October 25, 2017

Roambee unveils package-level asset tracking tags

Bluetooth sensors monitor temperature and humidity, then relay data through cell networks, firm says.

By Ben Ames

Logistics technology provider Roambee Corp. today launched a mobile monitoring suite that the company said will provide low-cost visibility over package-level delivery and asset management.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Roambee said its BeeBeacon technology can track sensor data such as temperature, humidity, and light at the package and parcel level, and send real-time updates through the company's Honeycomb internet of things (IoT) platform and its mobile app, whether goods are indoors, outdoors, or in transit.

Roambee has designed the suite for applications such as real-time temperature monitoring of food and pharmaceutical cold chain shipments or theft- and tamper-prevention for high-value e-commerce goods such as smartphones, Roambee CEO Sanjay Sharma said in an interview.

"Looking at the 'now' economy, supply chains are getting redesigned," Sharma said. "Whether you're Procter & Gamble or a small manufacturing unit, you need end-to-end visibility about when the goods come out of the warehouse, when they are in a truck or container, and when they reach their destination."

Roambee first addressed that market in 2016 with an asset-tracking sensor network called the Bee, a hardware block about the size of two Apple iPhones that sends data to cloud storage platforms over cell phone networks as it travels with trucks and containers. In 2017, German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom backed that system with a $3.1 million investment that Roambee said would help it expand the network into new geographies.

The company is now building on that platform by adding BeeBeacons, which are small sensors that are designed to be inexpensive and use short-range, Bluetooth wireless technology to communicate with a central Bee that acts as a data-collection hub and relays the data into the cloud over cell phone networks.

The approach is similar to that used in products such as smartphone pioneer BlackBerry Ltd.'s trailer- and container-tracking system called BlackBerry Radar and Honeywell International Inc.'s Connected Freight shipment-tracking system for high-value and perishable goods. Honeywell's version even uses a comparable sensor-and-gateway approach.

Many logistics industry players are pursuing the goal of granular, package-level visibility, Roambee said. However, most solutions have a fatal flaw, it added. It could be the radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are too expensive, the global positioning system (GPS) network lacks the ability to monitor conditions inside the parcel that could affect the product, or the information technology (IT) is too complex.

Roambee said its Bee solution avoids IT complexity by using the Bluetooth open protocol that easily links data to any major enterprise resource planning (ERP) or warehouse management system (WMS) platform, Sharma said. The system also differs from competitors' in that it doesn't sell the sensors outright, but offers them through a subscription model that rents each Bee tag for $1 per month, including the hardware, software, and data charges, he said.

That flexible pricing model could allow users to apply the technology to smaller units than pallets, containers, and other large assets, he said. "The goal is to get to item-level [tracking]," Sharma said. "But at least now we're at package-level [tracking] and it's inexpensive and scalable."

Also Tuesday the firm announced two additional applications for its combined Bee and BeeBeacon system, include the BeeLock, a digital padlock that sends a real-time signal whenever a given package is opened, and the BeeFleet, an onboard fleet management device that plugs into commercial vehicles to monitor their efficiency and utilization, the company said.

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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