After a period of beta testing, the Army began using a new radio technology known as “mesh” in February 2011. On the bumper of the HMMV pictured above, you can see the small white module that transmits its GPS location via a wireless network in the field. (ARINC)
The U.S. Army is expanding the use of wireless technology to track its enormous inventory of vehicles.
The technology, known as “mesh,” helps assure that officials can track vehicles — cars, trucks, tanks — that are coming home from overseas and constantly on the move inside the U.S.
The technology may eventually replace the standard radio frequency identification (RFID) by providing a system that requires less manual intervention, making it more efficient.
“It offers an increased level of visibility at a lower cost,” Mary Ann Wagner, president of Cubic Global Tracking Systems of San Diego. Cubic has been developing the technology for five years under an Army contract. After a period of beta testing, the Army began using the technology in Kuwait in February 2011.
An initial deployment of 200 units has been expanded to 10,000 and use of the technology has cut operational costs in half from $20 million to $10 million in Kuwait. “We know it is saving money, we know that it works and that it can scale,” Wagner said.
“I am very, very pleased with the protocol,” said Bill Jarrett, project lead with the U. S. Army Logistics Innovation Agency. “This provides near real time, continual contact with assets when they are in our yard.”
Though widely used in a range of industries, RFID has its drawbacks when it comes to registering military vehicles on the move. In order to be recognized, a vehicle tagged with RFID must pass through a checkpoint equipped with a reader, or else it must be inventoried manually, a potentially pricey and inefficient proposition.
By tying vehicles together through a wireless sensor network, “it creates a bucket brigade,” Wagner said. The network aggregates the data and relays all information to a single data collection point.
Besides counting vehicles coming off the field, the technology could also be used as an aid to logistics when trucks and tanks come home.
“It could be used in any kind of a yard management situation, any situation where you have to keep track of things,” Wagner said. “What’s coming in that I have to repair? Do I have those necessary things I need to repair them? And if I have to order those things, what is the lead time on that?”
RFID alone can deliver some of this transparency, but as the Army’s Kuwait deployment suggests, a network of wireless sensors may provide an alternative, perhaps one that can deliver such functions more efficiently and at a lower cost.