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IoT Brings Smarts to New Shipping Container

Aeler Technologies' composite 20-foot shipping container leverages an Internet of Things-based software platform from Foundries.io, enabling companies leasing its containers to view not only where their goods are located, but also the environmental conditions.
By Claire Swedberg

The monitor at the door can access the cargo stored within. Users could employ a 13.56 MHz Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID tag, compliant with the ISO 14443 standard, to release the container's locking mechanism. The container unit comes with a built-in NFC reader. If the C3 software, leveraging the Foundries.io platform, recognizes the NFC tag's ID number, it enables the tag holder to open it. That NFC entrance data can be stored in the container's software.

As the container moves throughout the supply chain, the system collects sensor measurements and GPS location data, then forwards that information via a cellular connection. Once the container is out at sea on a vessel, that data collection goes dormant until the ship brings the cargo within range of a cellular connection at a port. In the future, however, Aeler's container technology will be able to leverage a vessel's satellite connection to forward data even when a container is at sea.

Aeler can use the location data for its own purposes, in order to better manage its assets as they are being used by customers and are then made available for other shipments, as well as when they are shipped with cargo, so as to maximize their usage. "We use the analogy of Tesla," Baur says, which produces, collects and analyzes data to improve its own efficiency. As the containers move through customers' supply chains, he says, information is captured so that the company can optimize the supply chain of its own containers.

"What we've done with FoundriesFactory," Watt says, "is to help companies like Aeler have a customized, Linux-based solution" that can be easily deployed. The platform is designed to "make it as easy as possible," she states, "and [is] tailored for IoT and edge devices." That means providing security for the data transmission, as well as offering the ability to easily update the system.

The benefit for Aeler, Cabrol says, is the ability to easily onboard a device with provisioning, authentication and a secure chain of trust. "It's easy," he states. "We have a very smooth integration." That function, Watt adds, "enables you [as an IoT solution provider] to focus on your own differentiations, knowing your platform is set up for you." That makes it faster for companies like Aeler to go to market.

The containers could also track the material loaded inside them via UHF RFID tags on the cargo, which could transmit data to a UHF reader built into each container's sensor unit. "That would provide in-transit inventory management," Quentin says. Such functionality could reduce the risk of containers being shipped before they are full. A container could monitor how much is loaded within it, as well as ensure that goods are delivered to the right warehouse, especially in cases for which multiple shippers are using the same container.

According to Baur, companies are investigating the container's use in the United States with a radiation sensor to identify any radioactivity. Each container will be employed by several companies for pilot programs by the end of the first quarter of this year. Approximately five companies plan to deploy about 60 containers around the world, he says, and the firm expects to have around 200 containers by the end of the year. By 2021, Aeler intends to manufacture thousands, Baur says.

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