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5 February, 2013 - 23:01 By Tony Quested

Cambridge Consultants delivers DropTag


New sensor technology is set to change the game from pass the parcel to ask the parcel.

UK innovation hothouse Cambridge Consultants has developed a sensor that allows parcels to be ‘interrogated’ in transit via smartphone to assess if they are dropped and damaged.

The boom in internet shopping has brought the need for secure delivery into sharp perspective. Cambridge Consultants has now developed DropTag – a new sensor system and app; the technology shows at a glance what’s happened to a package in transit.

The Science Park consultancy says the solution could end the gamble of signing for a delivery without unpacking and checking the goods first – as well as giving delivery companies and manufacturers reliable real-time information about the status of packages being transported.

Tom Lawrie-Fussey, business development manager at Cambridge Consultants, said: “The explosion in internet shopping has led to a huge increase in the number of parcel deliveries.

“But we’re probably all guilty of signing for a delivery on our doorstep without taking the time to unpack the items to check that the contents are in good condition. We’re then faced with the hassle of having to arrange the return of any damaged goods.

“Existing parcel condition monitoring systems tend to be quite basic, mechanical sensors – or very expensive data loggers. DropTag is different – it’s a simple, low-cost sensor platform with connectivity via Bluetooth Low Energy to a smartphone.

“We’ve developed a simple app which shows what’s happened to a parcel in transit – for example, if the box has been mistreated, the app immediately indicates this. We’ve also created a plot mode within the app for more detailed analysis.”

Cambridge Consultants is developing the sensor platform further to log critical event data so that, when DropTag is interrogated, it can provide information on exactly what happened to the package and when.

The business is also exploring how the addition of other sensors could boost potential applications for DropTag – for example, adding temperature sensing for ‘cold-chain’ storage and distribution in the pharmaceutical and food industries.

Cambridge Consultants says that DropTag can be remotely interrogated at any stage of the delivery process – with a maximum range of about 50m indoors. So as a parcel is moved around a warehouse or carried in the back of a van, smart handsets could remotely and automatically check the package at each stage of its journey – reporting the status back to HQ – allowing an early proactive response to any incident.

The location of a parcel can be verified in real time if it is transmitting to a GPS-enabled smart handset. And boxes need no longer be individually scanned at logistics checkpoints.

Smart connected ‘gateway’ zones within warehouses could perform this role automatically, establishing the condition and location of each parcel remotely as it passes through from one area of the warehouse to another.

“By minimising the complexity of the electronics in DropTag – and, instead, making better use of smart devices – we’ve calculated that DropTag could analyse and log crucial events for many weeks using just a single coin-cell battery, and could even perhaps be reused,” said Lawrie-Fussey.

“And, by keeping it simple, we’re confident that the bill of material (BoM) cost would be less than $2 – making it a very affordable addition that would add significant value to the consumer and distributor alike.”

• Cambridge Consultants will be demonstrating DropTag – together with other innovations, including a 'no calibration required' capacitive fluid-level sensor – at Hannover MESSE from April 8-12.

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