Smart phones. Smart networks. Smart packages?

November 17, 2009: 6:01 AM ET

FedEx jumps on the "smart" wagon with a new web-based service.

Shipping gets smart, says CIO Carter. Photo: FedEx

FedEx Corp. (FDX) today is announcing a sensor-enabled device that can wirelessly feed real-time data about a package's whereabouts, condition and other metrics to the Internet.

The service, called SenseAware, will launch this spring. Its initial target markets are the health-care and life-sciences businesses, industries that often need to know the precise location of the products (drugs, test results, samples) they ship.

The new device, when attached to a parcel, contains sensors that can provide temperature readings, data on whether a shipment has been opened or exposed to light, and precise data about a package's location.

"We think there's an emergence of personalized medicine that has the highest levels of consequences," says Rob Carter, CIO of FedEx. Many health and life sciences items "have journeys that they have to make, and there are time constraints."

But FedEx says the new service will allow shippers and recipients to do more than merely track a package and its condition. The platform will help customers compile and aggregate data about shipments that will help them monitor quality or make better decisions about how to deploy their resources.

And so FedEx joins the ranks of companies building so-called "smart" products and services that apply computer networks and intelligence to various problems. (For a fuller explanation of various "smart" systems, see Fortune's Jeffrey M. O'Brien's story on "IBM's Grand Plan to Save the Planet.")

Mark Hamm, vice president of innovation at FedEx, says the company aims to create an interactive platform that suppliers, customers, and others can - with permission - securely access in order to improve the efficiency of their operations. It's a bit like a more sophisticated, richer version of online package tracking, an innovation FedEx pioneered. Users will be able to get more data than just whereabouts - they can monitor, say, product temperature, or the kind of lighting a box is exposed to - and multiple parties could use the platform to electronically chat about the shipment or even add information to the data being collected.

"There's going to be a high level of interaction," Hamm says. "You are going to have large player and small players plugging into the platform. That's going to be revolutionary."

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Stephanie Mehta
Stephanie Mehta
Deputy Managing Editor , Fortune

Stephanie N. Mehta is the deputy managing editor at Fortune, overseeing technology coverage for Fortune. She also is a co-chair of the annual Brainstorm Tech conference, an annual gathering of tech and media thinkers. Previously, Mehta spent seven years as a tech writer at Fortune covering the telecom and media industries. She also has worked for the Wall Street Journal and the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va.

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