The Register

The Register: “Ukrainian-led biz using IoT trackers to follow supplies into invaded land”

When Russia invaded her native country, Ukrainian expat Alexa Sinyachova was immediately inundated with requests from friends and business partners asking what they could do to help.

When Russia invaded her native country, Ukrainian expat Alexa Sinyachova was immediately inundated with requests from friends and business partners asking what they could do to help.

Sinyachova was in a perfect position to lend assistance as the CEO of Moeco, a five-year-old startup developing wireless trackers that can be attached to shipments to monitor their movements through supply chains. As people began to donate funds, medical supplies, and other necessities, the problem arose of getting them to Ukraine, a besieged nation where supply chains aren’t exactly stable.

Attaching Moeco’s 4G and 5G package trackers to each shipment provided that reassurance.

“We had to make sure that the parcels, collected by the efforts of hundreds of people, arrived safely and at the right address,” said Sinyachova, who lives and works in Germany.

The packages made it to their destinations, we’re told, and since then Moeco has been coordinating with Ukraine’s ministries of health and defense to deliver $2.5 million in medical supplies, body armor, and other necessities to the Ukrainian government for distribution.

We note Moeco isn’t the only provider of wireless shipment trackers; Lightbug, Sierra Wireless’s Acculink, and Tive spring to mind, for instance.

Decoupling tracking from carriers
Moeco was in the right place at the right time to help Ukraine, and that’s not its first instance of serendipity giving its carrier-agnostic Internet-of-Things trackers a huge business opportunity: COVID-19 helped, too.

“During the first COVID spike there was an enormous demand from businesses around the world because logistics and carriers, in China especially, were completely frozen, leading to a lot of losses,” Sinyachova said.

Moeco’s Global Tags, which connect periodically to 4G or 5G networks to relay the location and other data about their attached package, can be attached to boxes and activated by pulling a tab. They can be monitored via Moeco’s cloud-based dashboard after scanning a QR code on the tag. Once activated, they relay GPS location (or triangulated cell tower coordinates when GPS isn’t available), temperature, humidity, light, and shock data. Data is only transmitted when appropriate to save battery life.

Moeco may be in the right place for a third time as the future of freely available package tracking data from carriers may be coming to a close: transportation giants are cutting third-parties off from aggregating and providing information on parcels and shipments to others, increasing the need for independent, physical trackers to relay that info.

Popular iOS package tracking app Deliveries recently said carriers – seemingly FedEx and DHL – made changes limiting the software’s ability to tap into tracking services to monitor shipments.

“Unfortunately FedEx has made the decision to block third-party trackers such as Deliveries from their API,” Deliveries developer Junecloud said in a tweet. Junecloud said it expects more shipping companies to adopt similar tactics, essentially forcing folks to use transportation providers’ own tracking websites or apps.

Be as that may, these kinds of trackers are supposed to provide real-time insight into deliveries. “We want to understand what’s going on inside that shipping container, what happens in between a package getting from a truck to a front porch, what’s happening in real time,” Sinyachova said.

The tracker tech
In speaking with clients, Moeco said it found that 95 percent of items moving in a supply chain go one way: simply from source to destination. That means expensive reusable trackers are a little pointless.

To that end, two of Moeco’s sensors, the Global Tag and Logger, are said to be completely disposable with a multi-year battery life, and a recently announced third model called the Act Tracker can apparently be recycled with regular plastic waste.

The Global Tag and Act Tracker gizmos use the aforementioned cellular and GPS connectivity to report back the conditions a package finds itself in, and contain a bundle of sensors designed to be as cheap and disposable as possible.

The Logger contains the same sensing technology albeit without the cellular radio. It stores the data it accumulates throughout its trip, and then relays all of it to a smartphone or gateway via Bluetooth.

Both the Global Tag and Act Tracker are small, and the Logger is essentially flat. The Global Tag and Act Tracker both have a bump where batteries and additional hardware lives, with the Global Tag’s bump sticking up a little more than half an inch. All three have adhesive backs and are activated by tearing a tab off of the bottom.

Pricing information for the specific sensors varies based on volume. The lowest price for a tracker that Moeco advertises is $5 per shipment, which may apply specifically to the Logger. Moeco said in a statement that the Act Tracker starts at $14 per unit, and Sinyachova said her company hopes to reduce all of its per-unit pricing as it grows.

A future of seller-centric tracking?
Moeco generates a lot of data, which it says is all encrypted in transit and stored in the company’s cloud platform, which also hosts the tracking dashboard.

Some of Moeco’s larger customers, which include DuPont and Colgate, were apparently glad that Moeco’s platform has total ownership over its data, though they still didn’t want their data in Moeco’s cloud: they needed an on-prem solution.

“We didn’t know this would be the killer feature. As we discovered, most of our customers’ supply-chain data is also their customer database. They can’t share that with third parties, especially a small startup,” Sinyachova said.

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Late last year with their COVID-19 scramble in the rear-view mirror, Sinyachova and fellow Moeco co-founder Mit Gorilovskiy realized they wanted to white-label Moeco for logistics companies and other clients, expanding their potential reach. “It’s easy for us to deploy, do a white label, and be the technology provider. They’re the experts in logistics,” said the chief exec.

Sinyachova said that, in five to ten years, Moeco and products like it could be, and should be, a new industry standard. “This is what I’ve heard recently from both clients and new customers. They’re very much interested in adopting it as soon as possible,” she said.

Sinyachova may not be too far off the mark: Forrester said connected devices have the potential to completely transform supply chains. Complexity makes it difficult to modernize entire supply chains in one fell swoop, and Internet-of-Things gizmos can address key issues to help things along piece by piece. Track-and-trace sensors, Forrester said, are a common way to begin supply chain digital transformations.

“Supply chain solutions are complex, interconnected, and difficult to untangle. Strategic prioritization and technology investments reduce implementation challenges and provide additional capabilities,” Forrester said. ®

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