Is Google moving into logistics and cargo security?

Firm has been granted a patent for monitoring, tracking containers.
Logistics, COMMENT, Business Trends


Written By: Laurie Sullivan,

The US Patent and Trademark Office granted Google a patent this month for securing, monitoring, and tracking cargo shipping containers. The abstract describes a two-way communication system supported by an electronic bolt, a network gateway, a Web-based platform, and a mobile device.

The wireless system would augment the mechanical seals used today. It would enable nearly real-time, end-to-end monitoring of the location and status of secured shipping containers through a series of gateways connected to a network. Each gateway is associated with a location that would transmit information to a cloud server.

The patent makes no mention of using Google's Android operating system to run the platform, but it does highlight the ability to access the platform from a handheld device. The application was submitted in 2009; this suggests Google's plans to build a mobile enterprise service started long before the Motorola Mobility acquisition or the launch of the Nexus 7 tablet manufactured by Asus in Taiwan and China. Now that Google offers a hardware line, the patent supports its emerging business model.

If Google's tablet and smartphone hardware meet the patent's description of handheld devices, the electronics industry could see the emergence of a new logistics and shipping support line from the company. The tablets and smartphones would become the devices in which shipments of everything from raw electronic materials to finished goods are monitored through a Web-based application.

Imagine accessing a Web-based logistics app through a tablet. Doug Anmuth, a JP Morgan analyst, told me he expects Google to report selling 700,000 Nexus 7 Tablets when it reports its third-quarter earnings Thursday.

The Motorola Mobility acquisition and the Nexus 7 tablet likely give Google a better understanding of the need to secure electronic cargo. For example, allowing the platform to send signals via global positioning systems (GPS) would give the shipper exact coordinates through a link to Google Maps.

Mike Liard, vice president of AutoID at VDC Research, cited Google's desire to drive adoption of e-seals ahead of a government mandate. He agreed with me that the electronic security seal would combine several of Google's areas of expertise. Aside from location-based mapping, the platform would help electronics manufacturers by fostering searches, security, and wireless communications on mobile devices, from Nexus 7 tablets to Motorola Mobility smartphones.

Liard said Google phones or dedicated handheld readers with embedded cameras could be used to read barcodes and NFC or RFID tags. This would allow developers to build out more mobile apps for the electronics industry.

The patent also would lend itself to software developers. An application programming interface would allow developers to build and customize mobile apps for shipping and logistics. Google could white label the platform as it continues to increase support for enterprise companies through mobile tools, cloud computing, and Web-based docs.