The Fruit, not the Computers
For a long time we talked about IoT in the abstract, something that will happen. The future is now, and applications are budding everywhere, being used to solve practical real world problems in places you might not imagine. A Swiss company has created a device for monitoring fruit, not just the area where the fruit is being stored, but the actual temperature inside the fruit. Getting fresh fruit from the grower to the eater is complicated. The potential for spoilage increases the farther it goes and the more times it is transferred. With Wi-Fi enabled Fruit Simulators hidden in cartons of produce, and a mobile Pepwave cellular device, a grower could watch the crop go from the orchard to the final consumer destination.
Fresh produce has a very short shelf life. Tom Finkbiner, CEO, Tiger Cool Express estimates it at “less than 15 days for tree fruit and 15 to 30 days for grapes.” Consider the shipment channel of Michigan peaches to market in Dallas. Most shipments leave the growers in smaller quantities and then are consolidated into semi-trailer loads or boxcars for cross-country shipments. The long haul freight destination is a distribution center, not the final market. Once at the distributor, the truckload of cartons are divided into other trucks with a variety of other products for shipment to stores. Upon arrival at their final market destination, the peaches may linger on a receiving dock for several hours before they are put in a cooler or out on the shelves.
Each leg of the transportation should happen in temperature-controlled transport. The transferring from vehicle to vehicle, the sorting, and final delivery all represent excursions into every range of potential temperatures. When a grocer is unpacking a carton of peaches and finds they have temperature damage, there is no way to determine where along the journey the fruit went bad.
An article in the Journal of Food Engineering (July 18, 2017) reported on a new “Fruit Simulator.” The fruit simulator is a surrogate that can be placed in a carton, hidden among the real fruit, to monitor what goes on during the peach’s big adventure across the country. Because it looks like a peach and is placed in a carton with all the other peaches, shippers will not be able to select it for preferential treatment.
The simulator, created by Swiss firm Empa Materials Science and Technology, is the same shape and size as an apple, or peach, or mango, or banana and simulates the composition of the relative fruit. There are sensors inside the simulator to duplicate and record conditions inside the fruit. The sensor logs the data, and at the end of the delivery chain, can be used to find where problems occurred.
As Empa can currently produce the sensors, their primary value is forensic, after the fact, in finding fault for insurance claims if fruit reaches its destination unfit for sale. However, Empa is looking for a partner to make the fruit transmit the data wirelessly for real-time monitoring. In fairly short order, shipments of produce could be monitored through mobile connection in their freight containers.
Pepwave mobile cellular routers provide fleet communication with multiple cellular modems and GPS in small rugged units. At Frontier we recently created a portable unit with a dual cellular Pepwave MAX Transit Duo in a Slingshot 6 case with antennas and batteries for a go-anywhere connection. The device could be passed from driver to driver with a load of fruit containing Wi-Fi enabled Fruit Simulators for constant real-time monitoring of produce moving across the country.
Fresher produce is obviously better for the consumer, but the growers are most likely to benefit from the technology. They spend months carefully tending, protecting and harvesting crops only to load them on a truck and hope anonymous shippers and handlers get them to the consumer in good condition. In the near future they will be able to not just track their products as they move across the country, they will know those products are handled correctly.
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