RFID Hits the Road with On-board Truck Solution

Published: September 26, 2023

SML is testing a new solution using PervasID Mobile Ranger readers and antenna arrays installed in truck trailers to automate the delivery of goods. 

Dean Frew, SML Group’s CTO and SVP for RFID Solutions

While RFID is deployed increasingly in warehouses, stores, and dock doors, an intelligence vacuum has typically been in trucks, where tagged goods are in transit and out of view of digital systems. 

A new solution from technology company SML – using PervasID’s reader solution – may enable companies to gain data about their RFID-tagged goods in transit, with a view into each vehicle’s stop and what was delivered there. The solution consists of PervasIDs Mobile Ranger RFID readers – installed in the rear of delivery vans or inside trailers – that read all tags inside the vehicle each time the door is closed. 

The solution links RFID data with a GPS reading every time the door closes and then sends the read results to SML’s cloud-based Clarity software over a cellular network. The system also sends periodic read data while the vehicle is in transit. This way, users can learn when and where goods were transferred from factories or warehouses to stores or customers. Logistics providers are now testing the system in Europe. 

So far, testing has found that more than 99 percent of tags are being effectively read in logistics vehicles. As a result, PervasID’s founder and President, Sabesan Sithamparanathan, calls the mobile solution a breakthrough for RFID technology use. “For the first time, 99-plus percent performance is achieved on the move.”  

Historic Challenges of Mobile RFID Solutions  

Traditionally, nearly all RFID-tagged goods have only been identified with readers in warehouses, factories, or stores. RFID readers at dock doors have made it faster for retailers to receive goods (by reading the tags as they are brought in from a vehicle), but that process typically still requires a worker to take time from other tasks to receive those goods.  

In the case of last-mile deliveries by carrier services delivering individual packages the driver must report delivery information through barcode scanning or pictures, or else proof isn’t captured.  The new mobile feature in SML’s Clarity Store solution provides an alternative that gives retailers real-time visibility of their last-mile deliveries, says Dean Frew, SML Group’s CTO and SVP for RFID Solutions.

The challenges that have kept RFID technology out of vehicles until now have been multifold. RFID can be expensive to deploy in vehicles, with limited effectiveness. For companies with large fleets of vehicles, deploying an array of antennas and readers to capture all tags in each van or trailer was too costly. And with thousands of tags in such a vehicle, the rate of accurate read events is often too low. 

Despite the challenge of RFID deployment in vehicles, Frew says the benefits, if it can be accomplished, are compelling. The issues for logistics companies or retailers often center around the last mile of delivery. “The proof of delivery has always been a challenge.”  

Mobile Ranger changes that equation by offering a small antenna reader system for easy deployment in this environment. PervasID offers signal-processing techniques and DAS reader technology to read tags throughout an environment with nearly 100 percent accuracy. The Mobile Ranger can capture more than 5,000 tagged clothing items within a trailer or container, Sithamparanathan says, even when goods are densely packed. 

How it Works 

Typical installations would consist of one or two readers with five to eight antennas inside a vehicle, depending on size. The vehicle battery can power the reader and uses cellular connectivity to a back-end server to forward data even when a vehicle is on the road.

The system is also connected to door switches to determine whether the vehicle door has been opened or closed to trigger an RFID read event. Each time a delivery is made, the driver opens the truck, van, or trailer, removes the items being delivered, and then closes the door again. This triggers the reader to interrogate all tags inside the vehicle. Information is then sent to the SML Clarity cloud solution, which integrates with retailers’ and logistics companies’ enterprise systems, updating inventory levels and proof of delivery based on the tag read and GPS location. The system can use its own GPS unit or the one provided in the vehicle. The software then updates the data indicating what was delivered and to which customer.  

The benefits will be felt not only by logistics providers but by retailers receiving goods, Frew predicts. The store doesn’t have to dedicate employees to the receiving process because the logistics company can provide push notifications to indicate what was delivered based on the Clarity Cloud data. And for the delivery company, the system also offers greater delivery data accuracy and labor savings. For instance, employees no longer must record what was delivered because the data is captured automatically. “If you can take the labor out of that process and yet get your accuracy even higher, there are some exciting business-case elements that come out of that,” Frew says for delivery services and logistics companies. For example, a carrier could increase the number of packages delivered in a single shift “because you’re not having to scan everything like you did before.” 

While the technology is first being tested in tractor-trailers, in the long term, SML and PervasID expect last-mile package delivery to be a key market segment for the solution. In the future, the software could also provide further benefits by making real-time read data available to those in the delivery vehicle. The software could trigger notifications at the time of delivery, verifying that the right product has been delivered to the correct location. For instance, as a driver closes the door following a delivery if the tags are read and the software identifies a discrepancy, an alert can be displayed for the driver on a mounted tablet in the cab. 

The system also could evolve to include more intelligence over time, such as condition monitoring based on connected sensors. “Right now, our focus is that last mile delivery,” says Frew. “We’re putting in place some [mobile RFID] infrastructure that gets people’s minds thinking differently about what you can do for proof of delivery.” 

The technology companies are now talking to retailers and delivery companies in North America and Europe regarding the solution. “I think we’re going to spend time talking to customers about the value proposition over the next six to nine months,” Frew says. 

Key Takeaways:

  • The solution leverages PervasID’s Mobile Ranger reader, a local power source, and mobile connectivity to Clarity cloud-based software for data about what is loaded in a truck. 
  • With this technology and logistics, retail companies can gain automated data about where goods are delivered and when.