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Freight Transportation Technologies

M/B Research was the technology guru for the California Trade and Goods Movement Study. Prime contractor was Barton-Aschman Associates, Inc. This study supported the California Trade and Goods Movement Steering Committee. This committee had representatives from California state and local governments and agencies, as well as from transportation industries, labor, industry associations, ports and airports.


The Goods Movement Infotech Revolution

The primary finding of our analyses of transportation technology trends is that the infotech revolution is making major changes in the way the freight carriers are doing business.

Key elements of this goods movement infotech revolution include:

Mobile Communications and Tracking
Electronic Data Interchange
Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
The Internet
Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)

Already infotech has helped to cut both costs per ton-mile and the percentage of the GNP devoted to goods movement, which has fallen from 17% in 1980 to only 12% today. Furthermore, while these costs have fallen, both speed of delivery and ability to deliver freight on time have improved.

Yet the freight infotech revolution has only begun to unfold. For example, one emerging trend is toward using EDI systems based on the Internet. These may use gateways to the Internet such as satellite and other mobile links. The advantages of these EDI systems are that they provide a user-friendly way for shippers and carriers to schedule, track and troubleshoot shipments of goods in nearly real time. Soon even money transactions may become routine over the Internet, using the concept of electronic cash, known as Digicash, Cybercash, or ecash.

These developments will likely encourage increased world trade while accelerating the trends of decreasing shipping costs and improved service.

However, there are problems looming ahead of the freight infotech revolution.

For example, some mobile communications systems used for managing transportation systems are users of the 902 -- 928MHz bandwidth allocation. But in some major urban areas competition with other users such as cordless phones and hospital internal mobile communications systems is high. As a result users may interfere with each other's messages.

But the Federal Communications Commission is seeking a solution to this problem. It is currently evaluating allocating a new portion of the radio frequency spectrum dedicated to ITS.

A far more serious problem, however, is the security of data being transmitted electronically. Management of the movements of goods and money transactions such as ecash offers a tempting target to industrial espionage, thieves and information warriors .

The Internet is an especially insecure way to transmit data.

Nevertheless, many shippers are moving their EDI systems on to the Internet because it is an open system that is also easy to use. In addition, it is attractive to small companies that can not afford the many different proprietary EDI software packages in use by large companies.

But concerns over the security problems of the Internet may be met through the use of encryption to hide data in transit, through firewalls to protect data stored on Internet host computers from electronic break-ins, and many other computer and communications security techniques.

Unfortunately, communications and computer security is more than just a technological problem.

One barrier is the US International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR). (Download 133 page document.)

The problem is that under ITAR, any encryption technique good enough to make data transmissions truly secure is forbidden for export. Since so much of the demand for communications security is outside the US, the effect of ITAR is to increasingly hand over the data encryption market to non-US firms.

Perhaps the largest barrier yet to communications and computer security