FedEx is launching a sensor-based device the company says will provide real-time tracking updates for future COVID-19 vaccine shipments and other sensitive orders.
SenseAware ID tracks a package’s location within FedEx Express’ network. The lightweight device’s sensor transmits location data every two seconds while attached to a shipment, FedEx said in a news release.
The result: Packages are tracked hundreds of times instead of dozens of times, providing “an unprecedented amount of real-time data,” according to FedEx. Chief Information Officer Rob Carter said package tracking and visibility are crucial for urgent deliveries such as a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We believe sensor-based logistics is a huge advancement that will help the medical community, the public and the authorities that are moving these critical vaccines around monitor them and make sure that they’re reaching their destination safely,” Carter said in an interview.
SenseAware ID is part of FedEx’s SenseAware platform, which allows customers to monitor location, temperature, light, vibration and other conditions during a shipment through sensors. In March, FedEx used SenseAware technology and monitoring to help safely transport COVID-19 test specimens from drive-thru testing centers to labs.
SenseAware to this point has featured “self-contained” sensors that connect to cellphone networks, while SenseAware ID devices connect anywhere within the FedEx network, Carter said.
“We’ve enabled more than 300,000 access points in our vehicles, in our facilities, in our handhelds that allow us to keep track of and provide visibility to SenseAware ID packages anywhere in our network,” he said.
SenseAware ID sensors will first be used for First Overnight shipments deemed highly important and time-sensitive within FedEx Express’ U.S. domestic network. Data from these shipments is currently being used “to identify internal efficiencies,” a company spokesperson said.
FedEx Express couriers will be equipped with SenseAware IDs which they can affix to critical shipments, Carter said. SenseAware ID uses Bluetooth Low Energy technology to connect to Wi-Fi access points or gateway devices in FedEx Express’ network.
The device’s settings can be adjusted to send out only an occasional notification or 15 notifications a minute depending on what’s needed for the shipment, Carter said.
SenseAware ID is particularly useful for customers that require temperature-controlled shipments, the release said. The Memphis-based logistics giant said the technology “is expected to play a critical role in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines using the FedEx First Overnight service, helping ensure these sensitive shipments are delivered quickly and safely.”
Carter said the technology pairs well with FedEx Surround, part of a FedEx and Microsoft collaboration that will provide customers with data-driven insight on developments such as logistical slowdowns and how inventory is selling in different places. The sensors equip FedEx with data that will help the company spot larger-scale patterns and “predict faster and more efficient ways to route shipments,” he said.
“There are a lot of big data applications for this kind of onboard sensor moving through our network on what will be hundreds of thousands of packages,” Carter said.
The first round of health care, aerospace and retail industry customers will receive SenseAware ID data access in November, FedEx said. The company plans to expand data access to more customers in the first half of 2021, with SenseAware ID eventually being “available for a broad range of premium FedEx Express services,” it said.
“It’s lightweight enough and low-cost enough, and that’s really what we mean by more accessible,” Carter said of SenseAware ID. “It will become embedded in our product set as we move forward.”