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IoT and blockchain: Technologies for universal cargo monitoring

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Advancements in cutting-edge technologies have resulted in some influential developments. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are making hyper-automation a reality and immersive technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will soon offer kinesthetic interfaces and multiple touchpoint experiences.

These trending technologies are expected to offer much more than what was expected from them a few years ago. They are revolutionizing the conventional operational methodologies of different sectors and ushering in changes to logistics and supply chain businesses as well, especially in the field of cargo monitoring.

The logistics and transportation sectors are among the biggest playing fields for cutting-edge technologies with more than 95 percent of all manufactured goods moved by container at some point during their shipping lifecycle.

Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain are anticipated as game changers due to their remote monitoring and decentralization capabilities respectively. While the former allows businesses to track the status and condition of the cargo being transported, the latter creates a secure and fast framework for digital contract storage and quick transactions.

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Additionally, both these technologies complement and enhance the features of the other. IoT creates a widespread network of interconnected devices and blockchain allows the ingestion and sharing of data among these devices over a secure platform. Their amalgamation makes the ideal solution for logistics companies to remotely manage their fleets, monitor the condition of cargo, and ensure the delivery of products before deadline.

The role of IoT in cargo monitoring

IoT creates transparency in fleet operations allowing companies to monitor the location and the status of the cargo being shipped. The technology is particularly valuable when used to track the journey and condition of perishable cargo.

Devices like GPS and temperature sensors are attached to the freight tracking its location and condition. This data is transferred via gateways to a platform where fleet operators and cargo handlers can monitor and manage shipments. They gain visibility into their transportation operations which allow them to make smart decisions to improve the efficiency of their supply chain and ensure timely delivery of products.

They’ll have key data about the location and status of the products even as cargo is transferred from port to port. The sensors will also help them to manage the movement of their vehicles based on demand and supply conditions, weather predictions, route options, and the type of cargo being transported. They can make smart decisions to keep the goods moving and see the live location of the cargo on a computer or smartphone, allowing them to estimate when the shipment will be delivered.

While the ETA matters a lot to the recipient of perishable cargo, they also want it to be fresh and undamaged when the cargo arrives. Throughout the journey, powered cargo monitoring systems enable handlers to ensure that the cargo is fresh until it reaches the customer. Parameters like airflow, temperature, humidity, and condensation can be tracked in the container to ensure that the package is all right.

Beyond the real-time monitoring of cargo

IoT can also be used for other applications as well in the shipping process. A two-way interacting IoT solution could empower fleet managers to remotely control some functioning of the containers themselves. For instance, the presence of moisture, water, and condensation can damage the packing and result in the manifestation of mold and bacteria.

Fleet managers could remotely operate an evaporator fitted in the cooling engine to remove condensation and moisture from the storage area and prevent degradation of products without compromising the cooling capacity of the engine.

IoT systems can also be used to prevent theft of cargo from the truck trailer. Weight monitoring sensors, when embedded on the axle of the trailer, can monitor the weight of the cargo and share it with fleet operators. In case the weight of the cargo unexpectedly decreases, an alert could be sent to fleet handlers alerting them to possible cargo theft.

Why use blockchain with IoT for cargo monitoring?

Most documentation in logistics businesses are still paper-based and, even with the implementation of IoT systems, cannot be leveraged to the fullest extent without including blockchain technology.

Blockchain allows the creation of a smart Bill of Lading (BoL) documents that are digitally stored and shared with different parties associated with cargo transfer. Hence, all the parties can check if the specified terms and conditions in the digital BoL are adhered to via data gathered from IoT sensors. Furthermore, since blockchain stores data in a decentralized and immutable ledger, there is no way the data can be manipulated once it is entered.

There won’t be a need for parties to use their credit cards to facilitate transactions since they can use their cryptocurrency wallets. Hence, the standard paper-based operations are digitized, reducing the physicality of contracts and reducing operational costs associated with cargo supervision.

The amalgamation of IoT and blockchain technologies offers extraordinary applications for cargo monitoring and security and the market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 92.92 percent, from USD 113.1 million in 2019 to USD 3021 million by 2024.

It’s clear that shippers and all parties in the supply chain and global shipping ecosystem see what lies ahead for these technologies, and this transition and digitalization is already taking place. Combining IoT to blockchain increases the efficiency of supply chains and helps fleet operators manage their cargo handling operations seamlessly.

From time to time, we invite industry thought leaders, academic experts and partners, to share their opinions and insights on current trends in blockchain to the Blockchain Pulse blog. While the opinions in these blog posts are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of IBM, this blog strives to welcome all points of view to the conversation.

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