OmniTrail is leading the way as micro-location tracking is poised to enter the mainstream
In an era of big data, GPS and cloud-based solutions, few shippers and receivers have the stomach for shipping blind. The days of putting a package on a truck and assuming it will end up at the correct destination are long gone.
Welcome to the transparency generation.
The reality is we have been transitioning into this generation for several years, but technology is advancing so fast that what seemed impossible a few years ago is not only possible, but ready for primetime.
In most cases, tracking packages requires a number of inputs - such as a driver or warehouse worker scanning a barcode – and GPS. There are some companies, though, that are seeking to disrupt that with low-cost trackers that can not only tell you where a pallet is, but where an individual box is located and do it all without worker input.
Say hello to OmniTrail Technologies, an “enterprise micro-location technology” company based in Santa Clara, CA, that was founded in 2010 by Shah Ullah and Niaz Khan.
“When I was at Cisco, I was very intrigued by the technology,” Henry Vinton, vice president of business development and enterprise sales, tells FreightWaves. “We’ve built the protocol from the ground up to not interfere with WiFi and be very efficient and get much [more accuracy].”
OmniTrail’s technology provides location accuracy to 1.5 meters. “When you get to 1.5 meters, it opens up a lot more opportunities,” he says. For instance, using traditional tracking tools, a shipper could see that a pallet was delivered to a store. Using OmniTrail’s technology, that same shipper could see which box on the pallet has been brought to which aisle of the store.
The current products, which are now in pilot testing, include a “big tag” that is an asset tag and features a 3-year battery life. The big tag could be used on larger items such as equipment or pallets. A second, smaller, rechargeable tag is being developed as well. This could be added to an employee badge, for instance, to track employee movement such as might be necessary in large warehouses or in field service applications. Initiatives are underway with public safety sectors.
Whichever tag is being used, a signal is sent over existing WiFi networks using a “passive presence” protocol. The tags are tracked in real time via an app.
OmniTrail is beginning pilot programs with package delivery giant TNT and grocer Tesco in Europe and Target here in the U.S. Target is testing the chips on their portable scanners given out to employees. Tesco in the U.K. is running a pilot to track shopping carts, which frequently go missing, and TNT is tracking “blue cages.”
“Our tags will provide visibility into where those blue cages are,” Vinton explains. TNT’s blue cages are rolling package movers that are moved from truck to truck.
“At the pallet level, we can get there today [with current technology],” Vinton says. “Where we want to be five years from now [is building] chips that are low cost.
“With the right partner, say, if Amazon came to us and said this is the technology we want to go with [for product shipping], we could get below 50 cents per chip very quickly,” he adds. “But right now we are focused on large scale [items].”
Within the supply chain, there are potential uses for the technology, particularly for shippers dealing in e-commerce where goods may transfer from several trucking companies to parcel carriers and through multiple facilities.
“GPS is great when you are outside, but it’s very ineffective when you are inside,” Vinton says. “So you may need something that tracks inside and outside.”
A shipper could potential include a low-cost chip with each package sent out. That chip could record the journey of that individual package from the manufacturing plant to the living room of the end consumer. The same concept can work in virtually any shipping situation, and be incorporated into blockchain technology to create real-time visibility throughout the supply chain.
Also, because the technology works indoors, it could drastically reduce time spent looking for pallets or individual boxes in large warehouses. A worker would simply enable the app on their phone and receive the exact location of the missing box.
While other package tracking solutions are available, the low-cost approach Omnitrail hopes to achieve may finally result in true automation of the entire process.