With millions of containers circulating the world everyday, making sure they get from point A to point B has become a hugely complex problem, and one that’s increasingly managed by computer networks and algorithms rather than people.
Right now, containers are tracked via a complex system of identification numbers and barcodes, which allow them to be checked in and out of ports and other distribution hubs, or on and off flatbed trucks and vast containerships. But apart from these connecting points, the individual container is largely off-grid and dumb, unable to be monitored or contacted by those who depend on its cargo being delivered safely or on time. It opens up a whole barrage of security holes and opportunities for the system to be exploited.
This might be about to change by the once-popular smartphone maker Blackberry. By plugging each container directly into a network, Blackberry wants to make sure they can never be lost, misused, or hidden. It wants to make them aware of their location, their surroundings, and their status. It wants to make containers smart.
In an interview with Indian Express, the president of Blackberry’s Technology Solutions lab Dr. Sandeep Chennakeshu revealed a new, as-yet unnamed device — a 20mm weatherproof box that can be used to retrofit existing containers and hook them up to the network.
"You can fix it to containers that carry highly
valuable goods" he explained, "and since it has GPS, sensors and a cellular modem it can measure temperature, humidity pressure and movement. It can also figure out the location, if someone has opened the door, and cargo levels in the container and send the data securely to the cloud."
What makes the self-powered box revolutionary is its claim to have a battery with a five-year lifespan, meaning that in theory it could be installed in any existing container, instantly turning it into a monitor-able, controllable, data collecting node in the already incredibly complex supply chain network, and one that understands more about its status than the humans that put it there.
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