Blackbox GPS Data, Live

It could very well be that I have the "Geek of the Day" award for January 31st. Today I finished getting live data from a Project Blackbox GPS and put it up on the Google Map (above). It took a couple of days to get it right, but here's how it works (in text form).

Each container has a GPS on it. The data from the GPS flows to a fleet management company, Safefreight. The company has a variety of tools for managing fleets of vehicles. Perhaps you didn't realize it, but managing a fleet of trucks and their movements around the country is extremely complex. Every bit of information can help create a more efficient shipping fleet, help manage the costs involved with transportation (one of the largest components of a product's cost), and even create a safer environment for the fleet of trucks through ensuring drivers aren't on the road too much.

Your container with 8 racks of equipment is in good hands.

I use cURL to interact with Safe Freight's secure Web Service. cURL returns a SOAP document to me with the latest logs that were collected. The information includes the temperature, latitude, longitude, speed, and more. I traverse the data using Java's XML capabilities and convert the data to a JavaScript file. I use cURL again to FTP the JavaScript up to my ISP's free web space.

When you hit this blog page, I import the JavaScript containing the container GPS information. I then use the Google Maps API to build a map and put the current Blackbox location and information onto the map.

Some days, I just love my job.

Stay tuned, not only does the GPS data update regularly (typically every 40 minutes unless I have to change machines or shut this or that down), but I'm pretty sure we'll have more posts coming along.

- Paul Monday -

UPDATE: Since I first posted this, I have decided to remove some of the accuracy on the coordinates of the container. So, if you are at one of the roadshows and look at the map and go "Hey, d00d, somethings wrong with the GPS", its actually not a problem with the GPS. You all know how bad traffic can be and all of the gridlock in Menlo Park today, I'm pretty sure, was caused as people tried to get a view of our container based on the map the name of the California traffic, I've removed accuracy to help your traffic situation. And be careful, if you start using this as, I'll be forced to tweak the temperature too. Thankfully, I put that in Celsius so most of us American's will be like "I didn't think it was THAT cold out".

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This is so kewl. I think Sun has finally woken up and smelled the coffee. The Blackbox is a simple idea that had huge potential in changing the way computer rooms are designed. The company I work for had a data facility built, it cost several million dollars and took over a year to get built...that was 3 years ago and we still haven't added more than a couple of racks worth of equipment to it. I going to try to see a Blackbox while it's on tour in the San Francisco area.

Posted by Dio on January 31, 2007 at 03:15 PM MST #

Ok, so poking around, I've heard that you're putting a couple of SunSPOTS on the tour unit?! How many? Are they used in each rack? Are you using them to 3D map the rack motion within the Blackbox?

Posted by Dio on January 31, 2007 at 03:19 PM MST #

Also, is your speed display metric?

Posted by Dio on January 31, 2007 at 11:15 PM MST #

Dio, thanks for your comments. I will update the map to display the units shortly. I saw that last night and got distracted by "Bones" and emails from my boss so I didn't get the display updated.

As for SunSPOTs, I will look at getting someone to post more about the SunSPOTs. But, yes, the Blackbox tracked above does have SunSPOTs on it, there are quite a few. For those that don't know about SunSPOTs, go to

Both teams within Sun are looking at the SunSPOTs as a way to gather more telemetry about the Blackboxes when they are enroute. There are a variety of SunSPOT capabilities that can really be helpful, including 2G and 6G motion sensors in three axis, temperature and humidity. These are useful beyond the Blackbox "native" sensors as the SunSPOTs run on tiny batteries and can be enabled throughout the shipping process. When the Blackbox arrives at a destination, you can walk into the box with a laptop that has a radio receiver/transmitter and download the telemetry from the trip. Depending on the type of vibration and extremes the container was subjected to, you could conduct a more thorough debug of the container and its payload.

Each of these sensor capabilities are subtly different in purpose and usage. The SunSPOTs themselves are very cool, I have no doubt that within a few years, all packages that have insurance on them through our shipping companies will have SunSPOTs or next-gen SunSPOTs attached to them. Have you seen the TV news stories about how airline's treat your luggage? Attach a few SunSPOTs and have some fun. I could also attach one to my helmet when I snowboard to see if I trigger the 6G event when my head whacks the ground at Keystone :-)

Thanks again for your comments and I'll work with the SunSPOT team to get more.

Posted by Paul Monday on February 01, 2007 at 01:32 AM MST #

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