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Cubic Sees Military System Making Transition to Civilian Service

When American forces came home from Iraq, they had to take tens of thousands of vehicles with them, shipping them out through a base in Kuwait. And Kearny Mesa-based Cubic Corp. helped the U.S. Army stay on top of that logistical challenge with some specialized radio technology.

Today, Cubic (NYSE: CUB) thinks it has a good chance to market the system stateside to commercial customers — particularly at a time when “the Internet of Things” is capturing people’s imaginations.

Despite having the ungainly name of AMATS, the technology’s commercial potential is “huge,” said Randall Shepard, a Cubic vice president, adding that the gear could displace current radio frequency identification technology in some cases.

So far, the military and Cubic have invested seven years and $30 million in AMATS, short for Army mobility asset tracking system.

The company recently took a couple of steps toward commercialization when it lined up partners to track container traffic at the Port of Panama City, Florida, to see how the technology works in a commercial setting. Several public agencies are taking part in the experiment, which Cubic said has the potential to spur products and services for the Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things envisions an environment where simple, everyday machines have radio transmitters and send data to each other.

And about that name: Cubic took one more step toward commercialization, rechristening the technology as “Mist.”

Mist is what engineers call a mesh network. In it, every asset — a shipping container, for example — carries a radio tracking tag. The tags communicate location and other information to other radio tracking tags in the vicinity. The tags pass the information along like a bucket brigade to an end node, which updates a database.

If the assets move and the mesh network falls apart, it is able to reconfigure itself automatically. The Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers calls the radio technology 802.15.4. It is similar to technology known as ZigBee and a distant relative to Wi-Fi.

Batteries in the tags can last up to five years, Shepard said.

‘High-Fidelity Training’

The system had its trial by fire in Iraq.

When the United States withdrew from the country in 2011, the military used AMATS to process tens of thousands of trucks and other vehicles that needed to leave the country. At Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, the Army had to track which vehicles required maintenance, weapons removal or a good cleaning before returning to U.S. soil. Before authorities deployed the Cubic system, the military had 150 people keeping track of the Humvees and armored trucks. The AMATS system reduced that to a dozen people, said Shepard, who is vice president for technology innovations at Cubic.

Now Cubic is teaming with several institutions in Florida, including the Port of Panama City, Gulf Coast State College and Gulf Power.

The partners want to offer port officials advance notification of inbound traffic. Their plan is to put radio tags on vehicles, chassis and shipping containers. Tag readers on roadside power poles, owned by Gulf Power, would read container-mounted tags as the trucks roll toward the wharf, 10 to 15 minutes before their arrival.

Cubic calls the Port of Panama City project “a high-fidelity training and evaluation environment for products and services targeting the rapidly expanding Internet of Things market.”

The college campus is actually a short walk from the port, and college affiliates will be able to use the data for research.

Shepard, who is based in Panama City, said AMATS is better suited than other radio technologies for tracking munitions. It may also have applications in hospitals or other health care settings.

Shepard was president and chief operating officer of a predecessor company that developed the technology. Cubic bought that company in 2010.

CUBIC CORP.

CEO: Bradley Feldmann

Revenue: $1.36 billion in 2013; $1.4 billion in 2012

Net income: $25.1 million in 2013; $97.4 million in 2012

No. of local employees: 976

Headquarters: Kearny Mesa

Year founded: 1951

Stock symbol and exchange: CUB on the New York Stock Exchange

Company description: Provides products and services to the military and public transit customers

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