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LA-Area Food Distributors Use Active Transponders to Track Trucks, Temperatures

StarTrak's ReeferTrak Scout system, installed on refrigerated trucks, transmits temperature, location and other data to base stations up to 3 miles away.
By Claire Swedberg
When the reefers operate out of range of a base station, the onboard transponder logs the refrigeration unit's performance data and, upon arrival near a base station, automatically downloads the information when it captures a transmission from that station. In this way, customers can confirm the shipment's temperature compliance from origin to destination. The GPS receiver tracks the location of the vehicle as it travels throughout the day, and those locations are stored and later downloaded with other sensor measurements once the vehicle comes within range of the base station.

Maintaining a record for the temperature of perishable food has become a strong incentive for the transportation industry to seek tracking technology. With the Scout system, Slifkin says, the sensor records the details of the temperature at preset intervals—for example, every three minutes. When the truck passes or comes within range of a Scout RF antenna, the base station captures the data and sends it via a wireless connection to StarTrak's central data center. The data is then posted on a secure Web site that truck companies, manufacturers and other interested parties can access to evaluate whether the product maintained a stable temperature.

The Scout system allows trucking companies to prepare their vehicles automatically for the day and begin cooling the units at a preprogrammed time, based on instructions received from the base station. "The dispatcher can set the system to instruct vehicle cooling systems to begin at a certain time of the morning," Slifkin says, "and also read sensors as to how much fuel is in the tank, what the oil pressure is, and even whether the door is shut." Employees arriving at the office that morning, he adds, can receive a message on the Web site related to which vehicles may not be responding appropriately (not cooling down, for instance) or that do not have enough fuel in their tanks.

Regarding cost, Slifkin is not revealing specifics at this time, though it is said to be a much lower cost than that of satellite systems. "It's a lot less expensive than you would think," Slifkin says, indicating that the hardware and software—all of which is provided by StarTrak—cost companies "considerably less than $1,000 per trailer." StarTrak also charges a service fee based on usage, but it is far less than cellular or satellite, Slifkin says.

Most of StarTrak's products, Slifkin reports, are still using satellite or cellular technology. ReeferTrak Scout, he says, "is a big part of our future, but not a large part of what we currently offer."

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