It was not that many years ago that package tracking was almost totally guesswork. If you ordered something that needed to be shipped to you it might arrive in 3 days or 3 weeks and where the package was in between the shipper and you was a complete mystery. All of that is changing not only because of GPS tracking but also because of radio frequency identification (RFID).
GPS is a wonderful technology that is revolutionizing many areas of our lives; but it is simply too expensive to put a GPS receiver on every box, package or envelope that is shipped. But it really isn’t necessary to GPS track every package. Inevitably packages are in a building, or a truck, so all you need to know is which truck or building has your package and where the building or truck is. Buildings obviously don’t move so you don’t need to GPS track the packages in a building you simply need to know constantly exactly what packages are in the building.
Shipping and delivery trucks, of course, are a different matter. Trucks must be GPS tracked in order to track the packages in them. Very soon every new delivery truck that hits the roads will have a fully integrated GPS tracking system. Older trucks will end up being updated with GPS, sooner rather than later, or the trucks will be likely retired completely. GPS in shipping trucks is used primarily to let the shipper and shipping company know where the packages are. The GPS can also be used for navigation, but most truckers already know their territory and don’t need GPS navigation. The big push for GPS-equipped delivery trucks is for tracking packages.
So the only thing left to make the system work is to electronically tag each package. In the state of the art system of the near future packages will be identified by RFID. It will not be long before a RFID electronic tag will be attached to almost all packages shipped everywhere. Unlike current bar coding systems, RFID electronic tags do not require a visual scan and can carry significantly more information. Bar coding is almost everywhere these days, but it requires a close and accurate visual scan by a bar code reader. It is simply too slow and often inaccurate. RFID tags on the other hand require only that the package be within radio frequency range of the RFID receiver or RFID interrogator. The days of running a package under a visual scanner by hand are almost over.
Even today most shipping companies have prototype shipping and delivery trucks with fully integrated RFID interrogators, RFID antennas, GPS tracking and a cellular computer network to tie it all together. Factories, shipping and mail centers are also starting to use RFID throughout their facilities so they know exactly what packages are in their facilities. So the package-tracking circle will soon be complete. The package sends, or is induced to send, out a radio frequency signal, the RFID interrogator inside the back of the truck or in the building picks up the signal, the computer network on the truck or in the building sends out a cellular message letting the shippers computer know what is where and finally the GPS system tells the shipper where the truck is if the package is currently on a truck.