How We Built a Retail Telematics IoT System in Two Weeks

A global retailer wanted to monitor a fleet of trucks with real-time sensors and location tracking to improve operations. Here's how we proved it can work.

Connecting Assets and Sensors In a Telematics Environment

Retailers and grocers are contending with rising costs, theft, and shrinkage due to product loss throughout the supply chain. Improving inventory tracking from distribution centers to stores can help reduce spoilage, minimize lost inventory, and better execute product recalls when necessary. But until recently, operations teams had to rely on manual data entry and RFID scanning to, which is difficult to automate.

A new generation of Bluetooth® Low Energy sensors and battery-free asset tags make massive scale of monitored assets possible, but they require cloud connectivity, and there is no standard data format across every vendor. Powering the routers and bridges while in transit is also a major challenge, since the trailers don't provide power. So the question from the customer was, how can we connect these devices, unify the data, and power the infrastructure in a mobile environment?

How Do You Power a Mobile IoT Network?

The first challenge seems obvious: you can't have a network without some power. Unfortunately, neither the reefer or dry trailers in a standard retail fleet provide enough power for the gateways that connect all of these sensors.

To solve this, Rigado worked with the customer and device vendors to understand the power requirements and installation constraints, and came up with a solar-powered solution.

This combined with a battery backup would ensure that the system had enough power, regardless of weather conditions, to keep everything running without any dependency on the truck cab.

A solar panel installed on top of the trailer delivers a reliable and sustainable power option

A Telematics Data Architecture that Scales

Now we get to the challenge of a unified data network for multiple sensors and data types. Here, Rigado used its experience deploying thousands of networks with its Edge Connect software to design something that could be deployed quickly, but also used as a template to scale to production. Below is the architecture used for this proof of concept:

Some notable elements of this design:
  • All sensor data flows through the Rigado Cascade Gateway, which then directs traffic to Azure IoT Hub, or in the case of the Wiliot tags, to the Wiliot cloud.
  • Rigado Edge Direct constantly monitors the health of the sensor network, and manages the data pipelines as different sensors are added for new use cases
  • Rigado provided a reference dashboard from Losant to show the sensor data, but the customer also was able to create their own data analytics by collecting the data through a REST API

Fleet Telematics on Display

Now the fun part: tracking the trailer location, and monitoring temperature and door status. Below are screenshots taken from the Losant dashboard used in the PoC, which remain live and in use by the customer as they expand towards a full pilot.

A door sensor and three temperature sensors in the dry trailer. This was during Summer so the high temperatures are to be expected.

The same setup running in a reefer trailer so temperatures are much cooler in different sections of the trailer

Location data from the cellular gateway is also fed into Azure IoT Hub and Losant to provide real-time tracking of the trailers as they move

Door open/close and temperature trend dashboards are also ways to show data coming in. Alerts were also setup to monitor any changes.

Customer Feedback and Going Beyond Telematics

"We were impressed how quickly Rigado got all of this up and running."

Having shown this solution can power itself, provide valuable sensor data, and be managed remotely, the customer is ready to add more trailers to the pilot and begin optimizing the solution for production. Rigado is already working with the other network and device vendors on a more cost-optimized approach, as well as bringing more sensors in such as tire pressure monitoring and motion/vibration.

"We'd like to utilize this approach inside our stores and prove these solutions can co-exist."

Though this proof of concept was driven by the need for IoT in a telematics setting, the same architecture and tools can be applied inside of stores. And new use cases can be added, such as electronic shelf labels and refrigerator monitoring. One of the key benefits of deploying a Rigado unified edge network is the consistency across the entire Enterprise, regardless of the IT infrastructure and vendors involved.

Learn more about what Rigado brings to retail IoT and fleet logistics