SkyBitz Sees Solar Power as Future of Trailer Tracking

This story appears in the April 17 print edition of iTECH, a supplement to Transport Topics.

SkyBitz is expanding its lineup of trailer-­tracking products that use solar energy, a power source the company believes will drive the evolution of the asset- tracking market.

“I think it becomes the preferred type in fairly short order — I’d say within 24 to 30 months,” said Henry Popplewell, the company’s president.

SkyBitz is preparing to launch its second product with solar powered batteries. After introducing the Falcon GXT5000 in October, the company plans to launch the next version of that device, the GXT5002C, with a built-in cargo sensor and other new features.

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The GXT5002C is equipped with two solar panels and installs on the front of a trailer in 8 to 12 minutes, Popplewell said, adding that the device’s narrow design enables it to fit between the corrugation of an intermodal container.

Popplewell said the use of solar power enables the tracking device to provide the durability and easy installation of a battery-powered unit while offering the more frequent data reporting of a tethered device.

In the early days of trailer tracking, the focus was simply on being able to pinpoint the location of equipment. Those early devices, which mostly ran on satellite networks, were designed to last several years on an original set of batteries, Popplewell said.

Then, as “big data” and the “internet of things” began to transform the industry, some fleets demanded more frequent reporting to support more advanced data analytics. Instead of reporting only two or three times a day, some devices now report every 15 minutes or even more frequently.

But that increased data flow requires more power. To solve that challenge, asset-tracking providers such as SkyBitz launched products that used cabling to tie into the trailer’s 7-way connector. However, that also made the installation process more cumbersome.

Now, solar power has made it possible to combine the advantages of the original satellite-based products and the newer tethered devices, Popplewell said.

“We took the best of what people liked the most about our original products, in terms of quick install and long battery life, and by adding the solar capability, we can get that 15-minute or more frequent reporting profile that everyone’s clamoring for,” he said.

The SkyBitz solar products are designed to last for eight to 10 years with no maintenance, generally matching the life of the trailer.

The solar panels work with direct and indirect sunlight. In one customer fleet test, 100 units in the field since July had not fallen below 87% charge, Popplewell said.

The GXT5002C also will be able to support wireless sensor capability, eliminating the need to run cables from sensors back to the SkyBitz device at the front of the trailer, Popplewell said. That capability will be backward compatible with the GXT5000 as well.

The tracking device will be able to connect wirelessly to a variety of onboard sensors, including door, cargo and tire-pressure sensors, as well as reefer temperature probes and sensors that detect whether a trailer tail is open or closed.