Add Data To Your Shipping Suspicions With This Power-Sipping Datalogger

One only has to ship one or two things via a container, receiving them strangely damaged on the other end, before you start to wonder about your shipper. Did they open this box and sort of stomp around a bit? Did I perhaps accidentally contract a submarine instead of a boat? Did they take a detour past the sun? How could this possibly have melted?

[Jesus Echavarria]‘s friend had similar fears and suspicions about a box he is going to have shipped from Spain to China. So [Jesus] got to work and built this nice datalogger to discover the truth. Since the logger might have to go for a couple of months, it’s an exercise in low power design.

The core of the build is a humble PIC18. Its job is to take the information from an ambient light, temperature, and humidity sensor suite and dump it all to an SD card. Aside from the RTC, this is all powered from a generic LiPo power cell. The first iteration can run for 10 days on one charge, and that’s without any of the low power features of the microcontroller enabled. It should be able to go for much longer once it can put itself to sleep for a period.

It’s all housed in a 3D printed case with some magnets to stick it to shell of the shipping container. Considering the surprisingly astronomical price of commercial dataloggers, it’s a nice build!

43 thoughts on “Add Data To Your Shipping Suspicions With This Power-Sipping Datalogger

  1. Instead of using something rechargeable, for a project like this using a lithium primary cell (like a pair of 123a batteries) might make more sense. Unless there is a convenient power source nearby, the rechargeability is not necessary.

    Still a cool project though!

    1. Agreed. My first thought was package being thrown around should be biggest worry. If someone is opening the package, not much you can do, it is not unusual at all for various customs to open and inspect packages, even hold them if they suspect (or like and keep, in some cases I’ve found) if they want to. nothing anyone can do.

      There are a few devices like this already, I wasn’t sure why this was a big deal until I read “3D print” and, of course, it had to be a HAD centerpiece…..
      Also, say, the package is damaged or opened along the way, it doesn’t matter if you can prove when or exactly where, that is a battle with the shipping company if it doesn’t arrive as expected. They will either pay or not, doesn’t matter what a fancy home built gadget states.

      1. Per [Jesus]’s web page, this device is for logging the interior conditions in an entire seagoing shipping container. Accelerometer data would be interesting, but any truly dramatic events would indicate a very big problem.

        This is a beautiful and professional piece of design work and documentation. My only complaint is that the PCB seems completely unprotected. I’d like to see a corresponding top half to the enclosure, with features for the buttons/LEDs and vents for the sensors.

        1. Accelerometer data would more be for the handling before and after shipping. See if the handlers are playing football with your packages, etc. As well as how gently the cranes etc are at loading and unloading the containers. Plenty of useful information there, particularly if you want to ship delicate things. You could compare different carriers, air vs ship, etc. There must be people who’d love to know that information.

      2. “it is not unusual at all for various customs to open and inspect packages, even hold them if they suspect (or like and keep, in some cases I’ve found)”

        An acquaintance of mine found a way to get stuff unmolested through Colombian Customs.
        She had stuff shipped to her marked “Romanian textbooks”.

        1. Just a guess but I’d imagine packages coming out of Colombia are checked more than incoming ones. You don’t ship coal to Newcastle. Actually they probably do now, since all the mines are closed. But anyway. If that trick works in both directions, expect a lot of “Romanian textbooks” coming out of Colombia soon.

    2. I had a project a couple years back that was similar to this that also used an accelerometer along with a GPS and a RockBlock Iridium SatComm module so that I could get real-time information as to how my project was being treated as well as where it was/how fast it was traveling. It was fun watching something being shipped from the US to Taiwan and back.

      1. Now I kind of want to fiddle with PIC stuff and experiment with creative methods for clocking them…

        555 timer?
        Windmill with a commutator? (lol)

        I wonder if there may be a practical use besides power conservation for creative clocking methods…

        1. I recall using an internal low speed clock when I made a device around an 8-pin PIC. The circuit consumed crazy low power when on, when off, I think the battery self-discharging was a bigger factor in power consumption. I don’t know if the circuit would work well with various sensing devices as used in this story.

      2. The venerable 68000 could be clocked ‘by hand’ and it sure wasn’t a CMOS processor. It was a fully static design though (no dynamic internal registers as usual for Intel designs).

      1. Now that you guys mention it. I’ve seen this before, but I’ve never asked any questions about it.

        How do you do it? I’ve used the standard foot-print off a datasheet, but it holds the TO-92 off the board a little bit. Do I make larger holes?

        Also, why would I put it right up against the board? Mechanical strength? Also why do the transistors stand off the board? Electrical reasons? Temperature reasons?

        I just suddenly realized I had a ton of questions. haha.

        1. In the “good old days” when transistors came in metal cans, you spaced them off the PCB so the can [often connected to a device lead] would not short against a PCB trace [often PCB’s dd not have solder masks in the heyday of transistor circuits]. We would use space disks or small glass beads to hold the transistor, etc off the PCB.

    1. There are stickers that record shock as well. If an acceleration over the threshold occurs, a little window turns a different color. They make the stickers with different thresholds. When I used them at my last company to ship sensitive instruments I would actually use 3 – one on each axis of the box, and we included a note on the box for the receiver to not sign for the package if any of the stickers “activated”.

      Honestly, the stickers were probably most effective as a preventive measure. The shippers certainly understood what those stickers were and hopefully treated the packages with due care – whether they were actually concerned about the parcel integrity or simply didnt want to get in trouble over some stickers turning color. Kinda like how a “this home protected by ___ security service” sign in your front yard probably provides more protection than the actual security system & service

  2. At Fedex, destroying your package is an automated service, and then the workers beat it up some more. There are giant flippers, like a pinball machine, that smack the packages off the belt down a slide. Occasionally, the flipper itself damages the package, but more commonly, the flipper knocks a heavy package down the slide at high speed, obliterating the target package. Sometimes this also makes packages fly off onto the floor. All of this damage takes place before it is even loaded. So it is often punctured and/or crushed and/or falling apart by the time it is time to load it up. Then there will probably be some more damage inflicted during loading. then it goes wherever, gets unloaded, probably back on a belt to get smacked around some more, and reloaded. I wonder how much extra it costs to label your package as radioactive. Nobody is going to open your radioactive package. If you see an open radioactive package, you are supposed to not touch it, and run 40 ft away screaming the whole way and contact the dangerous goods specialist.

    1. I’m pretty sure that one of the local courier service providers employs elephants at their sorting plants. These animals are trained to sit on, stomp or squeeze with their trunks every package, especially those marked as fragile. A friend of mine once ordered some chemicals – he’s pretty sure they took special care to smash every single bottle in the package. Including plastic ones…

    2. My brother worked as a “tosser” during the holiday season for UPS. Ya pretty much any label is ignored for the sake of speed. They figure if you insured it then cool they will give you some money and you will still have fast delivery of a badly damaged package, or it makes it, either way shipping done. Only if liquids and other hazards like glass are visible and dangerous to workers do they tend to tape,bag or otherwise deal with packages differently. He was most impressed about packages saying “dell” or “hp” etc on them ever working at the other end because of how fast they were told to move and throw packages into the back of 50′ truck trailers heading out for sorting. Next time you get a box take a look at all of the odd triangular dents and punchers in your box. That’s likely from the next package corner landing on yours.

      On the FedEX side of the world I ordered 3 cases of HDD’s for a storage project from the east cost shipped to a small place in Alaska. Turns out that after they dropped all of the drives for the 2nd time and my 2nd insurance claim for $10k+ showed up did they finally treat the packages better. Even flew in a “specialist” in loss prevention or something like that. But they tried to prove that my shipper improperly packed the product that lead to damage, not the fact that I watched as this poor small young woman dropped the 50+lb package off the airplane unloading ramp down onto the ground and then dropped the next set right on top. Rather than say USE THE RAMP! Pretty much no shipper cares and it either makes it or if you insured it then they figure it’s covered. They are in the moving it from A to B business as fast and cheaply as possible.

  3. could have done with this. Parcel2go smashed the crap out of a xy robot I sent to India…the £20 insurance apparently had required me to take internal pictures of the box after it was packed! rant over! great build!

  4. Looks like a bomb to me. I doubt that having it in your shipment will improve that shipment’s chance of survival—the entire container might find its way to the bottom of the ocean.

  5. Amazed this market seems like it’s ripe for the taking…I had to make my own dataloggers (<$170 and 1 day of coding/soldering for 3 loggers), commercially they were either *way* overpowered (and overpriced) or they didn't do a simple thing I wanted.

    1. Meh. Doing stuff like this for >15 years. Mostly for agricultural shipping. Do not make much money on the data loggers because of the ISO17025 tracibility (calibration) costs. The money is made during the discovery phase of a civil tort action because the defendants’ corporate lawyers are typically not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Third pre-trial this year, gonna start my fourth next week. Use mostly Freescale and Atmel stuff.

  6. Not a hater, and do not mean to be a kill-joy, as is a good source of ideas for those having never done this, but not ready and legal for commercial usage. Some indicated ‘professional’ project – not so much, because:
    Calibration program and certificate.
    Environmental and performance ratings – which would require a complete DVT.
    Charger and battery will not meet IEC62368-1 or IEC601010-1, and IEC62133. For use in North America, battery and charger would be subject to additional safety and efficiency regulations.
    Li battery must meet UN transport regulations.
    Unit must meet some of the USCG ‘wheelie’ requirements to get into North American waters. EU has similar requirements in the Maritime Safety Directive.
    Unit must meet CISPR11 and/or ICEES-003 and/or 47CFR15 (unless exempted per 15.103 – probably not).
    Unit does not meet the EU’s RoHS or GPS directives, so cannot bear the CE mark. The Plastic would be subject to reporting per the REACH directive.
    The EU and North America have specific requirements for transport and electrical equipment used on trains and big rigs.

    Now you know why my life can suck….

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