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Supply Chain 5 min read

Just how accurate can tracking your assets get?

A freight train travels on a snowy track.

A project between Sony and HERE promises to track assets with greater accuracy than ever. Sony's Steve Beck, Head of GNSS Business Development, Sony Semiconductor Europe, explains.

Data shows that 85% of organizations are making some attempt to track waste in their supply chains. However, lost assets and other inefficiencies cost billions annually.

Part of improving efficiency in supply chains means being able to track assets, but the challenge for many companies has been doing this at low cost, and in situations when there is not much power available needing long battery life.

Working together, HERE and Sony have demonstrated low-power global navigation satellite system (GNSS) receiver integrated chips (ICs) working with cloud-based algorithms, resulting in an asset tracker with a high level of precision that suddenly makes the business of tracking goods and assets across a supply chain much more accessible.

An illustration of activity in a warehouse.

A trend toward tracking

“There has been a transition toward more location tracking of lots of things," explained Steve Beck, Head of GNSS Business Development, Sony Semiconductor Europe. “Not just human wearables, but also pets and livestock, vehicles, and assets in the supply chain such as trolleys and pallets."

As trackers are used for more purposes, the need for low-power increases. For example, trackers on vehicles in the past would have to be fitted professionally to use the vehicle's power supply. Now, the HERE/Sony solution can be sent to a driver in the post to simply attach to the vehicle to run off its own small battery.

“This is the kind of difference it makes — we can use trackers where we weren't able to before," Beck said.

To get the accuracy through the chip alone is not always enough. Even though silicon chips have huge processing power, HERE algorithms and cloud technology help to get the position even more accurate. Beck explained: “In an urban environment, the chip will probably give you an accuracy of one to two meters, but with a HERE solution, you can reliably get that down to around half a meter."

Why is this important? Beck said: “Imagine a bike or a scooter making deliveries in a city. Half a meter can make a difference between whether they're violating local laws or not, by being on the sidewalk or on the road. You know exactly what lane your vehicle is in with that kind of precision."

A container ship travels through the Panama Canal.

How can the tracking solution be used?

The combination of the simplicity of low power with the accuracy of location makes the technology useful for all sorts of supply chain assets.

Unpowered assets such as railway wagons, truck trailers and shipping containers are good examples.

“In a huge marshaling yard, where they put together the goods trains, you need to know within less than a meter where that goods truck is," Beck said. “If you walk all the way down a mile length of goods train to find you're on the wrong side of the track, it becomes a real problem to move your maintenance team all the way round again."

The same applies for shipyards — and these environments can prove difficult for radio, because they are full of steel and other metal surfaces that reflect the signal.

While the devices can be produced cheaply, it will still cost organizations something to connect to the cloud. However, Beck said solar harvesting can help reduce the power impact of connectivity.

Another important use, however, is for tire vendors. Being able to understand exactly where a truck has been driven and how can help them provide the right service to fleets.

A man and a woman moving stock in a large warehouse.

While some form of tracking is already deployed by many fleets and supply chain operators, “the issue is generally that they are not good enough," Beck said. Only getting infrequent updates on location can make it difficult for people, goods and vehicles to be in the right place at the right time to run things smoothly and efficiently.

Sony works closely with device vendors to create products that are durable and robust enough to survive on assets such as railway wagons and trucks for several years. They have to survive temperature extremes and vibration, among other factors.

The joint solution from Sony and HERE was showcased recently at ION GNSS in Denver and is now being trialed by customers.

“What makes this special is the combination of the low-power, accuracy and reliability," Beck said.

Beth McLoughlin 2023

Beth McLoughlin

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