FedEx at Forty: Pushing Boundaries
FedEx innovators lead the way in bold advances.
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“This is our brand. It’s what we do.”
Among the many FedEx innovations receiving international recognition is SenseAware, which in 2012 garnered the company two World Mail awards for excellence in the global express industry. Using wireless communication, this multisensor device collects and transmits data from inside FedEx packages, trailers, and warehouses. It monitors not only a product’s location but provides real-time temperature, light exposure, relative humidity, and barometric pressure within the package. Using SenseAware, customers can follow a shipment’s journey to its destination, receive alerts if it experiences environmental changes or has gone off-route, and intervene if problems arise.
Carter says the product’s earliest prototype came out in 2006. “But we weren’t just sitting there waiting for somebody to do something with it. We were working to get FAA licensing and with a company to design a sensor mote that has vibration and velocity and light and temperature on a sensory array.” Today, though similar products have been developed, “we hold most of the patents for what’s called sensor-based logistics into a network. We didn’t want to cede this to anyone; this is our brand. It’s what we do. We create the first wave of innovation.”
SenseAware is especially helpful to certain industries, including healthcare. Carter describes a situation for which the innovation was life-saving. “We had a customer shipping bone marrow transplants and they weren’t using our networks. They were shipping it on the first flight out on another carrier,” he says. The carrier said it landed in Houston at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center — but instead it was misdirected and landed in another city. “We’re talking bone marrow, with people’s lives at stake,” says Carter, “and donating marrow is not a fun process for the donor.” Through SenseAware, FedEx was able to locate the shipment, determine that its temperature was completely viable, and direct it to its proper destination. “And all the time that carrier was saying it’s here, we just have to find it,” says Carter. “The consequences of looking where it wasn’t could have been quite high.”