Supply chain startup combines IoT sensors, AI, and process automation to track shipments from dock to destination

Roambee wants to help the World Food Programme monitor security, temperature, and humidity as well as driving conditions to deliver food and medicine safely.

World Food Programme seeks funding and mentors in Silicon Valley Bernhard Kowatsch, the head of the Innovation Accelerator at the World Food Programme, was in Mountain View in October 2019 to host the pitch competition that included 11 project teams.

On any given day, the World Food Programme has 5,000 trucks, 20 ships, and 92 planes on the move, delivering food and other assistance in 80 countries. Roambee wants to improve the supply chain at the WFP to help the nonprofit feed even more people.
 
The nonprofit's supply chain operation is as big as the ones run by pharmaceutical companies and other large corporations. WFP has 16,000 employees, serves 91 million people, and works with a $6 billion operating budget.

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Roambee trackers like these two are powered by Bluetooth Low Power and can track shipments from the warehouse to the delivery point and send status updates during the trip.

Image: Veronica Combs

"If you improve the supply chain even by 1%, you can feed more people," said Santosh Takoor, vice president and managing director for Europe at Roambee. "We want to increase the predictability of the supply chain and create a heat map of bottlenecks in the supply chain."

At the recent WFP Innovation Accelerator pitch night, Takoor explained how Roambee is offering a new spin on logistics-as-a-service. The company's monitoring platform uses IoT sensors, AI-enabled analytics, and robotic process automation to track shipments from the departure point to the final destination and send back status reports during the journey.

Roambee's trackers provide real-time reporting on the location and status of shipments, including:

  • Departure and arrival times
  • Tampering or theft
  • Deviations from the planned route
  • Geolocation of shipment

The company provides the network and the tracking devices on demand. Customers can use the platform as needed without buying any equipment.

Sanjay Sharma and Vidya Subramanian founded the company in 2014. IDC named Roambee an innovator in geospatial analytics and traceability capabilities, along with ClearMetal, Convey, and GrandCanals. 

Trackers powered by Bluetooth low energy

The WFP is using biometrics to distribute food aid and block chain to distribute cash assistance. Roambee's platform presents an opportunity for the WFP to digitize its supply chain as well. Roambee could be a good fit for the WFP because the system doesn't require a large financial investment up front or an existing infrastructure for supply chain management. 

One of WFP's largest and most complex supply chain operations is in Ethoipia, delivering more than 400,000 metric tons of food per year to 3,000 distribution points, and 26 refugee camps. WFP provides supply chain services and expertise to other humanitarian agencies in the region as well.

SEE: Securing IoT in your organization: 10 best practices (free PDF)

Data from Roambee's reusable data loggers can make route recommendations to supply chain managers to avoid traffic or poor driving conditions. Some of Roambee's sensors monitor temperature and humidity levels which can ensure that shipments of vaccines and other drugs arrive safely.

Roambee's products can be used in the varied environments of the WFP's supply chains: indoors, outdoors, and in transit. Roambee's systems cover:

  • Asset tracking with light infrastructure
  • Asset tracking without infrastructure
  • Shipment monitoring with portable infrastructure

Roambee uses sensors and tracking devices with a variety of capabilities and in various form factors. Some of Roambee's tracking beacons are Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) enabled. Most smartphones and tablets use this protocol, making it easier and cheaper to implement tracking solutions. BLE is similar to Wi-Fi and best for short-range communication. This protocol prioritizes battery life over high data transfer speeds.

The BeeAware tracking tag is rechargeable and can be embedded into goods, equipment, or assets that are deployed for months or years at a time. The tag transmits data via Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies like NB-IoT or Sigfox, and also on GSM/2G/3G where LPWAN is unavailable.

The Beelock is a keyless GPS smart lock that can be opened remotely by authorized users or in-person with with an access card. Users can assign or revoke access to a specific lock and set the time and duration of access through a dashboard.

The Mobile as a Bee app lets users monitor last-mile deliveries via a delivery personnel's smartphone. The app also can perform condition spot checks, find assets in minutes within large facilities, and get instant localized alerts.

At the WFP Innovation Accelerator pitch night in October, Takoor asked for $150,000 in funding to expand the country's network in Ethiopia.

"The goal is to map connectivity black spots to 1,200 locations in the Somali region of Ethiopia," Takoor said. "We want to improve the delivery of aid to 1.8 million people there."

Although Roambee has worked with clients that include Lenovo, Facebook, HP, Coca-Cola, Bacardi, Burger King, Corning, BASF, Volkswagen, and Porsche on several continents, Africa is a new market for the company. The first challenge is building coverage. 

"We don't know Africa well enough now and connectivity can be spotty," he said.

Also see

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Roambee's monitoring platform uses IoT sensors, AI-enabled analytics, and robotic process automation to track shipments from the departure point to the final destination and send back status reports during the journey.

Image: Veronica Combs