Safety bags developed as a research project at TU Berlin are equipped with electronics to capture GPS data, detect impacts or trigger alarms, as well as sensors for measuring air temperature, humidity, and pressure, thus providing uninterrupted monitoring of the bags and their contents.
It is also possible to conduct real time checks on the temperature, humidity and pressure within the safety bags, which then trigger an alarm if pre-set levels are exceeded. This also happens if containers with goods which need to be kept in a stable position slip during transport or are tampered with by unauthorized persons, for example by cutting them open to get at the contents.
Basel Adams conducts research on safety bags. These are containers made of sturdy textiles and packed with electronics. Unlike cardboard containers, they can be re-used, stacked and folded and are weather-proof, sturdy, repairable and cut-resistant. “Huge numbers of cardboard containers are thrown away each day after just a single use. This enormous drain on resources can be minimized with our textile containers, which can be reused up to 1000 times,” says Adams, research associate in the Microperipheric Technologies Research Center.
The project’s partner is a medium-sized Berlin manufacturer of bicycle bags, which is why the safety bags were originally intended to transport goods using cargo bicycles. However, the idea has now been developed to transport sensitive goods such as electronics, vaccines, medicine or important documents by car, thus enabling contentious insurance issues to be resolved quickly and clearly in the event of loss or damage. “Up until now, transporting goods has been a black box. We don’t know what happens to them throughout a journey. Our safety bags make the transportation process transparent by continuously monitoring and recording everything,” says Adams.
The textile containers consist of three layers. An outer textile layer like on bicycle bags, a second layer, which gives the container the robustness it needs to transport goods weighing up to 50kg, and a third conductive protective layer which triggers an alarm if anyone tries to tamper with the bags, such as by cutting them open with a knife. The electronics are attached on the inside of this third layer.
All necessary data and information are made available in a cloud and can be called up for viewing on a touchscreen by the client as well as the driver using a main unit (on-board computer). “The electronics built in to the transporter and container cannot be connected by individual cables as they would then weigh tons. So we use a data bus system. The entire process of transferring data between the main unit and the safety bag takes place via just two conductors. If environmental parameter data, such as the temperature, have to be changed, then this is transmitted from the cloud to the main unit and from the main unit via the BUS system to the relevant sensors in the safety bag. The transfer of data from the cloud to the main unit in real time and the use of the data bus system with textiles is new and represents a real challenge,” explains Adams.
To provide the necessary power for the electronics, each container is fitted with a battery. The individual components of the battery have been selected to ensure low levels of energy use. The batteries can provide energy for about six days and are re-charged using the data bus system rather than a socket.
The “E-Textiles: Safety Bag” project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy and is conducted within the Microperipheric Technologies Research Center, which also researches into electronic packaging and is led by Professor Martin Schneider-Ramelow of the Chair of Materials of System Integration. Professor Melanie Jaeger-Erben of the Chair of Transdisciplinary Sustainability Research in Electronics also conducts research at the center.