A new environmentally friendly prototype sensor has been developed by CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, to help combat food-fraud and protect the reputation of Australian produce.
The novel technology uses vibration energy harvesting and machine learning to accurately detect anomalies in the transportation of products such as meat.
For example, if a refrigeration truck carrying exported meat stopped during its journey to the processing plant, the technology would be able to detect this and if any products had been moved or removed during this period.
This allows producers and logistics operators to pin-point handling errors and identify when products are stolen or substituted.
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"VEH powers the device and monitors the movement of vehicles and the products they are transporting," explained Dr Sara Khalifa, the research scientist spearheading the project at CSIRO's Data61.
"It then uses machine learning to identify interactions, trends and anomalies in the VEH patterns.
"Using VEH we can generate enough energy to power a battery-free anomaly detection motion sensor, while still retaining the same degree of accuracy as a conventional battery-powered device. This is more environmentally sustainable and also means it can extend the run time of GPS location tracking."
Solar and radio frequency energy harvesting will be incorporated in future iterations of the technology to maximise the energy return towards completely battery-free tracking technology.
CSIRO worked with Queensland-based supply chain technology company BeefLedger to conduct a variety of experiments including packing the energy harvesting sensors within meat boxes carried through BeefLedger's transport routes between Morningside and Annerley in Brisbane.
Mr Warwick Powell, Chairman of BeefLedger, spoke of the essential need for such technology to ensure consumer confidence.
"By creating an energy-neutral technology that sits alongside the product, companies will no longer need to rely on trucking transportation, barcodes and paper trails. Businesses can be sure that what they are purchasing is coming directly from the paddock to plate," he said.
The added layer of verification the tool provides for goods will enable exporters to more confidently assure their consumers that the product they are purchasing is exactly what is described, according to CSIRO supply chain researcher Dr Nina Welti.
"We are noticing an increase in industry demand for solutions such as this, and the fact that this technology is battery-free lowers the barrier to entrance. It could also be applied to a variety of other products, such as grain, aquaculture and horticulture," she said.
Food fraud in supply chains is estimated to cost the global economy roughly AUD$50 billion each year, with a single incident potentially reducing a company's annual revenue by 2 to 15 per cent.
However, advances in digital and analytics technologies offer a way to optimise the agriculture supply chain.
CSIRO and BeefLedger are currently exploring the results of the trials with plans to pursue other areas of application in the supply chain.