Chip technology aids air cargo accuracy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 July, 2010, 12:00am

Researchers at the Polytechnic University are looking to usher Hong Kong's air cargo industry into the 21st century with new technology to replace the decades-old system of barcodes and manual labelling.

The key is a five-centimetre-square chip emitting a radio frequency that is embedded in the labels stuck to boxes.

These labels are scanned from metres away whenever they pass through a designated gateway. The scanners can detect if cargo is entering or leaving, update the cargo location on a database, and can add essential information to the label, such as flight information.

'Data can be updated instantly, in terms of milliseconds,' said Henry Chan Chun-bun, team leader of the project and associate professor in computing at PolyU.

Currently, each box's barcode has to be manually scanned upon entry or exit of warehouses and airport terminals.

Yet even more attractive than the speed is the accuracy. Manually labelled boxes can get lost, and if human error sends a shipment to the wrong place at the wrong time, the flow of the cargo distribution is broken up, said Kelvin Leung Kai-yuen, chief executive of North Asia Pacific for DHL Global Forwarding. 'A lot of the time when you talk about the cost of logistics ... it really comes down to the point-zero-something per cent of errors,' Leung said.

The PolyU project has cost more than HK$4 million so far, funded mostly by the government's Innovation and Technology Fund.

Hong Kong's air freight industry is the largest in the world and last year distributed 3.6 million tonnes of cargo.