IBM Launches Wireless Shipping Security

At the core of the technology is an IBM-developed tamper-resistant embedded controller that runs the Linux operating system and acts as an intelligent, real-time tracking device.

Larry Greenemeier, Contributor

September 20, 2005

3 Min Read

Both the government and the shipping industry agree that there's much more work to be done to ensure terrorists don't use the United States' maritime infrastructure as weapon the way they used the airways on Sept. 11. The challenge is figuring out the best way to secure the ports of entry without disrupting the country's economy.

IBM and Maersk Logistics, part of leading shipper A.P. Moller-Maersk Group, on Tuesday introduced a combination of technologies they hope will be one of the tools employed to make the waterways more secure and also improve supply-chain visibility within the shipping industry. At the core of the technology is an IBM-developed tamper-resistant embedded controller that runs the Linux operating system and acts as an intelligent, real-time tracking device. The ruggedized controller is mounted inside shipping containers and is designed to connect to back-end IT systems wirelessly, using a satellite link, general packet radio service, or low-power wireless ZigBee technology. IBM also is developing Web services under the name Container Information Service that will let controllers communicate with each other and integrate data with back-end databases.

Maersk, which provided industry expertise during the design of the technology, will in March provide a pilot test environment using 1,000 containers. IBM is hoping a successful pilot will mean the technology will become more generally available during the second half of next year.

IBM realizes that it's trying to solve only one piece of a complex maritime security puzzle. The controller system doesn't regulate what goes into the containers or verify the identity of the person who packs a container, and it introduces a new cost into the shipping supply chain. In fact, the use of advanced technology in the shipping and logistics industry has been a hard sell, which is why IBM is focusing on more than the security benefits. "The government is issuing security regulations, but businesses are also requiring greater supply-chain visibility," says Stefan Reidy, solution development manager for IBM's Secure Trade Lane, an initiative to help improve maritime shipping services and improve security.

Shippers have been experimenting for the past few years with radio-frequency identification technology to monitor containers, but RFID's adoption for container security has been hindered by cost and the practicality of outfitting a significant number of containers with the technology. Late last year, GE Security, part of General Electric's infrastructure division, along with Unisys Corp. and China International Marine Containers Ltd., tested "tamper-evident secure container" technology by sending shipments of GE products packed in 18 of these freight containers between Hong Kong and Long Beach, Calif. An integrated security sensor was attached to the inside wall of each tamper-evident container and armed after the container was packed and sealed with a standard bolt seal, adding about $60 to the cost of the container.

With millions of containers in use worldwide on any given day, the introduction of sensor technology promises to be a slow process, possibly slowed further if it adds cost and complexity to the low-margin shipping industry, where supply-chain efficiency keeps the country's commerce flowing. "Can you outfit every container?" asks Steve Ruggiero, director of maritime security for Total Terminals International LLC, a joint venture between Marine Terminals Corp. and Hanjin Shipping. "And how does that affect the cost of the goods?"

The shipping supply chain generally looks to government grants to fund the technology required to tighten security. Beyond that, the shipping industry is loath to incur any ongoing costs that result from supply-chain kinks that technology introduces. Total Terminals, the country's busiest terminal, last month completed a multimillion-dollar government-funded facilities upgrade with systems integrator Embarcadero Systems Corp. that uses VistaScape Security Systems video motion-detection software and other technology to improve perimeter security and access controls. "If we didn't have government funding, I wouldn't have been able to put in this system," says Steve Ruggiero, Total Terminals' director of maritime security. "I wouldn't be as secure as I am today."

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