M2M Asset Tracking Takes Off with OnAsset

Until now, end-to-end asset tracking of items which used airplanes couldn’t easily be done because there was no device capable of meeting the requirements of US regulators and airlines. However, a recent breakthrough, three years in the making by OnAsset Intelligence will improve the tracking of many high-value shipments on more than 3,400 daily Southwest Airlines Cargo flights. Specifically the OnAsset’s SENTRY 400 FlightSafe device can now provide location, environmental sensing and monitoring of temperature-sensitive and high value cargo.

This news is fantastic for companies who need to track items such as electronics, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and life science products.

The class of device which is used to make this breakthrough possible is considered to be machine-to-machine or M2M. And it is the intelligent radio suppression technology the company built into its M2M products that allow them to be used in-flight and considered as a personal electronic device or PED by the FAA.

To learn more I conducted a telephone interview with Nikki Cuban the VP of Marketing & Sales at On Asset and Wally Devereaux, Director of Cargo Sales & Marketing for Southwest Airlines. One of my first questions had to do with how this device would know to shut itself down when the aircraft doors shut and prior to taking off. The answer which seems quite obvious now is that the GPS unit knows where the airports are and turns the radios on and off as needed.

A recent TMC video interview with Nikki Cuban

In addition to tracking, the SENTRY 400 Flight Safe also provides environmental sensing features which benefits shipments which must be kept within a specific temperature range and moreover which require specific conditions with respect to humidity shock and vibration. Organ transplants, specialty meats and flowers are some examples of shipments which need to be monitored carefully throughout their transport.

OnAsset submitted it for testing to the FAA earlier this year and before approval, the agency responded with requests for additional testing and also required the company to submit its manufacturing process details and have its assembly line available to audits.

For companies in the shipping business, the ability to now track shipments via air the way they track via ocean, long-haul and ground is quite helpful as quite often some of the most valuable cargo needs to fly. Cuban shared a situation where a company saw its insurance policy on cellphone shipments drop from $500,000 to $100,000 because they added better tracking to the containers, making them more difficult to steal and keep.

The good news is that now that this new technology is out there, we can expect it to become even more cost-effective over time as adoption grows, meaning more items will be tracked and hopefully this will lead to even less theft. Moreover, Southwest is looking to add a transactional tracking business to its suite of shipping solutions which will allow low volume shippers to lease the needed equipment instead of having to purchase it.

I asked Cuban what some of the biggest barriers were to implementation of such solutions and she told me the technology is the easy part – it’s the new business operations and procedures we need to see to support the growth numbers we expect as an industry.

Moreover, she explains that most companies using M2M technologies don’t even now it is M2M and as a result the industry is fragmented and marketing is not aligned.

But I suppose this will change as news of successes like this new product launch start to save shippers real money. Moreover, we may even see the insurance industry becoming a big driver of growth in the industry for years to come. After all, the more difficult you make it to steal cargo, the better it is not only for insurance companies but for manufacturers and end-users who ultimately foot the bill for the theft in the first place.

To learn more about M2M and help shape the future of the industry – be sure to come to M2M Evolution in Austin, TX Sept 13-15, 2011 where Nikki Cuban is the conference chair. Disclosure: TMC where I am CEO is a co-host of the M2M Evolution event which is collocated with ITEXPO.

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