The most well-known identification technologies used in tracking and tracing are bar codes and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). Of these two, RFID is rapidly becoming more commonly used. Its advantages are the possibility to read/write in tags and the durability of the system in varying environmental conditions. RFID is more suitable for automated identification than bar codes are, as cargo units can be identified at longer distances, there is no need for visual contact, and the target can be mobile during identification. But tags that are inexpensive and readable at long distances are not yet available. The Auto-ID Centre is aiming to develop a tag priced at only 5 cents by the year 2005.
The Tracking & Tracing of Freight Transport (TASKU) project is part of a logistics study commissioned for the Real-Time Logistics of Networks (VALO) Programme. Its object is to examine the tracking and tracing of cargo units (e.g. pallets, roller cages, boxes) and the associated technology and systems.
Desktop analysis of former projects, reports and Internet databases.
Interviews of logistics operator and suppliers.
Several workshops for certain industry fields.
Surveys of interest groups suggest that there is still very little tracking and tracing of cargo units, and the existing systems are mostly manual. Only the largest logistics operators have access to more high-tech systems that are often tailored for individual clients. But the need for more efficient operations within transport chains calls for the development of more extensive systems that can process data on several parties and goods categories.
The main obstacles to the creation of such a tracking and tracing system are the wide range of standards currently in use and the lack of common operating models. Additional insecurity for system implementation is caused by the speed at which technology is advancing in this field. The first parties to implement the new kinds of tracking and tracing systems will most likely be the major transport chain operators.
In the future, the data included with each cargo unit will be able to be read by a variety of technologies. One possible solution is a combination of bar code, RF tag and written information. The parties involved will have to decide on matters associated with the information content, data security and safety.
Commercial consortiums and large international standardisation organisations are working hard to create standards for cargo tracking and tracing to bring out products that conform better to commercial requirements and that are mutually compatible. Their efforts seem to be highly popular, and have given a new life to the RFID industry and motivated competitors to work together.