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Cargobox Takes RFID on a Test Flight

A project carried out with funding from a Netherlands government advisory board demonstrated whether the firm's RFID-enabled containers could provide greater security and visibility during air travel.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 15, 2011More than a decade ago, Henk Hilders, the founder of a Dutch firm called Cargobox Europe, devised the Cargobox, which he describes as a more secure container for air shipping, designed to prevent tampering, and to withstand the type of abuse to which air cargo is often subjected from forklifts and other freight.

The Cargobox consists of collapsible composite parts that can be assembled into a 122-centimeter by 104-centimeter by 160-centimeter (48-inch by 41-inch by 63-inch) container with a "lockbar"—an electro-mechanical lock that includes an active RFID tag, as well as GPS and GRPS technologies, and can be accessed only if the proper PIN is entered into its keypad. The Cargobox comes with an accelerometer, as well as air-pressure and electromagnetic field sensors, to detect a variety of conditions, including when a lock is being tampered with, when the container has entered an airplane and when it is in motion. The tag, manufactured by Identec Solutions, transmits at 433 MHz and complies with the ISO 18000-7 standard.

The Cargobox features an electro-mechanical lock that includes an Identec Solutions 433 MHz active RFID tag and a keypad.
Last month, a dozen Cargoboxes underwent three weeks of testing at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, while passing to and from Hong Kong. The purpose of the tests, Hilders says, was to demonstrate to a governmental commission the Cargobox's ability to store and transmit data regarding its transport, as well as prove that it is stronger than cardboard containers, and thus more secure. The Dutch government's Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management and Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, in association with regional and city agencies, as well as the Schiphol Airport and the Port of Rotterdam, created a commission to study how air and ocean cargo transport might be made more efficient and secure, thereby improving Amsterdam's and Rotterdam's positions as main ports for the Netherlands and Western Europe. The advisory board, known as the Van Laarhoven Commission, considered various innovative ideas with respect to meeting that goal. One area of the study examined methods for improving efficiency and streamlining cargo-handling processes. The group approved funding for the project before disbanding in 2009.

Two years later, the trial was underway at the airport, consisting of shipping air cargo in Cargobox Europe's containers, and then reading data about those containers via RFID. An unnamed logistics service provider packed 12 Cargobox containers with a variety of cargo, including electronics, as well as personal and household goods. The test was intended to demonstrate whether the containers could be employed to improve the security and visibility of shipping freight by air. The 12 boxes were loaded with freight and shipped on a Boeing 747-400F all-cargo freighter, between Hong Kong and Amsterdam, three flights a week.

As part of this test, Hilders says, Cargobox Europe also provided software based on the Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) standard, in order to manage RFID data about the container's location, sensor data regarding the box's condition, and PIN codes for users, such as customs officials who may need to open the container.

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