September 1, 2005

Will containers 'Get Smart'?

By DC Velocity Staff

In the four years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, how far has the government come in its efforts to secure the nation's 102 seaports? If the percentage of container inspections conducted is any indication, the answer is not very far. Right now, only 3 to 6 percent of the millions of containers that pass through the nation's ports annually are being inspected. And with ocean trade volumes skyrocketing (shipments have nearly doubled since 1995), inspecting more containers without choking off trade presents a huge dilemma.

One answer, says Al Delattre, a partner in Accenture's electronics and high-technology consulting practice, may lie in the smart container—a shipping container equipped with radiation sensors and mesh networking technology. "Smart shipping containers," he says, "would enable ports and transport companies to check a higher percentage of cargo containers without slowing trade and damaging the economy."

To that end, Accenture Technology Labs has developed a life-size prototype of the smart shipping container. And that smart container has turned out to be a little smarter than expected. "Not only are these sensor networks able to monitor a smart container's contents," Delattre says, "but they can monitor the contents of unequipped containers nearby as well. Sensors could help to more accurately assess current and future threats; track and detect breaches or damage to shipments; and diminish the problem of limited security investment among foreign ports as this sophisticated technique is applied worldwide."

It may not be as snazzy as the cone of silence or Max's shoe phone, but it's nonetheless pretty smart!

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