The rising popularity and sophistication of consumer technology products is driving an explosion in the availability of network-connected devices and low-cost sensors. These could have significant implications for the logistics industry.


THE RADNET: Makes calls, detects radiation.

Consumer technologies offer great possibilities for the automation of core logistics activities. The latest smartphones and tablet computers can identify objects using barcodes, RFID, or near-field-communications technologies. They can determine location using GPS or triangulation with networks of WLAN base stations or cell towers. They can also measure temperature, humidity, and vibration, or evaluate the quantity or condition of objects via sophisticated image processing. And they can communicate all this data remotely and do much of it more cheaply than current industrial solutions – especially with capabilities bundled free in products that customers or employees already own.

To investigate the potential for the industrialization of these technologies, a group from DHL Customer Solutions and Innovation, in association with Fraunhofer IFF, recently conducted a field test of an innovative volume-measurement and freight-scanning system. It uses the 3D range imaging sensors from Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect gesture-based video game controller, which were mounted in warehouse environments including a pallet-loading area and on a forklift truck.

These low-cost sensors, which can collect both video and 3-D range data, were used to identify loads, calculate volumes, and create photographic documentation of load condition. They proved quick, effective, and accurate, with expected payback times more than five times faster than conventional solutions. Remaining challenges include simplifying system calibration and ensuring sufficient robustness for industrial conditions, but DHL is already examining further uses for the technology, including the identification of packages on conveyors, and the optimum loading of trucks and warehouse shelves.

Published:  April 2014