How IoT Systems Can Help in Hazmat Transportation

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Problem

Hazardous Material Transportation or Hazmat Transportation is an unavoidable yet risky process, a necessary evil of sorts. Especially since much of the world’s fuel is transported in distinctive hazmat labeled bullet tanks, a familiar sight on highways. Yet, accidents do happen and that too with alarming frequency. Accidents are twice as dangerous for vehicles transporting hazardous materials, due to the highly inflammable, explosive and toxic nature of the materials.  These materials include diesel, petrol, LPG, propane etc.  Any leakage or explosion involving such materials can be potentially dangerous not just to the transporters themselves but also poses a great risk to the general public and even the environment. Add to this the financial loss incurred by the companies and it is abundantly clear that whatever measure that can help avoid such a situation needs to be implemented. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the way forward for Hazmat Transportation. This article will examine how IoT systems can help with Hazmat transportation.

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Solution

As of now, RFID (Radio-frequency identification), GPS (Global Positioning System) and GPRS (General packet radio service) are they systems that are typically used for freight tracking. Onboard technology is already being used by several carriers to get insights and data regarding their operations and customer satisfaction. However, IoT or the Internet of Things can help them move beyond several standalone systems into one great big integrated hub of data and insight.  IoT can be implemented in fleet management and in hazmat transportation in particular to improve safety and efficiency.

In such a system the main server will be the center or brain of the system. It will have access to reports from weather services, traffic updates via GPRS services as well as live streaming videos from the onboard cameras of each of the vehicles on the road. Drivers will be provided with customized mobile apps and/or a tablet on their dashboard. They can use these to communicate with the administrator or fleet managers at any time and from anywhere. Each of the bullet tanks in the vehicles can be fitted with sensors. These sensors can be set to measure parameters such as temperature, pressure, quantity etc. Others sensors on the vehicle itself can measure the wear and tear of parts, fuel consumption, driving patterns, etc. The sensors gather real-time data and push it to the server. The fleet managers sitting at the main console can view all of this data at any given point of time. They can pass on to each driver all the necessary information that he needs to make a safe and hassle-free journey.

To get a better picture about the implementation of IoT systems in Hazmat transportation, let us travel along with one such truck across India. Picture this – a truck laden with highly flammable acetone sets off from Noida in the north of India. Its final destination? Kochi, in the southern state of Kerala. En route it has to drop off some amount of acetone at a facility in Nagpur, Maharashtra.

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The bullet tank carrying the necessary quantity of acetone is loaded onto the truck. The driver starts up the truck. As soon as the truck starts moving it starts relaying information from its various sensors to the main server. Some feedback regarding the traffic and the condition of the roads is sent by the driver via his app. The manager constantly monitors all of this data. Some 7 odd hours into the journey as the driver is about to approach Jhansi the main server gets alerted by the weather service about a possible thunderstorm en route. If the driver were to continue on his current route he will get caught in the storm in the next couple of hours. The manager uses a GPS service to plot out alternate routes. The manager then communicates the gravity of the situation as well as the alternate routes to the driver. Based on this information the driver decides to make a detour. On the map, it may take an hour longer that the original route but the weather is clement on that route and the traffic less so he can make up the time difference quite easily.

Six more hours pass, the driver has been on the road for about 12 hours now with just one 10 minute break. His eyelids start to feel heavy, and he is in danger of falling asleep at the wheel. The sensors in the cabin quickly note the unusual activity (driver’s sluggishness) and send an alarm notification to the server. The manager acts on the alert and pulls up the camera feed of that particular vehicle. She sees the condition of the driver and alerts him via his mobile. The manager uses a location service to pull up information about nearby rest stops and pushes the information to the driver’s mobile. The driver is then given the option of stopping at any of these places for some much-needed rest and refreshment. A few hours later, the now wide-awake driver continues his onward journey. He reaches Nagpur without further incident and unloads half of the acetone at a facility there. The sensors monitor the levels of acetone in the tank, its pressure and temperature and communicate it to the server.

The driver gets the go ahead from the manager and moves on to his final destination, Kochi. However, as he crosses through Andhra Pradesh, he gets a notification from the manager to pull up park the vehicle in the shade and resume his journey only in the evening. The temperature in the tank has gotten worryingly high, and with such an easily flammable cargo they do not want to take a risk. The driver follows the instructions and resumes his journey in the evening. After 12 hours he cruises into Kochi safely. But the system is still busy at work. Sensors have detected that vehicle is in need of maintenance and has scheduled a layover at Kochi till the truck gets fixed up. The truck and the driver get a well-deserved respite from their toils. IoT has helped the driver and his cargo reach their destination safely and is still looking out for them. A report has also been created about the efficiency of the driver and pushed to the server. The driver’s efficiency as well as his inadequacies will be noted and will be factored in his next run.

System Architecture

Work Flow

Low powered wireless sensors like temperature sensor, pressure sensor, level sensor, speed and location are installed within the tank. All sensors are connected to a Gateway using BLE (Bluetooth low energy) and transmit data into the Gateway in a defined time.

The Gateway is connected to the internet using WiFi Hotspot (Smart Phone with 2G/3G connection). The Gateway transfers the data on a server using MQTT protocol.

Once the data received, the server stores the row data onto the database. Based on the speed, current location the server analyses the date and time where the truck will reach in subsequent days. Then the server calls external weather services and fetches the weather on the days.

All data are available on a central console (Tablet/Smart Phone) through a mobile application (Android/iPhone) of the driver of each truck. The Fleet manager also gets all the parameters of each truck.

Implementation with BLE

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is an emerging wireless technology developed by Bluetooth. Special Interest Group (SIG) for short-range communication. It’s designed to run from coin cells and support an Apps Store model. It is a radio standard for a new decade, enabling the Internet of Things.

Implementation with Gateway

Any system that can connect to Low Energy devices AND to a wide area network can serve as gateways.

The simplicity of GATT (Generic Attribute Profile) servers makes it easy to represent those devices over the web. Low Energy allows generic gateways (such as mobile phones).

Implementation with MQTT

Message Queue for Telemetry Transport (MQTT) is a message queue based protocol for sending telemetry data. It is based on the publisher-subscriber model where data is published by publishers to a broker, and the broker will distribute the message to those who have subscribed to the concerned topic. It works on top of TCP layer.

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Data Security in MQTT Security: TLS / SSL

TLS

TLS (Transport Layer Security) and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) provide a secure communication channel between a client and a server. At its core, TLS and SSL are cryptographic protocols which use a handshake mechanism to negotiate various parameters to create a secure connection between the client and the server. After the handshake is completed, an encrypted communication between client and server is established and no attacker can hack any part of the communication. Servers provide an X509 certificate, typically issued by a trusted authority, which clients use to verify the identity of the server.

MQTT and TLS

MQTT relies on TCP as the transport protocol, which means by default the connection does not use an encrypted communication. To encrypt the whole MQTT communication, most many MQTT brokers – like HiveMQ – allow the use of TLS instead of plain TCP. If you are using the username and password fields of the MQTT CONNECT packet for authentication and authorization mechanisms, you should strongly consider using TLS.

Port 8883 is standardized for a secured MQTT connection. The standardized name at IANA is “secure-mqtt” and port 8883 is exclusively reserved for MQTT over TLS.

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fleet management iot

We saw how one truck with an IoT traversed across the Indian subcontinent. Now imagine the same system across an entire fleet of trucks across the globe. With the help of IoT, it is quite possible. With the use of IoT, freight carriers can not only ensure the safe and timely delivery of the materials, hazardous or not, but also the health, reliability and safety of its driver. With benefits like these, the IoT will become one of the most crucial components in the fleet management industry.

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