Military testing radio tags to track shipments of household goods
WASHINGTON — An Army pilot program is tracking personal-goods shipments as they travel overseas in an effort to eliminate some of the worry and confusion about when household goods will arrive.
Now being tested on shipments between Fort Lewis, Wash., and Grafenwohr, Germany, the program uses small radio tags to follow shipments between the bases, and provide updates online as to where the boxes have been and when they last moved.
The technology is similar to identification tags used by the U.S. Postal Service and many Internet stores, to both track packages and keep customers informed of where their mail is.
Shipments’ radio tags are scanned at each processing facility, and that information is uploaded to a master database to show the movement of the items. Customers will receive an ID number they can use to log on to an Internet site, where that information will be displayed.
Don Robinson, founder of RFID Decisions, helped create the new tags and said getting the technology to military families is long overdue.
“You can order a belt from the West Coast off of Amazon.com and see it move step-by-step to you,” he said. “Here, we’re talking about all of your furniture.”
The military already uses large battery powered radio tags in a limited manner to track equipment and supply shipments as they travel out of the United States. Robinson said the new radio tags are smaller and cheaper — about 75 cents apiece — making them more practical for widespread use.
The tags also serve a security purpose as well. Robinson said high-priced items within a large shipment can be outfitted with additional tags, so if they’re stolen en route, officials can trace back to the exact station where the theft occurred.
“These shipments sometimes go through countries where, sometimes, things get open and things disappear,” he said. “If you have a weak link, this will find it.”
So far the pilot program has been successful, Robinson said. About a dozen large shipments were tracked as they moved through six different processing stations, and at each one, the radio tag information was checked and properly uploaded online so officials could watch the transcontinental travel.
Officials at the bases are discussing making the pilot program a permanent service for their troops and their families, but no date has been set.
Officials at Surface Deployment and Distribution Command said there are no official plans to expand the program past those two bases, but they are researching the issue.
Air Force Lt. Col. Steven Amato, deputy chief of staff for personal property at the command, said officials are “eager” to begin using the technology on all international household goods shipments.
The military moves an estimated 300,000 families overseas each year, according to SDDC statistics.