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TrakLok Offers Hybrid System for Tracking Containers
A new device can communicate its location and status via Wi-Fi, satellite and cellular communications, and can secure a cargo container's door so that it unlocks only where and when authorized to do so.
Jun 03, 2011—Prior to launching TrakLok in 2008, the founder of that firm planned to develop an active RFID solution for tracking the location of cargo for freight companies and steamship carriers. After speaking with the potential end users, however, the company's leadership instead opted to develop a container-locking device combining Wi-Fi-based RFID with GPS, satellite and cellular communication technologies, as well as multiple sensors. The result is the GeoLok—a system that can not only determine where a container is located at any given time, but also prevent unauthorized access to cargo by clamping onto a shipping container's doors and keeping them locked until the proper password is entered at a predesignated location and time.
Now, with three customers employing the system and 12 pilots scheduled to take place within the next three months, the company is considering adding additional RFID functionality that will enable the tracking of items within containers, as well as the monitoring of temperature and humidity. To enable this, says Eric L. Dobson, TrakLok's CEO and founder, the company plans to offer a firmware upgrade to the device's built-in 2.45 GHz proprietary RFID reader, by the end of this year. However, the proprietary reader can not be used until the RFID firmware is installed.
Dobson says he gained an interest in RFID while working at previous companies (including Wireless Physics Corp. and Navigational Sciences Inc.) that were developing RFID technology for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). He began examining commercial opportunities for the technology to track the transportation of freight, but discovered that the end users had a problem that RFID alone could not solve. "They wanted to stop loss before it happened, not just know that it was occurring," he explains. RFID, he says, "is primarily a visibility technology." For these end users, the concern was how to protect a container of high-value goods parked at unsecured locations along its route, or stored in a yard overnight, where video surveillance was insufficient to thwart thieves. Active RFID tags would report a possible security breach only if a container was opened, he notes, and only if there were readers present in the area to receive a tag's transmission.
TrakLok thus built its first product, the GeoLok. "It's a lock that only opens at the right place, at the right time, for the right person," Dobson says. The company designed its TrakLog Web portal to manage and track shipping containers wherever they are located.
Each GeoLok comes with two locking mechanisms—one for each of a container's two doors—as well as a keypad at the top of the device, for entering a security code (the device stores the approved security code that will prompt it to unlock the door). A second code is required to unlock the other side of the GeoLok so that it can be removed from the container. The device includes a GPS unit to calculate the container's longitude and latitude at any given time, and sensors to detect tampering. The GeoLok comes with a radio that functions as a Wi-Fi RFID tag, enabling it transmit that sensor and GPS data, along with its unique ID number, to a Wi-Fi access point within range. It also comes with a GPRS modem for a cellular connection, and an Iridium satellite communications radio. The device first attempts transmission via a GPRS or Wi-Fi connection, before utilizing the satellite system. This, Dobson says, saves the cost of excessive use of satellite communications. The Wi-Fi RFID option makes sense only in locations in which Wi-Fi access points are installed, he explains, while the satellite and cellular functions provide visibility in nearly all other locations, with the only remaining challenge being below deck on a shipping vessel at sea.
The other unique feature of the TrakLok solution, Dobson says, is the ability for the TrakLok-hosted server software to enable geofencing. For example, when first attaching a GeoLok to a specific container, a user logs into the TrakLog software via the Internet, and inputs such information as the lock's unique ID number and the security codes that can be accepted. The user can also specify the date, time and location in which a container can be opened, as well as the driver's identity and the password used by that individual. If a driver were to attempt to open the container outside of those parameters, the lock would fail to open and an alert would then be sent to the TrakLog system, which could, in turn, issue an alert to the system's authorized user.
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