Following the terrorist events of September 11, 2001, both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the trucking industry have been working toward secure motor carrier operations, particularly in the area of hazardous materials transportation. Reducing the vulnerability of truck operations to acts of violence is vital, since trucks could be identified as potential targets of attack, utilized as a means of transferring destructive materials within the country, and used as weapons to attack other targets.
In 2003, the House of Representatives Report 107-722, Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2003, stated:
Truck trailers pose a significant potential security threat since they provide an easy means to transport dangerous cargos. In addition, the inability to track freight movements causes inefficiencies in the intermodal freight transportation system, increasing operating costs and congestion, and decreasing safety, economic competitiveness, and air quality. While commercially available technology can track a trailer when it is tethered to a cab, commercially available technologies are needed to track and control an untethered trailer. Within the funds provided for FMCSA's limitation on administrative expenses and high priority initiative program, the Committee has provided the funding to leverage existing technology and develop an untethered trailer tracking and control system that will provide real-time trailer identification, location, geo-fencing, unscheduled movement notification, door sensors, and alarms.
As a result, FMCSA conducted a national pilot test to test a UTT system with the functions specified in the congressional report. For this project, FMCSA worked in partnership with a review team comprised of participants from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Maritime Administration (MARAD), Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), and Department of Defense (DOD). Also, an expert panel comprised of stakeholders from Landstar, J.B. Hunt, Geologic Solutions, and Skybitz provided expert opinions and advice for this project. Another independent group of experts provided their opinions about security-related vulnerabilities of trailers containing shipments of explosives.
Truck trailers are the primary freight delivery equipment asset in the transport of non-containerized freight in the United States. In the trucking industry, the trailer to tractor ratio is in excess of 3:1, suggesting a trailer utilization rate between 30 and 35 percent. The lack of in-transit visibility has resulted in security risks and inefficient use of available trailers sitting unwatched and subject to both theft and terrorism. When a trailer is removed from its dropped location and erroneously moved or parked, the trucking company typically conducts lengthy searches to locate it. Also, trucking companies may often subcontract to other trucking companies to haul certain loads for them, thereby losing trailer visibility at the switch. Furthermore, shippers may not inform trucking companies when trailers are empty, causing an unnecessary delay in the return of the trailer for productive use.
The UTT system can reduce these vulnerabilities by addressing the potential threats of stolen trailers, which could be used to convey weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the theft of hazardous materials (HAZMAT) cargo, which could result in catastrophic releases. In addition, the UTT system can also address the threat of cargo sabotage, where cargo, such as food products, could be contaminated. The increased visibility provided by the UTT system can potentially deter and detect interception or diversion of tractor-trailers en route – where unauthorized personnel could gain access to trailers, cargo, and important information for illicit purposes.
In addition to security benefits, use of the UTT system can improve operational efficiency. Trucking companies frequently buy excess trailers to ensure their availability for their most expensive assets – tractors. Due to a lack of manpower and adequate trailer storage facilities, these trailer stockpiles may be either inaccurately accessed or unknowingly disbursed at various locations. Trailer stockpiling also creates additional inefficiencies, such as constant inventory checks (yard checks), extra maintenance, extra parking space, erroneous pickups, and theft, which deplete the trucking company's resources. These are unnecessary costs that can be significantly reduced through improved asset management by using a UTT system.
Inadequate in-transit visibility of freight could also add to the inefficient use of our nation's roadway infrastructure. This inefficiency is manifested by increased congestion and reduced air quality, which could lead to increased operational costs for the trucking and logistics industries. As a result, these increased operational costs further reduce our nation's economic competitiveness. In particular, the lack of visibility of trailers results in inefficiencies due to inadequacies in scheduling; equipment shortages; the necessity for adding slack to the overall freight transportation timeline; and the need to add unnecessary empty miles to reposition equipment.
1.2 The Untethered Trailer Tracking System Pilot Test Purpose
The purpose of the UTT system pilot test was to test a UTT system that meets specific functional requirements and improves the safety and security of trailers and shipments at each phase of movement – pick up, delivery, receipt, and storage. As a result, FMCSA conducted a pilot test to develop generic voluntary requirements for a UTT system using as a model a proprietary system that includes the specific capabilities defined in the House of Representatives Report 107-722, and field test a system that meets these requirements. The FMCSA UTT System Pilot Test followed the FMCSA Hazardous Materials Safety and Security Field Operational Test  and expanded the scope of testing UTT system technologies.
Working with three participating motor carriers, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and QUALCOMM conducted the UTT system test. The QUALCOMM TrailerTRACS system was selected as the UTT system for the testing effort; however, the information about this system may applicable to other UTT systems.
1.3 The Untethered Trailer Tracking Concept
Untethered trailer tracking is one solution that addresses the efficiency and security problems previously cited. This solution is comprised of a set of communications and computer technologies for tracking a trailer independent of a truck tractor. UTT systems require a power source and power management strategy for long periods of inactivity, since trailers are stored in terminals for periods of weeks or months. Typically, a UTT system uses satellite-tracking Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, supplemented by either satellite or cellular communications technologies. As shown in Figure 1, a variety of in-transit events can be monitored by the UTT system, thus providing a means to integrate the trailer assets into a trucking company's overall logistics management system.
Figure 1: Trailer-Tracking System Chain of Events
There are an estimated 2.5 to 3 million dry van trailers in the United States today; however, only about 2 percent have UTT systems. The deployment of UTT technologies is expected to increase significantly in the near future, since several UTT systems are currently in the marketplace. Some of these UTT systems include:
- QUALCOMM's TrailerTRACS
- General Electric's VeriWise
- Geogolic Solution's TrailerMax
- Terion's FleetView 3 Trailer Management System
- SkyBitz's Global Location System
- TransCore's GlobalWave
- Teletouch Communication's VisionTrax
- AirlQ's Refrigerated Trailer Tracking Solution
Mr. Sam Gill, an industry consultant who has followed the evolution of vehicle tracking closely, stated that 2005 "could be a banner year. Trailers are the last frontier of asset management in the trucking industry."
1.4 Untethered Trailer Tracking System Overview
A UTT system generates trailer position information with every message and status report, which is provided to a dispatcher's computer. The untethered trailer positioning information is collected through various sensor devices that monitor the trailer to which they are attached. Position information can be user-configured to be generated and sent at predetermined time intervals, and it can also be generated and sent upon demand from the dispatcher's computer. The position reporting frequency is configurable, and the UTT terminal has a store and forward capability.
The UTT system pilot test involved the following requirements:
- Near real-time trailer identification
- Accurate time of connection and disconnection activities when used with a tractor-based communications system
- Location and mapping of trailers
- Geo-fencing to identify a risk area
- Unscheduled movement notification
- Remote sensing of a loaded or empty trailer
- Cargo and door sensors
To address these requirements, specific technologies and/or processes were integrated into the UTT system. Table 1 provides a mapping of these functional requirements and the associated technologies/processes.
Whether or not a trailer is untethered or tethered to a tractor with or without a tractor-based mobile communications system, the trailer-based UTT system allows a trucking company to track a trailer's location, status, and cargo by providing the trailer's position. The trailer's position can be configured to be reported to a trucking company as often as every 2 minutes; however, as the frequency of the positioning report is increased, messaging costs increase. As a result, while en route, a tractor-trailer with a mobile communications system on the tractor typically utilizes that system for positioning information at a more cost effective rate, such as one position per hour. When the tractor-based mobile communications system is not working or available, the UTT system can track the tractor-trailer en route with more frequent updates of positions. The UTT system is a critical stand-alone location tracking system for untethered trailers.
One functionality tested in the pilot test was to capture connection and disconnection events and transmit notifications via the UTT system cellular communications to dispatchers. The event notifications provide details of the connection and disconnection event, including position, time, status, and identity data to a cellular network. This functionality was enabled through the use of a satellite-based mobile communications system on the tractor for the trailer connection and disconnection event only.
The UTT system may also be configured to establish geo-fence boundaries around individual UTT system terminals that transmit event notifications to dispatchers if the trailer violates the geo-fence. A geo-fence is an electronic boundary that a user can create to monitor trailer location and movement. Geo-fences may be created, viewed, and edited visually on a Web-based interactive map. For example, a user could locate a trailer on a map and draw a geo-fence around the trailer position by clicking and dragging a mouse. The geo-fence may be assigned to a trailer or to groups of trailers. Geo-fences may also be removed or inactivated for trailers or groups of trailers at any time.
Once the geo-fence is set and configured to provide an alert, the UTT system will send a notification to the user if the trailer crosses the geo-fence boundary. The UTT system will send an alert when a trailer exits or enters the boundary through an email or pager notification. Since the UTT system provides a trailer specific geo-fencing capability, it is unaffected by separate geo-fences of nearby trailers.
The UTT system also provides an on-board geo-fence with event-driven exception reporting. Exception-driven reporting will allow the UTT system to monitor trailer position and check for geo-fence breaks frequently, but only send a message if a geo-fence break is detected. Frequent checking for geo-fence breaks without sending frequent messages lowers messaging costs and increases battery life.
As a part of the UTT system, an ultrasonic cargo sensor detects the presence of cargo in the trailer by indicating if the trailer is unloaded or loaded. A cargo event is defined as the transition from completely unloaded to partially or completely loaded or vice-versa. The UTT system terminal wakes up to check the cargo status at a predefined frequency. Utilizing event-driven exception reporting, a status message is sent only when the cargo status changes.
As another part of the UTT system, a magnetic door sensor monitors for an open or closed door event on the trailer. A door event is defined as the transition from open to closed or from closed to open. The trailer door sensor can work in conjunction with the cargo sensor, so that only those door state changes that might affect cargo are sent to the user. For example, it is possible to configure the system to send door open events if there is cargo in the trailer and to ignore door open events if the trailer is empty. For the pilot test, only trailers with a single set of doors were monitored, and a door opening alert was sent when the trailer was loaded.
An overview of these technologies is shown in Figure 2 and described in Section 2.
Figure 2: UTT System Concept
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