Digital Transformation in Transportation and Logistics with IoT and MQTT

22 min read White Paper

Introduction

The importance of transportation and logistics to the global economy has never been more apparent. How the world works, shops, and spends its leisure time has shifted rapidly (and frequently) since the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic. Along the way, shortcomings in the transportation and logistics industry have revealed themselves in the form of supply-chain shortages, labor challenges, and more, often with significant economic, health and quality-of-life impacts for those affected. The current situation highlights the need for transformation in the Transportation and Logistics industry to enable the flexibility required to respond to quickly evolving global conditions. This includes making more efficient use of existing trucks, trains, ships, planes and public transit assets, adopting new modes of transport, including drones, and new technologies such as IoT, all while ensuring both corporate-initiated and government-mandated sustainability targets are met.

Business Benefits

IoT, in particular, has strong transformational characteristics that can significantly benefit Transportation and Logistics. By interconnecting vehicles, devices and objects with sensors that collect and distribute data about real-world conditions and activities throughout the network without human intervention, IoT can provide organizations with the insight to:

  • Ensure regulatory compliance - IoT-enabled technology such as Electronic Logging Devices can track hours of service and ensure drivers, flight crews, ship captains and other critical personnel don’t exceed mandated hours of work. They can also be integrated with vehicle diagnostic solutions to certify vehicle maintenance meets regulatory standards and report on vehicle energy consumption for adherence to emissions standards.

  • Improve operational efficiency - by providing a comprehensive, real-time view of the entire Transportation infrastructure, including vehicle, operator and cargo or passenger status, traffic, weather, and more, organizations can improve efficiency by avoiding congestion, performing preventative maintenance, pre-paying tolls and parking, reducing losses when transporting time- or temperature-sensitive goods, and more.

  • Provide better customer service - knowing the location and condition of every vehicle – be it a plane, bus, car, train, etc. – enables passenger transportation companies to provide their customers with real-time trip updates, better respond to unexpected events, deliver personalized travel information, track misplaced luggage, and more. Similar opportunities to take advantage of real-time information exist when transporting cargo instead of people.

Use Cases

Real-world examples in which IoT can be integrated within Transportation and Logistics applications include

Fleet Management

As fleet operators look to lower their total cost of ownership and maximize the utilization of every vehicle while in service, they can use the information provided through IoT connectivity to make better business decisions in real time. This includes monitoring vehicle health to ensure no undetected issues go unaddressed and schedule preventive maintenance to fix any issues before they impact performance. It can also be used for logistics; by knowing the exact location of every vehicle in the fleet and how much capacity it has to take on additional cargo, fleet operators can run much more efficiently. And by keeping track of the vehicle’s operators or crews, Fleet management systems can help companies comply with health and safety regulations, while fuel consumption and route optimization help meet environmental goals.

Public Transit Management

The real-time capabilities of IoT are a game changer for public transit. Passengers can know the exact location of their train, bus, ferry, etc. as well as when it will arrive at a specific stop, station or terminal. Operators and passengers can learn about any traffic or weather issues that would affect schedules and adjust routes and timing accordingly. Vehicle operators can be informed when they are speeding, behind schedule, or need to take their vehicle out of service due to unforeseen mechanical or electronic issues.

One interesting public transit innovation HiveMQ has been involved with is the digital sign system used by the Munich Transit System (Stadtwerke München), which provides detailed information to passengers using more than 1000 screens throughout the city, including:

  • Timetable data for busses, trains, subways, suburban trains

  • Actual arrival and departure times

  • General news and information

  • Passenger-journey related information

  • Current service disruption alerts

Smart Inventory Management / Smart Supply Chain

Companies can take advantage of the power of Smart Inventory Management by installing IoT sensors throughout their warehouses to monitor the movement of goods and the use of resources within their facilities. This allows them to know exactly how much inventory they have in stock at any given time, which enables more economical inventory control, better inventory distribution, as well as better customer service for e-commerce applications. It also eliminates the need to manually scan items as they enter or leave facilities and helps to reduce shrinkage.

Inventory management data can be combined with other information, such as weather and traffic patterns, user preferences, purchasing trends and more to create a true Smart Supply Chain system that can automatically respond to events in real-time to avoid waste from overproduction or not having enough inventory due to spikes in demand, leading to leaner manufacturing overall.

Optimal Asset Utilization

To lower total cost of ownership, vehicle use should be maximized when they’re on duty - full shipments are almost always more profitable than partially full ones, and putting the right number of buses on the road at any given time will improve customer service while reducing overall cost per ride. By feeding data from IoT sensors into back-end systems, organizations can track the real-time location of their vehicles, their current load and potential capacity, enabling fleet operators to better decide which vehicles should be dispatched and when, and respond to changing conditions in realtime.

Geo-fencing

By creating virtual boundaries around specific locations such as warehouses, distribution centers, and delivery destinations and combining it with automated push-notifications when specific events occur, geo-fencing is a valuable tool to help companies better track their assets and plan for staffing requirements.

For example, an automated notice can be sent to a warehouse when a high-value, time sensitive shipment is set distance away, ensuring the right staff and other assets, such as forklifts or refrigerated areas, are ready to process the shipment in a timely manner. Geo-fencing can also be used to deliver better customer service, by providing better estimated times of arrival, as well as delivery notifications. It can also be used to ensure assets or cargo doesn’t leave specific areas, reducing theft or equipment abuse, reducing response times and increasing chances of recovery.

Technical Challenges

While the benefits of connecting trucks, trains, planes, ships, and buses to on-premises or cloud-based IT systems are evident, keeping them connected as they move and ensuring that real-time data can be transmitted in both directions can be challenging, as the following reasons illustrate:

  • The cellular networks that are mainly used in IoT solutions for Transportation and Logistics are unreliable. As vehicles move throughout the coverage area, they can hit areas of congestion or network blindspots, causing the connection between client and cloud to drop or have high latency, causing lost messages or slow response times.

  • Sending commands/data between a fleet of clients and back-end systems is difficult. Web technologies such as HTTP are unidirectional and were architected for the Internet of Humans. Broadcasting a message to or from many many clients or a group of clients based on geo-fence data is challenging to do in real-time.

  • It’s hard to scale up or down a system to meet demand spikes (e.g., holiday seasons for trucks and airlines or rush hours for public transit) while maintaining all those connections in a reliable manner.

  • Fleets must be secured so they can’t be attacked. Connected vehicles need to operate in a trusted environment. It is crucial that bad actors aren’t able to gain control of any vehicle or its contents.

  • Monitoring and troubleshooting individual fleet clients while they are in service. Fleets with hundreds or thousands of vehicles in service may have one vehicle that is not connecting properly. Understanding how to find, diagnose and rectify the client issue is something that needs to be considered in advance.

  • Networking costs can be expensive. While the most practical network to use, cellular networks can contribute substantial cost to operating a connected transportation system. It can be difficult to keep those costs in line with hundreds of connected vehicles in the field, often transiting through multiple carrier networks.

HiveMQ and MQTT: A Solution for Connected Transportation and Logistics

The challenges presented when building a connected Transportation and Logistics solution require a new type of architecture, one suited to manage unreliable networks and bidirectional data movement. Traditional approaches of sending an SMS with a URL to initiate an HTTP connection between a vehicle and cloud does not create a fast, reliable user experience and often results in lost data. SMS doesn’t offer the reliability needed and creating a new HTTP connection for each vehicle to cloud interaction delivers unacceptably slow performance.

HiveMQ’s new publish/subscribe architecture is ideal for connected Transportation and Logistics solutions. Based on the IoT standard MQTT, the HiveMQ enterprise platform implements the architectural features required to build and deploy a scalable, reliable and secure connected Transportation and Logistics platform.

Architecture Features

Persistent Always-on Client Connection: The MQTT publish/subscribe architecture allows each vehicle to be decoupled from other vehicles and back-end services and enables a persistent, always-on push connection to the cloud. When a network connection is available a vehicle will publish data to the HiveMQ broker and will receive subscribed data from the same broker in near real-time. If a network connection is not available, the vehicle will wait until the network is available before attempting to transit data. While the vehicle is offline, the HiveMQ broker will buffer data and as soon as the vehicle is back online immediately deliver the data.

Guaranteed and Reliable Data Delivery: HiveMQ implements three MQTTmessage delivery quality of service levels, including at most once, at least once and exactly once delivery. This makes it possible to create connected Transport and Logistics services that function reliably. HiveMQ’s support for advanced message retention policies and offline message queuing are essential to accommodating network latency and unreliable mobile networks.

Secure non-addressable clients: Vehicles or devices running MQTT clients are not addressable over the Internet. The MQTT client running on each vehicle is responsible for establishing a secure persistent TCP connection, using TLS, with the MQTT broker in the cloud. This means no public Internet endpoint is exposed on the vehicle so no one can directly connect to it. This makes it virtually impossible for a vehicle to be directly attacked by a hacker on the Internet. HiveMQ supports industry security standards such as TLS to ensure communication from the vehicle to the cloud is encrypted.

Efficient network utilization: MQTT was designed specifically to operate over constrained networks. In comparison to HTTP, the payload header format is smaller and the connection cost is smaller. Once an MQTT connection is established, any number of messages can be sent through it in both directions, data from sensor to back-end, and commands the other way. HTTP deals with requests one at a time, with overhead such as authentication being carried out each time. In one HiveMQ test scenario, 100 messages sent using MQTT required 44,748 bytes, compared to 554,600 bytes for 100 messages sent using HTTP.

Elastic scalability and Auto Heal: HiveMQ is designed to automatically scale up and down the number of cluster nodes required to service millions of connected vehicles, devices or sensors. HiveMQ is based on a masterless cluster architecture that allows device connections to be distributed across the cluster nodes. This means the user does not see any change in user experience when nodes are started or stopped since the connected vehicle, device or sensor can resume its session on any of the remaining cluster nodes. HiveMQ integrates seamlessly with all major load balancers so cars don’t require any knowledge about HiveMQ cluster nodes in the cloud.

IoT observability: The HiveMQ platform delivers the tools to provide the high level of IoT data observability required to ensure that there is transparency in case there are any bottlenecks coming into the connected Transportation and Logistics solution or at the cloud level. HiveMQ tools allow for a system administrator to pinpoint issues with a specific vehicle and work to resolve the issues. This allows administrators to do real-time fleet monitoring and remote debug and trade of interactions between a vehicle and the broker.

Multi-Cloud Strategy: HiveMQ embraces a multi-cloud strategy to provide flexible deployment options. This is especially important for companies that need to have control over the proximity of the data processing and data storage. HiveMQ can be deployed to public cloud providers (AWS, Microsoft Azure and GCP), private cloud native orchestration platforms (OpenShift, DC/OS or Kubernetes), and native on-premise deployments.

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