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METATRO: A Real Time RFID enabled haulage monitoring system for

perishable comestibles

George Asimakopoulos Telecom Systems & Networking Department,

Spiros Louvros Technological Educational Institute of
Vasslilis Triantafillou Mesolongi,
Nafpaktos, Greece
asim, slouvros, triantaf []

Abstract haulage companies to monitor and step into the haulage

process at all times and conduct correction procedures.
The addition of wireless identification technologies to This paper attempts to describe in brief the
provide persistent identifiers for food products will requirements that METATRO fulfills and the system
become a key mechanism to enhance the consumer architecture that has been formed. The METATRO
experience. This paper presents the use of RFID track project is funded by the GSRT (General Secretariat of
and tracing technology to help create a safer and more Research and Technology) of the Hellenic Ministry of
manageable mean of transporting perishable Development via the “R&D Conglomeration” program
comestibles with trucks over complicated delivery which runs under the action “Linking Research and
routes. Production” of the “Attica Regional Operational
METATRO attempts to integrate conventional fleet Program”.
management systems with wireless identification
technologies in order to enable real time remote 2. The METATRO approach
management of the food haulage procedure by providing
fine grained accurate information for every discrete
carried unit, expanding existing systems from vehicle 2.1. METATRO Scope
control to unit management. The METATRO project aims at delivering an
automated real time system that enables haulage
1. Introduction monitoring for perishable comestibles such as fruits,
vegetables, dairy products, wine etc. METATRO
In order to manage the food flow through an attempts to deliver fine grained accurate information
information flow, key measures in a perishable regarding every good that is carried during a complex
comestibles haulage management system that should be delivery route followed by a truck. This implies that
controlled and monitored are refrigerator temperature METATRO must be an integrated system that collects
[4], unexpected truck stops due to mechanical or road data from various sources that are installed on the truck
unexpected circumstances, refrigerator failures, faulty and on the transferred goods and transfers at all times the
deliveries etc [5]. A system that tackles such anomalies data to a central computing system which, stores,
at their birth can deal with potential problems that arise analyzes and reports the remotely collected information
from unexpected conditions or when track and tracing in so that the carrier bares real time knowledge about the
the food supply chain breaks down [5]. The development entire haulage process in order to react timely to haulage
of networked systems to ensure integrity of data errors and thus achieve cost reduction via error
throughout the supply chain is a key tool to provide full elimination [2].
traceability of food products [3]. The system aims at delivering a snapshot of all
Taking this work into account, METATRO tries to haulage parameters without human factor interference at
build and manage an information flow that corresponds all times, thus highlighting haulage errors such as faulty
to such critical parameters as they emerge over the deliveries at the moment they occur, enabling immediate
haulage process of perishable comestibles. In order to and on sight correction procedures to take place. This
achieve this goal, METATRO utilizes information way the system tries to replace post haulage error
regarding both the carriage mean (i.e. a refrigerator detecting as it happens with conventional systems [1], by
truck) and each individual carried good (i.e. food inserting error detection and correction procedures into
package). Through its functionality METATRO enables the haulage process, as it rolls [2]. Even more,
METATRO deals in an automated manner with faults
that in conventional systems are detectable only via

1-4244-0826-1/07/$20.00 © 2007 IEEE 456

manual procedures such as refrigerator failure and restart A key requirement is cost reduction, as value for
that may lead to refreezing and re-freezing and thus to money is a key feature METATRO must demonstrate in
major losses regarding product costs, company order to emerge to a commercial product. At the moment
reputation, legal costs etc [1]. a cost estimation is for METATRO is at 1.500 € per
With METATRO the carrier at all times demonstrates truck installation.
discrete knowledge of the haulage chain that each Beyond the above mentioned general system
individual unit has followed during the entire process, requirement documentation, METATRO is composed by
because each carried unit is monitored independently the following discrete integrated subsystems, which
regarding loading, unloading, and transfer process steps. fulfill the subsystem specific requirements mentioned
The carrier can utilize such information in order to detect here.
faults and monitor the entire haulage process as it is
under development, without having to halt monitoring 2.2.2. Central Subsystem.
activities until the haulage process has terminated as it This subsystem is to be sighted at a central
usually happens [2]. monitoring point, typically at office venues. It is
In general, METATRO aims at automating haulage consisted of two subsystems: the GSM/GPRS data
monitoring and enabling real time error detection and transmission subsystem and the central IT server
correction for each and every carried good subsystem (Figure 1). The Central subsystem is
independently. responsible for collecting, storing, processing and
reporting information that is collected by the mobile – on
2.2. METATRO architecture and requirements board subsystem.
The architecture that METATRO follows is depicted The GSM/GPRS data transmission subsystem assures
in the following Figure 1: communication between the on board subsystem and the
IT server subsystem. It is capable of transferring digital
data and supports both continuous and batch transferring
The IT server subsystem, beyond collecting, storing,
processing and reporting information that is collected by
the mobile – on board subsystem offers administrative
capabilities for on board subsystem administration tasks.
This subsystem must be accessible from all loading
points so that at the start of each haulage procedure the
recipients and the route can be defined. This subsystem
stores and processes related data in order to produce a
delivery plan that contains information regarding
receivers such as location and estimated delivery time.
Figure 1: METATRO architecture This subsystem also stores and processes information
regarding the goods that are to be delivered, such as the
2.2.1. General METATRO requirements number of tags that are loaded on the truck and the
METATRO produces and transfers approximately proper haulage conditions (i.e. temperature, time to
300 Kbytes per truck every day, without any delivery etc). The produced delivery plan is sent to the
compression techniques. This data load is computed mobile subsystem that is cited on the truck that will
under the estimation that each truck has 5 to 10 sensors perform the haulage procedure. The IT server subsystem
that monitor values 2 to 5 times per minute and use 8 provides the haulage company with real time
bytes per monitored value. This implies that the information about each truck’s cargo and the haulage
communication cost of the system is 1 to 3 € per day and process status. Through this subsystem the company will
truck if GPRS communication is utilized, which is quite have real time knowledge of what was delivered to
cheaper that GSM/SMS solutions. An alternative to which receiver and when, without having to wait until
GPRS is to use GSM broadband mobile cards. the truck has returned and the driver has reported the
Regarding data transmission rates, the utilized route details. Besides localized information for each
communication channel must transmit data at least at the carried good this subsystem supplies information about
rate it is produced. Batch mode can be used in order to the hauling procedure and its conditions, such as
minimize telecom costs. temperature, refrigerator door opening occurrences,
Cryptography algorithms are utilized in order to humidity etc. Taking into account that threshold values
achieve data integrity and obscurance. Finally, exist for all measured parameters, this subsystem
METATRO supports up to 30 vehicles per installation. generates alerts when possible anomalies occur. This
subsystem will produce web enabled real time reports so

that customers will be able to follow up the goods they time intervals the subsystem measures temperature and
are expecting to be transported. sends the measurement to the mobile information
system. The mobile information subsystem stores each
2.2.3. Mobile on board subsystem. measurement and produces an alert if the monitored
The on board subsystem integrates five different temperature doesn’t fall into a predefined range. The
modules: the data transmission system, the mobile range is predefined at loading time but can be modified
information system (PDA), the GPS subsystem, the during the haulage process via the central information
sensor subsystem and the RFID subsystem (Figure 1). subsystem.
The key concept is that the mobile information system The humidity monitoring subsystem utilizes humidity
collects stores and processes data from the other sensors to collect data regarding existing on board
subsystems, thus monitoring in real time every critical humidity conditions. This subsystem utilizes sensors that
parameter. This data is fed to the truck driver and the are placed in a way that accomplishes accurate humidity
Central Subsystem via the data transmission system, as monitoring. At fixed time intervals the subsystem
appropriate. The mobile subsystem consists of the other measures humidity and sends the measurement to the
subsystems hardware, such as the GPRS data mobile information system. The mobile information
transmission subsystem, various sensors and a PDA. subsystem stores each measurement and produces an
The RFID subsystem is utilized in order to produce alert if the monitored humidity doesn’t fall into a
real time information about the truck’s cargo at all predefined range. The range is predefined at loading
moments. This subsystem uses RFID readers that are time but can be modified during the haulage process via
installed on the truck in a way that allows accurate and the central information subsystem.
precise reading of all RFID tags that are placed on the The door opening monitoring subsystem utilizes
transferred goods on the truck. An RFID tag is magnet sensors that constantly check the door status
associated with each pallet that is loaded onto the truck. (open or closed) along with the number of times the door
Also a tag is associated with each loaded case. In has changed status. Each time a door opening occurs it is
general, the assumption made is that a case is the monitored and reported to the mobile information
smallest unit that is carried during the monitored haulage system, which stores the event information along with
process. Each pallet can carry 60 to 70 cases, and each time and position data (where and when). The system
truck can carry 7 to 30 pallets, depending on its size. produces an alert if the status changes are more than
Each time a loading or a landing occurs, the RFID expected or if the status changes occur at non predefined
readers scan the truck and report load changes to the places. The proper values are predefined at loading time
mobile information system. but can also be modified during the haulage process via
During loading all loaded pallets and cases are the central information subsystem.
recorded via the truck’s RFID tag readers. This means The mobile information subsystem is responsible for
that the mobile information system has precisely collecting, storing and processing all data that are
recorded each loaded good. The recorded goods are then produced by the RFID, sensor and GPS subsystems. The
compared with the original haulage plan that has been mobile information subsystem is loaded with the haulage
produced by the central subsystem and has been loaded plan as it has been formed during loading, thus having
to the mobile information system via the GPRS knowledge of which case or pallet is supposed to be
transmission system. If disaccording occurs the system landed at each receiver. The mobile information
raises an alert, otherwise the loading procedure is subsystem conducts all checks and produces all alerts,
verified as correct. according to the initial parameters that are loaded into it.
During landing all delivered goods are scanned by the The mobile information system is administrated and
truck’s RFID card readers. The recorded goods are then monitored by the central computer server and it also
compared with the original haulage plan that has been plays the role of the GPS subsystem in order to reduce
produced by the central subsystem and has been loaded cost by abolishing one hardware component.
to the mobile information system via the GPRS The mobile information subsystem is independent in
transmission system. the means of offered functionality and utilized data, as it
The GSM/GPRS data transmission subsystem assures is fully operating even at times that the central
communication between the on board subsystem and the subsystem is no operating or inaccessible. The mobile
IT server subsystem. It is capable of transferring digital information system also offers data integrity
data and supports both continuous and batch transferring functionality. Typically, the mobile information system
modes. is a 2 GHZ Pentium 4 PDA, with 1 GB RAM and a 60
The temperature monitoring subsystem utilizes non GB HD.
contact temperature sensors to collect data regarding
existing on board temperature conditions. This
subsystem utilizes sensors that are placed in a way that
accomplishes accurate temperature monitoring. At fixed

3. Conclusion and future work References

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[5] Ding Zhen-hua; Li Jin-tao; Feng Bo, “Radio Frequency
We would like to thank all METATRO partners for Identification in Food Supervision”, 9th International
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