Environmental asset tracker combines cellular IoT and Bluetooth

2nd January 2020
Lanna Cooper

Nordic Semiconductor has announced that Norwegian asset tracking specialist, Meshtech, is employing both a Nordic multi-mode LTE-M/NB-IoT nRF9160 System-in-Package (SiP) and Nordic nRF52811 Bluetooth System-on-Chip (SoC) in the world's first environmental asset tracker to combine cellular IoT and Bluetooth wireless technologies with a five year battery life (road mapped to 10 on the same tracker hardware).

The Meshtech Cloud Tracker is designed to prevent the huge on-going compensation cost that is routinely incurred in the supply of perishable goods that are at risk of spoiling and/or being delivered to wrong customer locations or in the wrong quantities (and often because they are perishable trashed even if re-collected).

"In fact our Cloud Tracker is designed to detect delivery or storage issues quickly enough that they can be corrected without jeopardising an entire consignment," commented Meshtech Interim CEO, Preben Skretteberg.

"This means perishable goods suppliers now have a viable way to prevent unnecessary compensation costs, while also being able to exceed both current and [increasingly strict] future regulations that may apply to the shipment and storage of perishable goods. The next step is to take the Cloud Tracker beyond perishable goods, and we are already in discussions with multiple large enterprises in other market segments and industries regarding this."

In operation the Meshtech Cloud Tracker can not only continuously monitor environmental parameters such as temperature, but also whether a consignment has been dropped, tilted or folded, the location of individual shipping items (e.g. trolleys, pallets or boxes) within a consignment, the order in which they were loaded and unloaded, and the geographical location of the entire consignment anywhere in the world.

"This really is a game-changer for perishable goods manufacturers," continued Skretteberg. "It just gives them environmental data-driven insights into how their goods are loaded, stored, and shipped that could eliminate the majority of their compensation cost losses which then become an unnecessary overhead. None of this was commercially viable before the advent of cellular IoT which has made environmental asset tracking both technologically feasible and scalable in a way that wasn't possible before now."

The Meshtech Cloud Tracker is designed for commercial and industrial perishable goods applications and is supplied in a ruggedized 113x110x19mm package that weighs 194g, and features an in-built Hall Effect magnetic sensor, temperature sensor, and 3-axis accelerometer. The Cloud Tracker is powered by six internal 3.6V AA batteries and includes all necessary antennas (LTE and Bluetooth LE) and a pre-installed embedded SIM (eSIM) card that can operate globally.

The use of a Nordic nRF52811 SoC not only provides the Meshtech Cloud Tracker with the ability to communicate with other Bluetooth devices and specialist sensors, but also full native compatibility with other ultra low power wireless technologies such as Thread and Zigbee if required.

Meshtech says it achieved the battery life by leveraging the low power performance of the Nordic nRF9160 cellular IoT SiP and carefully power-optimised engineering. "Although the Cloud Tracker continuously collects environmental data locally, it only 'reports in' to the cloud over cellular every half hour and in doing so can do this for over five years," explained Meshtech R&D Manager, Eirik Aanonsen. 

The multimode Nordic Semiconductor nRF9160 SiP has an integrated LTE-M/NB-IoT modem and is certified for global cellular IoT applications. It has a dedicated 64 MHz Arm Cortex-M33 processor application processor, 1MB Flash and 256KB RAM memory, integrated RF front end, and is supplied in a compact 10x16x1mm package. A range of analogue and digital peripherals are also included, plus automated power and clock management, Arm TrustZone for trusted execution, and Arm CryptoCell 310 for application layer security.

"Environmental asset tracking is emerging as a prime early use case in industrial IoT," commented Geir Langeland, Nordic Semiconductor's Director of Sales & Marketing. "This is being driven by a compelling and clear-cut benefits analysis centered around the cost savings that can be made from avoiding lost, wrong, or spoilt consignments, and at the same time reducing the risk of disappointing or even losing valuable end customers."

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