Federal Express is running a "limited pilot" that couples sensor technologies to track a package's temperature, location, humidity levels and delivery status with Web 2.0 tools such as Google Earth, according to FedEx CIO Robert Carter.
Carter, speaking at the Wharton Technology Conference in Philadelphia, outlined a project called Smart Package in a talk about innovation, monetization and network access and connectivity.
Under the pilot, FedEx is including a little radio device into high-value packages, say diamond shipments and biotech packages such as bone marrow transplants. The Smart Package sensors, manufactured by companies like Crossbow Technology, differ from RFID tags because the device sends signals instead of relying on a reader. Carter says there are advantages with active tracking over passive because "the density of the reader network needed for passive RFID is ridiculous." Indeed, others agree RFID isn't ready for prime time.
Despite active tracking's advantages, Carter adds that the technology is just being developed and has a ways to go before going mainstream. Biotechnology customers seem to be the most interested in the pilot so far.
In FedEx's case the wireless device, about the size of a small cell phone, transmits information back to the company over public Wi-Fi networks. That information is then combined with mapping applications including Google Earth to allow package tracking down to the street level. In a brief demo, video cameras in the truck could relate the status of doors and whether they were open or shut.
Carter's project is also notable for another reason: It illustrates how Web 2.0 technologies can save corporate development time and enhance some ROI cases. In FedEx's case, Carter noted that using Google Earth saved the company time and money.
"The ability to use horizontal development and go out and find a tool is changing the game," says Carter. "If I had to acquire, build or broadly license that technology it would be much more expensive."
"Smart Package shows what is changing about my job. It's about driving connections further out to edge," says Carter. He declined to name the findings of the pilot thus far, early returns and the location of the experiments. After all, FedEx's pilot does focus on high value shipments.
"It's still a closed pilot, which is about all I can say," says Carter.