Is Bluetooth® Low Energy 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.
Bluetooth® Low Energy 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, Bluetooth® Low Energy 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 Bluetooth® Low Energy. Interference with aircraft systems has typically been a challenge, but Bluetooth® Low Energy 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 Bluetooth® Low Energy has no such effect. Infrastructure cost has been reduced as Bluetooth® Low Energy 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 Bluetooth® Low Energy 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 Bluetooth® Low Energy 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 Bluetooth® Low Energy a game-changer? Well, we at Nordisk think Bluetooth® Low Energy 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 Bluetooth® Low Energy: the Nordisk design office in Holmestrand has a CORE Bluetooth® Low Energy 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 Bluetooth® Low Energy tags to all their ULDs, and interest in this new concept is growing fast. As a few more large airlines adopt Bluetooth® Low Energy 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.