Package tracking system takes social media to new heights

The factors that have made the Internet wildly popular might be able to change the way that way high-dollar and hazardous packages are tracked.

At least that’s what Randy Walker from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory thinks.


Say hello to Tracking 2.0, an ORNL system that is being worked on by a team led by Walker. It offers a clear start to finish view as an item travels to its destination, eliminating the problems caused by proprietary and incompatible databases that are used by various shippers.

The system is a result of many years of research.

“Tracking 2.0 leverages eight years of ORNL research into supply chain infrastructure and test bed collaborations with state and local first responders, multi-modal freight service providers, private sector shippers and federal and international government partners,” Walker said.

Through Tracking 2.0, users can share tracking data using current tracking systems and they can use legacy and emerging technologies without needing to make adjustments to their enterprise systems. Furthermore, users can set up low-cost quick-to-market custom tools that mix proven security practices with evolving social computing technologies to network otherwise incompatible systems.

Every code translates to Uniform Resource Locators that point to tracking information. This address assumes the role of a stable and unique “Virtual Resource Identifier,” but does not necessitate a prior agreement on a universal standard by all the stakeholders, which Walker described as “a difficult and open-ended process.”

The system has to ability to integrate and associate searchable user-defined tags to the Virtual Resource Identifier. These tags are added incrementally by the numerous partners involved in the progress of the shipment, but they do not interfere with the continuous operation of the whole system.

Walker thinks that Tracking 2.0 is a game changer that has been tested worldwide.

“The Internet with its seemingly endless stream of data has dramatically changed our ability to search and find information,” Walker said. “We believe the same underlying social media and social networking methods that permit users to share photos and keep in touch with their friends and family can be repurposed to help supply chain stakeholders.”

The system was devised to help guarantee the safe shipment of isotopes, which ORNL makes for industry, medicine and research.

Though the system has passed several tests, the next one is a demonstration using a commercial isotope supply chain and next-generation sensor technologies, said Walker, a member of the Computational Sciences and Engineering Division.