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Army to Test RFID on Cargo Trucks

Prototypes of the U.S. Army's next-gen MSV truck, scheduled for testing this spring, will include an onboard RFID system for tracking cargo.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Dec 12, 2005Stewart & Stevenson Services (S&S), a Houston-based firm that designs and manufactures specialty equipment for the oilfield, defense and power generation industries, is developing RFID-enabled cargo trucks for the U.S. Army called Maneuver Sustainment Vehicles (MSVs). The Army awarded the company a contract to design the next-generation trucks, and Stewart & Stevenson selected Identec Solutions, located in Kelowna, B.C., to provide cargo-tracking RFID software for use on the MSV prototypes. Each MSV has a 13-ton payload. If the U.S. Department of Defense approves them, the U.S. Army will use the MSVs to transport consignments in a theater of operations.

According to Barry Allen, CEO of Identec Solutions, S&S is developing two MSV prototypes and will ship them to the Army this spring. The Army will test the prototypes through Army operation simulations for at least nine months, as part of the Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD). A joint effort by the DOD's acquisition and operational communities, the ACTD identifies military needs and tests technologies to fulfill them. "These tests will show the truck's ability to read cargo tags attached to shipments and then automatically send information about cargo, and where it was picked up, to a back-end system," says Brock Watters, senior electrical engineer with S&S. "We're using RFID to do this because it has a better chance of working than other technologies [including bar code], and because the DOD is mandating its use."

Per its contract with Stewart & Stevenson, Identec is developing software to interface with other software deployed by defense contractor Northrop Grumman. The Identec software is part of the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) system, used by the Army to make tactical decisions in the field.

Allen explains that Identec's software will link to a reader, installed in each MSV, that interrogates the active tags attached to pallets and other containers of goods placed inside the MSV. When queried by the Northrop Grumman software for information about cargo carried by an MSV, the Identec software will retrieve this data from the tags and send it via the Army's "tactical Internet" link, an intranet that uses a TCP/IP protocol to connect information systems used by the Army. Identec also manufactures active tags and readers, which the Army might use on the MSV and its cargo, but the software is being designed to process data from other manufacturers' readers and tags, as well. Currently, the DOD uses Savi Technology's active RFID hardware to track consignments.

Identec says its software is custom-built for the MSV, and there are no plans to make it commercially available. The company expects to begin shipping the software to Stewart & Stevenson by the end of the month. Inside each MSV prototype, the Identec software will run on a 10XL mobile computer made by rugged computer systems manufacturer Citadel, of Milford, N.H.
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