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New Beacon Solution Offers Low-Cost Supply Chain Visibility

Roambee's BeeBeacon system consists of small, low-cost beacon devices and Bee hubs to receive transmissions, using BLE, GSM or Wi-Fi connectivity to track goods in large volume through warehouses, on ships and vehicles, and at stores.
By Claire Swedberg

As goods move around a warehouse, into a truck or other vessel, or into a store, the BeeBeacon continues to transmit its ID and sensor data, and the Bee reports that information to the server. If a carton is opened, the light sensor transmits data indicating that the item had been tampered with. In the event that the temperature or moisture level reaches an unacceptable threshold, users can view that status or receive an alert.

The system also knows if a product with a BeeBeacon inside it is removed from a vehicle, as well as if a vehicle filled with BeeBeacon-tagged items leaves its expected route or schedule. The Bee hub comes with a rechargeable battery that requires a charge about every 90 days.

"The beauty of this model is that users can start to realize their value very quickly," Sharma says. The system allows a company not only to receive real-time alerts of events that could cause damage to a product, but also to gain analytic data. For instance, if a location in a supply chain, or a given condition (such as the time of day or a specific driver), tends to result in the loss of products, a company can address that problem. For instance, he notes, "They can view the probability of loss at certain locations. Or, if the temperature is going up while the truck is not moving," that could indicate that the vehicles themselves may have cooling problems, or drivers may be turning off refrigeration.

Several companies have been piloting the BeeBeacon system for about three months, Sharma says. Mexican beer companyGrupo Modelo is using the system to improve estimated time of arrival (ETA) predictability, and to better manage inventory, eliminate disruptions, strengthen security and improve demand forecasting. The company is tracking pallets loaded with beer through the supply chain. An unnamed pharmaceutical company is tracking the temperatures of products as they are transported. And an electronic consumer goods manufacturer is employting the tamper-detection feature to understand whether cartons filled with high-value consumer electronics are being opened during transit.

The system is designed to scale to very large numbers for companies that may be tracking hundreds of thousands or even millions of products. Not only are the BeeBeacons designed to be low-cost to enable that volume of use, but the system is designed to move the data quickly. To reduce the risk of a data queue in which information becomes backed up and delayed due to sheer volume, Sharma says, Roambee is setting up local servers that act like a rudder, attracting local data to themselves and then forwarding that information to the central server. "They act as a conduit for collecting data and forwarding it," he states, "which gives the data queue elasticity" so that data can be processed more quickly.

Roambee is also releasing its BeeFleet, a fleet-management device attached to vehicles to be tracked in storage yards and while driving. The BeeLock enables companies to better secure containers or vehicles, by programming them not to open for unauthorized parties. They would require a specific BLE signal from a user, or could be remotely instructed to open by the company that owns the lock.

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