IoT & Embedded Technology Blog

The Embedded Cloud – A Logistics Based M2M Solution to Many Worldwide Problems

As we read the news on an almost daily basis we see stories where counterfeit and/or inferior products are being sold to unsuspecting consumers and companies.  In other similar cases, the products are correct and/or close to what they should be with respect to quality and identity but their places of origin have been misrepresented. Then, we have the cases where products have been mishandled or contaminated but tracing them back to the sources is almost impossible or at least time consuming. Lastly, there are always concerns about the control, tracking, and inspection of cargo at ports of entry. So, in summary there are global concerns including health, safety, ecology, crime/fraud, and economics that could all be addressed by the embedded cloud.

In some industries like Pharmaceutical, there are new systems/solutions coming into play that use elements of machine to machine (M2M) Embedded Cloud connectivity. At present, what is lacking is a global, fully comprehensive system that tracks all types of products and materials from their sources all the way to where they are used in manufacturing/processing and/or sold to the end customer.

How would this comprehensive system work and how would M2M embedded cloud technology enable this? Let me show you a hypothetical solution that uses M2M connectivity in many cases aided by units we call Scalable Edge Nodes (SEN). The process would involve several steps as outlined below:

1.)    As a key to the whole process you would have to have a Global Certification Agency (GCA). This organization would have many standards for data tags, RFID, and Barcode as well as reporting units. This organization would be responsible for the tracking and reporting but the infrastructure could possibly be delegated and/or outsourced.

2.)    Next, you would have to have a source of certified RFID/Barcode tag products. These tags could be constructed in many ways to allow tamper detection and also include many sensing/detecting elements.

So, at the first stage, you have (GCA) certified manufacturers of these RFID / Barcode tag products and there would be M2M connectivity between the machines that manufacture the tags and the GCA to ensure each tag has a unique combination of RFID/Barcode serial number.

3.)    At this point in the process, the tag manufacturers then sell the tags to GCA certified suppliers of a given product. This transaction and the physical transfer of these tags would be tracked by the GCA. If the shipment of tags went astray, they would be revoked by the GCA.

4.)    The certified supplier of a given product wants to make a shipment and they register it with the GCA as being some quantity of a specific grade of product and link it with GCA certified tags/seals as appropriate.

5.)    Throughout the shipment process, each transportation/handling company would be certified by the GCA and have M2M connectivity to record scans of products as they pass. Coordinated systems between the RFID sensor tags on the products as well at the transport/storage systems would ensure proper handling and traceability through the system.

6.)    If, at some stage(s), the product is used by a manufacturer to make another product or divided by a distributor/retailer. In each case those entities would be registered by the GCA and have M2M connectivity and, if needed, new tags for their outgoing products.  The GCA would prevent or, at least flag cases where certified outgoing shipment of products exceeds the certified incoming products. The manufacturer, distributor, and/or retailer could also verify that the goods had not likely been damaged or had not deteriorated during transport.

7.)    Finally, the product makes its way to the end user / consumer.  They could scan or enter a bar code on the product and see many things. Where did their medicine or seafood product come from? Was it fresh/handled correctly? Is a product really 100% organic? Did it come from a sustainable “Green” ecologic source? Is the DVD or handbag they purchased legitimate or is it pirated / counterfeited? Is the wood in the chair really mahogany? Many, if not all of these questions could be answered with reasonable assurance.

Is this process possible? As mentioned previously, some industries such as Pharmaceutical have some ongoing efforts.  Even so, the market for these types of products/systems is extremely fragmented.  In other industries this type of M2M system is virtually non-existent. This is where scalable edge nodes could help de-fragment the industry by converting existing data formats/standards to the unified GCA standard that would be used in all markets. Then the markets can flourish based on a unified set of standards and systems.  In my opinion, a global unified M2M embedded cloud system is the only way this works.

In conclusion, the GCA system would allow competition with regards to the RFID/Barcode tags as well as the embedded computing and M2M sensing and transmitting / networking products. Product suppliers and logistics/transportation companies could also compete based on the extent and quality of their M2M systems. Would the globally unified GCA system be perfect? No, it still relies on the human element of someone certifying that a product or material they ship/sell has certain properties or attributes. The GCA system would, over time, allow the people that cheat to be identified and de-certified as well as in certain cases prosecuted. At the same time, the benefits to those who are in compliance would be extensive.