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Towards distributed heterarchic workflow methods for pro-active tracing of cargo

European Union
Complete with results
Project Acronym
STRIA Roadmaps
Network and traffic management systems (NTM)
Transport mode
Multimodal icon
Transport policies
Societal/Economic issues
Transport sectors
Freight transport


Background & Policy context

The need to record and monitor the movement of goods is an essential aspect of supply chain management. Cargo owners want to know where, when and how cargo was moved and by whom, and when it is transported, handled and/or reconditioned and in what condition (e.g. damaged, packaged). Currently, the tracing of cargo through the various transport phases over sea and road is rendered less efficient because transport partners, who are part of the communication chain, use different communication protocols and recognition methods for checking the cargo. The complex manual adaptation processes that this situation requires are time-consuming and expensive.


The project's objective was to design, test and validate a distributed tracing and tracking platform for adaptive tracing of communication chains and tracking of general cargo through all sections of the logistic chain. Such a platform would allow all relevant partners in the transport chain to log on to the system using their own existing software and hardware. The result would be an efficient and more accurate management of the distribution and handling of goods.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
European Commission; Directorate-General for Energy and Transport (DG TREN; formerly DG VII)
Type of funding
Public (EU)


The main outcome of OCTOPUS is a two-layered common and open distributed platform for tracing of communication chains and tracking of general cargo through all sections of the logistic chain, from factory to consumer. The platform supports interaction with distributed servers in different locations. It contains two technical layers that can be used autonomously or in combination with each other.


The first layer is a tracing and communication e-mail-based system (called OctoPost) to process and communicate information to partners. OctoPost provides all necessary information for the partners who want to know where, when and how cargo was moved and by whom and when it was treated.


The second layer is a tracking and identification system, called Octo-ETL, for gathering information related to physical cargo operations. The identification and validation of the cargo and means of transport is done through Electronic Transport Labels and Read/Write-Terminals.


Several software modules were developed for the two layers. Both layers were tested and validated at different test sites in Belgium, Finland and Greece for two cargo products, forest products and general cargo.


OCTOPUS focused on the integration of small but flexible inland terminals that can benefit from the adaptive cargo tracing offered by OCTOPUS's servers. OCTOPUS's servers are installed on a scalable (i.e. modular and adaptive) and heterarchic (i.e. non-hierarchic) network, and each server supports local translation processes of the communicated messages.

Policy implications

The main benefits of OCTOPUS's platform accrue to companies involved in goods handling and moving, such as road hauliers, and those involved in the trading process (namely, the sellers and the buyers). OCTOPUS's platform allows each entity transported within the chain to be located, goods flows to be optimised, eventual performance bottlenecks to be identified, and delays to be reported, with significant time gains during loading/unloading operations due to adoption of ETLs, read/write devices and e-mail-based communication systems.


The distributed non-hierarchic cargo tracing and tracking platform is an efficient solution for managing complex transport corridors, since it allows transport actors to communicate efficiently. Nonetheless, on the hardware level, the lack of a low-cost and robust technical solution for read/write tags that is commercially acceptable remains a significant obstacle to investment for many companies.


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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