensor data about the wearer's pulse could be transmitted to a mobile phone using one chip to store and send data, and a cell battery to power that sensor and transmission. Based on the success of that Bluetooth solution, Lawrie-Fussey and his colleagues "had a brainstorming session," he says, leading to the idea for DropTag. He adds that instead of incorporating a BLE chip into its DropTag, the company had considered using a Near Field Communication (NFC) passive 13.56 MHz RFID inlay joined to a battery-powered sensor, but had rejected that option because the inlay's short read range would have require that a reader be placed within centimeters of the package.

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