FedEx Makes Smart Use of Sensors

Ann All

About two months ago IT Business Edge's Mike Vizard wrote about the idea of embedded intelligence and how IT can employ it to add business value by attaching higher levels of automation to embedded systems. The possibilities range from something as simple as a kiosk dispensing soda to more complex operations such as a scanner at an airport or a medical device in a hospital.


I am simultaneously intrigued by and skeptical of most organizations' ability to leverage real-time data in this way. While the technology has developed to the point where it's certainly possible, I think the processes needed to support it have a long way to go. (Isn't that always the way?)


Still, the idea has plenty of promise. FedEx, a company often lauded for its IT excellence, is rolling out a service called SenseAware, which keeps tabs on a package's temperature, location and relevant factors. As described in a ReadWriteWeb piece published by The New York Times, multiple sensors monitor light, motion and temperature, and users access the data through a browser-based collaboration platform, which also allows them to create triggers, alerts and notices.


One example offered: If the shelf life of a package of perishable goods decreases en route, users can divert it to another location where it can be used right away rather than risk it arriving spoiled.


The system is being tested by companies in the health care and life sciences sectors, which ship sensitive and/or perishable goods such as sophisticated medical gear and even live organs destined for transplants. After the yearlong test with these companies concludes, FedEx expects to make the service generally available. Companies will pay $120 a month for it. A FedEx execuitve expects it will initially appeal to those shipping perishable and/or high-value goods. But, he said, it will become more mainstream over time "as people become used to interacting with shipments."


This strikes me as a smart example of a company using technology to improve its business -- and the businesses of its end users.

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