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Breakthrough Bluetooth Low Energy Technology

Is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology the breakthrough the air cargo industry has been waiting for? For those of us who have spent hundreds, even thousands, of hours discussing RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and how it can be applied to locate ULDs, it’s music to our ears that a new solution is on the horizon.

BLE is a widely used commercial and consumer product. It is primarily used for “machine-to-machine” data transfer. But unlike, for example, wireless headsets that need recharging quite frequently, BLE uses only tiny amounts of energy each time it communicates, so battery life can be measured in years, not days.

It seems that the usual hurdles are easily overcome with BLE. Interference with aircraft systems has typically been a challenge, but BLE seems well able to comply with FAA AC 91.21D, in particular Section 10. Interference with radio frequencies in airports is no longer an issue as BLE has no such effect. Infrastructure cost has been reduced as BLE scanners, which look very similar to the wireless router you may have at home, are low-cost, consumer electronics. Range is also no longer an issue, as a BLE scanner/tag has a current range of about 80-100m radius of the scanner, which is more than adequate for most terminals. Furthermore, the range is increasing all the time and future generation BLE tags will have the ability to create their own network in “relay” situations. Installation is also simple, as tags are easily mounted to a container and the scanner sends its data via a SIM card link through the mobile data system. The only infrastructure needed is a power supply, which can be mains or solar.

But is BLE a game-changer? Well, we at Nordisk think BLE could well be and as industry leader, we want to be ahead of the game. Therefore, Nordisk recently announced an agreement with CORE Transport Technologies, a professional agile software developer from New Zealand. COREInsight Tracking is a ULD tracking solution that uses Bluetooth® Low Energy technology to track ULD equipment throughout airports and airline-related facilities.

The collaboration allows Nordisk Aviation Products to offer COREInsight Tracking to customers purchasing ULD Equipment as an added option. In addition, CORE and Nordisk aim to work to co-design solutions where the tracking technology is imbedded into the physical structure of the Nordisk ULD – the first step in the creation of a smart ULD.

Here’s a fun example of the effectiveness of BLE: the Nordisk design office in Holmestrand has a CORE BLE reader. During the Easter holidays, DHL came to deliver a package of tags sent from CORE in New Zealand. While the DHL employee was unable to actually deliver the package due to the office being closed, the CORE system picked up the tags and recorded that they had been at the Nordisk location – Impressive!

Today, both Delta and Air New Zealand are well into a program of adding BLE tags to all their ULDs, and interest in this new concept is growing fast. As a few more large airlines adopt BLE and the “footprint” of readers becomes ever larger, the day may not be far away when ULD controllers will actually have an accurate and real time view of their ULD assets.

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