Tyndall and Dingle IoT company team up to design smart cargo sensors

18 Aug 2021

Mike Fitzgerald of Net Feasa and Mike Hayes of Tyndall. Image: Brian Lougheed

The Irish collaboration is working to reduce costs and carbon outputs associated with the 25m cargo containers used in global shipping.

Tyndall National Institute at University College Cork (UCC) and Net Feasa, an Irish wireless internet of things (IoT) provider, are working together to develop sustainable sensors that aim to bring smart technology to the cargo industry.

Worldwide, 90pc of goods are transported via ship, truck or train with standardised steel containers. Of these, 89pc are dry containers, with roughly 25m of these giant boxes worldwide and that number growing by as much as 5pc every year

As that huge number of containers move around the world, their internal environment needs to be kept appropriate for their content and so factors such as temperature and humidity need to be monitored. The easiest way to do this is through smart sensors, otherwise known as IoT devices.

The problem with these is that current batteries only last two years, which represents a barrier in developing sustainable smart cargo technology.

Using ambient energy

The collaboration between Tyndall and Net Feasa is addressing this issue by developing sensors that will charge from environmental sources on the journey, such as heat and solar energy. In doing so, the collaboration hopes that the sensors will have the same lifespan as the containers, with no need to change their batteries.

“Our researchers are developing a PMIC [power management integrated circuit] that will dramatically extend the battery life of retrofitted wireless sensors,” explained Mike Hayes, head of ICT for energy efficiency at Tyndall.

“This PMIC will not only reduce battery drain, but will also use tiny amounts of previously unusable ambient energies available on the container’s journey, such as vibrations, heat and light, and harvest them as an auxiliary power source. In many cases this will mean that the sensor will have full power autonomy.”

Addressing a global market

Located in Dingle, Net Feasa has more than 30 years’ experience in wireless communication, IoT devices and big data. It narrowed its focus in 2015 to specialise in solutions for the container transport industry.

The company hopes this new technology will boost the use of sensors in containers and will represent a breakthrough in the industry.

“This is a critical IoT use case in the digital transformation of the supply chain. We are complementing this important research in Tyndall with an open standards-based global wireless network, making Net Feasa the trusted and dedicated service provider,” said Mike Fitzgerald, chair of Net Feasa.

“Our IoTPASS edge device, together with any third-party devices, will communicate back to our cloud-based EvenKeel device management and performance monitoring network. We will also deliver the benefits of this new meta data through data analytics and machine learning to shipping companies. This will enable a significant carbon footprint reduction, cost reductions and new revenue generating services.”

This work on developing smart cargo sensors is part of the Energy Electronics Components and Systems (ECS) project that launched in June. This three-year initiative is designed to develop smart energy solutions for the green energy transition. The project is comprised of 30 partners from eight European countries and has an overall budget of €33m.

Sam Cox was a journalist at Silicon Republic covering sci-tech news