The Opportunity To Change The Way How Goods Are Tracked, Monitored And Reported Essay


The application of goods transportation (not just food and animal transportation) has changed greatly over the last century. Better domestic and international transportation, Advancements in communications, increased use in logistics and supply chain technologies, Improved geo-political relations and more open trade hence Increased ability to maximize a company’s global potential. But what hasn’t changed too much is the technology that brings the most important party into the greater picture, the clients (sender and receiver). More specifically how both the supplier and their client can track, monitor and report the integrity of their product.

What this report outlines is the opportunity to change the way goods are tracked, monitored and reported. The group is proposing a web/application system with a blockchain database backend. This is to ensure the security and integrity of any data transactions that will occur. In particular this report will be focusing on network based communications between sensor units, base stations and midpoint databases for the use of data replication to blockchain.

At present the sensor units monitoring either food or livestock will be sending information to base stations located in goods transportation vehicles. Information being monitored could include: temperature, humidity, GPS Position, pressure, orientation of goods (gyroscopic) and/or acceleration. All these attributing factors to the final outcome of quality of any goods being shipped. The information gathered can be used for a plethora of tasks. Whether it be: Livestock treatment, external and internal conditions of shipping environments to meet food safety standards, integrity of shipped product, tamper proofing, the list can go on.

At present data gathered from goods will be stored locally on MySQL based servers in each transportation vehicle. When required or periodically data will then be replicated to blockchain. Data can even be replicated before new data exists in order to achieve higher integrity ratings. From there the application development team will read and interpret the data. Sensors will be connecting via 802.11N/AC Wireless based infrastructure again all located within the vehicle.

The use of “off the shelf” embedded based systems will be achieving these goals. As of present the main “off the shelf” subsystems include: Wireless Routers/Access Points (3/4G capable) & Raspberry Pi Units (Database Server). These are what will help collect, store and transmit data.

Statement of Problem

Postage and shipping based companies may make use of intermittent tracking based technologies but their overall efficiency and effectiveness is incredibly small. One can imagine sitting at their computer trying to track a particular item with much difficulty. Often systems returning next to no data or data that proves useless. The data in question may state the time it arrived at certain points along the way to its destination but no current client facing systems on the market can accurately show precise (current) data. Data that customers are interested in.

The benefits of data being recorded and displayed in real time would greatly give any company a larger advantage over their competitors. For once clients can plan and work out their day and business without having to guess when shipments of goods arrive. The efficiency factor for both customers and shipping companies in question would be greatly increased. With having the real time knowledge of the integrity of their shipment all customer parties can also plan for any anomalies. Correct blame can also be provided with statistical evidence.

None of which that has been mentioned above currently exists. So as one can see there are many problems facing shipping companies today with their outdated data collection and interpretation methods. It is also important to note that not all blame lies with shipping based companies. Often goods are going through hubs and ports where shipping companies make use of independent goods based tracking services and then interpret external data to send to their customers. The system proposed will eliminate that factor as all goods are being shipped with monitoring based systems independent of ports, hubs and sorting facilities.

Another issue affecting the state of and quality of shipping is the integrity of goods or more importantly the quality of integrity. As of currently there is no “smart” conclusive way of dealing with tampering or external influence of shipped goods. Of course there are a limited amount of physical based methods such as security tape or strapping of items but all of which can easily be replaced by the tamperer in question. The proposed product will be able to solve any underlying issues by again real time monitoring and reporting. This can give greater flexibility to companies to ship goods of greater expense or higher valuable items. It can also give the customer in question better piece of mind for certain items.

Background and Literature Review

Ensuring that all information is collected and gathered in a secure manner is always of top priority. MySQL allows for secure transportation of encrypted data between the client and the server. Setting up secure encrypted MySQL connections occurs on both the client (data sending) and the server (data receiving).

Using an unencrypted connection between the MySQL server and client, someone or something with the ability to access the network could read and inspect all traffic, hence reading all the data being sent or received between client and server. When moving any information over a public (or even private) network, an unencrypted connection cannot be used under any circumstances. To make all data unreadable to any intruders, encryption has to be in use. Encryption with special algorithms have to include security policies to resist or stop all kinds of attacks. Some attacks include mixing up the order of encrypted data or replaying data twice.

In terms of securing wireless based senor traffic it is imperative that 802.1x Radius based authentication (WPA2 Enterprise) is used. 802.1x WPA2 Enterprise requires all clients to authenticate over an encrypted network using certificates and username/password combinations. This is a lot more secure then standard WEP or WPA2 authentication that just requires a password. This means that each sensor will be able to authenticate individually to the network. This greatly increases security as from an operational perspective one can see who and what is connected to the network.

The last piece of networking based infrastructure in terms of security is the replication of data between a local MySQL databases and AWS Blockchain. The most secure way of approaching this issue is the use of a site to site VPN from local databases to AWS. This will ensure a secure and constant L2TP link between vehicles and cloud based databases. The L2TP VPN Protocol is a combined protocol that has all the features and security features of PPTP (point to point protocol). Instead L2TP runs over the faster User Datagram Protocol (UDP). This has many benefits but mainly it allows traffic to go through firewalls with greater ease. The L2TP VPN link encrypts all data using 256-bit encryption. It is still a tunneling protocol just a tunnel with 256-bit encrypted walls.

Research Questions

“Secure Collection and Replication of Sensor Based Data Between Databases”

This will develop further understanding of database replication with an emphasis on security. Replication between different database types will also need to be looked into to ensure compatibility. If no direct compatibility exists then further research will need to be undertaken to find middle ground methods such as variable swapping and pushing via PHP scripts.

“Caching of Data on Local MySQL Databases to Ensure availability and secure failover”

This will develop further understanding of database access to ensure that devices will always have an area to store data securely. This will be useful for 3/4G failover as well as local “fast” access to data on demand. It will be useful to develop this in conjunction with application teams in order to test and achieve true failover or prioritisation. It also highlights the need for securely wiping data locally after replication to block chain.

“Wireless Sensor Roaming Between Multiple Vehicles. Network Based Configuration for Secure Identification of Legitimate Sensors to stop External Tampering”

This will develop further understanding of securely transferring sensor modules between vehicles while keeping a high sensor uptime available. Systems in place need to make sure that each sensor is tamper proof but also cannot be cloned or mimicked in order to achieve desired controlled results. All results need to remain uncontrolled while in transportation (no individual physically changing sensors to achieve desired outcome).

Methodology & Project Planning

Every individual member of the team will need to start designing the base systems for the project itself. Each member of the team will need to report back to the group as a whole in order to make sure that each “subsystem” is compatible with each other subsystem. This should have been figured out during the initial research phase that has been undertaken but as in any project correct modeling of an entire system cannot be successfully completed until all subsystems come together for initial design and hence testing. Prior to the design of each subsystem it should be recorded that all efforts have been made to see what current systems exist in the market place as it would be more efficient to alter existing systems in place and design aspects of a system. This is apparent in using Raspberry Pi’s as an embedded system. Building one from scratch would take an incredible amount of time and resources, altering the way it works proves to be a better option.

For networking based requirements please see the diagram below:

As one can see there are a number of subsystems in place within the networking section of the project. The majority of physical work would be undertaken for the construction of vehicle base units. Base units will be consisting of a 3/4G Modem/Router and an embedded system to hold the locally cached database. The Modem/Router will be issuing a 802.11N/AC Signal. This is what the individual sensors will be connecting too. Authentication will occur over a L2TP Site to Site VPN Link with a RADIUS Server. A lot of configuration will need to be carried out on all subsystems in place. The main anticipation of time will be put towards the building of the base unit itself.

A bit of code will need to be completed in order for correct replication of file system to occur. The use of technology such as Cron Jobs can carry out rudimentary tasks. All of which can be done on the chosen Embedded System. Most of the code on the embedded system will be Python. There will also need to be MySQL code written for the application it self. Security factors come into play here and must be represented at every level of the design.

Replication from MySQL to blockchain has been chosen due to blockchains information being public, encrypted and hence secure. Blockchain cannot be edited, information can only be added. Hence having the greatest level of transparency and accountability. This allows for no information to be “tampered” with.

Overview of Process of Project from Start to Finish:

Sensor data such as Temperature, Humidity, Acceleration and Gyroscope positioning is gathered from goods in question (either Livestock or Food). These are sent to the vehicle base station via 802.11N/AC. Sensors authenticate to the base station via WPA Enterprise Authentication. This connects through the L2TP Site to Site VPN Link to a RADIUS Server sitting in AWS.

The Wireless Base Station will automatically forward all packets of data to the local embedded systems database (MySQL). PHPMyAdmin will be installed on the embedded system in order to easily read necessary values for testing.

Data will be replicated from the MySQL database through the Encrypted Site to Site VPN Tunnel to AWS Blockchain.

The application team will now take over and interpret the values sent to Blockchain and make them readable and user friendly in the application. Here the client will be able to monitor all the statistics in real time.

Risk Assessment and Ethical Considerations

Risk Assessment:

Uncertainties that could hinder the development of the project include:

  1. Slow Shipping of Parts
  2. Ethics Committee Approval
  3. Team Members Leaving
  4. Elements of project taking longer then expected to complete
  5. Testing Issues

Physical Elements needing to be taken into account (Networking Section):

  1. 3/4G Modem Router
  2. Raspberry Pi/Embedded System
  3. Cabling of Base Unit
  4. Batteries

Food Risk Assessment:

  1. Food Handling and Safety
  2. OH&S Safety
  3. Contamination Safety

Animal Ethics & Welfare:

Whilst there is no one definition that all animal welfare scientists have agreed upon, animal welfare is generally considered to be a measurement of how well the animal is coping with changes in its environment. When faced with changes, such as increased temperature or humidity an animal must adapt in order to survive, but it is the cost of this adaptation which is considered when measuring animal welfare. Traditionally, the biological cost of this adaptation and the way in which the animal ‘felt’ as a result of the change were considered separately. However, the two concepts are now measured hand-in-hand, with positive or negative affective states seen as arising from excellent or poor biological functioning. The live transport of livestock has proven to be a contentious issue within society and if the practice is to continue, the industry must provide members of the public with an assurance that animals are transported with a high level of animal welfare standards.

Heat stress is of major concern when transporting livestock, a condition which cattle are said to be under when the ambient heat and metabolic heat load cannot be adequately managed by the cow’s thermoregulation system. Reports on the welfare of cattle under heat stress have indicated that it has a negative impact on biological functioning, including reducing the reproductive performance. Furthermore, the same study suggested that heat stress results in poor affective states such as thirst and hunger.

Additionally, ambient humidity levels play a role in heat stress, as high humidity levels can result in decreases evaporative heat losses and result in a higher heat load. Consequently, preventing excessively high ambient humidity and temperature are key factors in promoting positive affective states and therefore an acceptable level of animal welfare.

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