Keeping track of dropped and damaged parcels has just got easier – with a new sensor system and app developed by innovative product development firm Cambridge Consultants. Called DropTag, the concept shows at a glance what’s happened to a package in transit. And it 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.
"The explosion in internet shopping has led to a huge increase in the number of parcel deliveries," said Tom Lawrie-Fussey, business development manager at Cambridge Consultants. "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 now 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. And it's exploring how the addition of other sensors could boost its potential applications – for example, adding temperature sensing for 'cold-chain' storage and distribution in the pharmaceutical and food industries.
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 headquarters and so allowing an early proactive response to any incident.
This local connectivity capability provides a range of tracking possibilities – for example, the location of the 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."