Sensor Web, Geoprocessing, Security & GeoRM, Geostatistics, Semantics, 3D, Ilwis, Earth Observation

The Parcel on the Web Challenge

March 20th, 2013 @ 14:20 by Arne Bröring
Posted in 52°North, Sensor Web

Have you ever ordered some nice piece of technology or other expensive things online and couldn’t wait until it reaches you? have you been curious where the ordered parcel currently is? and once it reaches you, did you want to know what happened on it’s way to you? was the parcel exposed to temperature changes, unhealthy for the contained goods? has it even been fallen down?

Those kind of questions were the motivation behind a recent project we conducted together with con terra, Cassini, and (most importantly) a bunch of dedicated students from the Institute for Geoinformatics. Answering such questions in a larger scale could help in future e.g. insurance companies to better assess the current risk in insured goods travelling around the world. Thus, we have collaborated with the Provinzial insurance company in this project, who gave us valuable comments, requirements, and feedback.

The project challenged two groups of students to create a system that allows the live and Web-based monitoring of parcels. Therefore, a sensor platform that is able to accompany a parcel, as well as software components for the device and the server backend needed to be developed.

The outcomes of this project have been exciting and very successful. Both groups created Web portals that allow a live monitoring of parcels based on the data measured and uploaded by the mobile sensor platform units.

The following (really entertaining) videos demonstrate the capabilities of the two developed approaches:

The developed devices are capable of monitoring parameters such as temperature and humidity within the parcel through sensor probes located outside of the device. Further, the devices are able to detect acceleration and light events, indicating whether the parcel has been exposed to an impact, or whether it has been opened during its travel. Importantly, the devices are also able to measure their current position. While GPS reception can be expected to be very weak within a parcel service wagon, GSM-based positioning is also available within such closed rooms. Hence, the sensing devices utilize received tower IDs from the GSM network, to localize the parcel based on GSM cell granularity.

The Web platforms of the two solutions have applied the Web of Things paradigm, i.e., a) the measured parameters of the tracking devices are consumable through a REST interface, and b) each parcel has its own Web representation and capabilities. Thus, a parcel-thing becomes a first-class citizen on the Web, which facilitates their integration with existing applications and infrastructures as well as the linking between multiple parcels.

Another benefit of the two approaches is that they are both low-cost. Both prototypes cost around 150 € – 180 €, a value that can even be significantly reduced in case of a larger scale manufacturing process. In the future, we are planning to integrate this work with existing GIS software tools to advance analysis functionality of the system.

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