BBC to track a shipping container around the world: The Box

The BBC is sticking a GPS in a shipping container and sending it around the world in order to reveal the secret lives of these giant steel packets:
We have painted and branded a BBC container and bolted on a GPS transmitter so you can follow its progress all year round as it criss-crosses the globe. The Box will hopefully reach the US, Asia, the Middle East , Europe and Africa and when it does BBC correspondents will be there to report on who's producing goods and who's consuming them...

Surprisingly, this project will not be costing the BBC much over and above the coverage costs for the editorial content.

Whilst we have paid a little for the branding of the box and some technical costs the fact this is a working container means it will be earning its own keep.

We are keeping our fingers crossed the Box does not fall overboard (it happens) and that it gives us a better understanding of what ties countries and continents together.

The Box takes off on global journey (via Futurismic)


  1. Odds are that it’ll wind up sitting empty in Newark, N.J. for the next two years after one trip to China like the thousands already there.

  2. Container shipping is own of those great changes in our lives and economies but little noticed while it happened, and it happened very quickly, and very recently.

  3. Normally its very hard to get a GPS signal indoors or through a metal container. It would be funny if the container arrives and the GPS provides little data because it was unable to receive the weak GPS signals.

  4. @#5: It sounds like they’ve got an antenna bolted t the outside. However, if the box gets buried in the stack (or deep in the hold!) that won’t do a whole lot of good…

  5. The Beeb said their GPS was “bolted on”, so maybe it’s on the outside. (Maybe some japer will unbolt it and send it on various air trips).

    As for containers falling off – when I first joined college publisher Prentice Hall as a UK sales rep in 1982 one of the first memos I got was about just this: we lost some books in mid-Atlantic, including 3000 copies of Van Horne’s Financial Management and Policy (if I remember right) when a container ship shed several containers in bad weather.

    If containers all had GPSs on then the sort of problem Ellen MacArthur ran into could be more easily avoided.

  6. @EDGORE I second that. I just got finished reading Spook Country myself and that is the first thing I thought when I read the words “GPS” and “shipping container”. Then I thought of Bobby Chombo freaking out.

  7. You can specify where you want a can to go (on deck, in the hold, etc. although that might cost extra. I hope whatever antenna they’re using is pretty damn robust, though. Those things take quite a beating. (Disclosure: I am a longshoreman and I work with shipping containers every day.)

  8. A friend of mine ran a similar, though smaller scale, experiment last year at Burning Man.

    We attend Burning Man from Boston, and send out 2 shipping containers to the playa via truck and rail.

    On the way home, he made a small hole in the side of one of the containers and secured a camera to take pics every so often.

    The results are here: (trip from playa->Boston starts around 3:50)

    Pardon the dust, a rain storm clears it off mid way ;)


  9. The thing isn’t on a ship yet. It started from Southhampton, and is making it’s way north to pick up it’s cargo in Scotland. It’s now a bit west of Glasgow. I do wish more waypoints were shown on the map . There’s only about 3 or 4 waypoints every day, if there were more, maybe every 30 minutes, we could track it’s movement on the roads.

    Seeing as they said it costs them hardly anything, they should have done more than one box. Maybe 10 or 20. That will create more activity on the map. People will be less bored. If one box falls off the ship, it wouldn’t kill the entire story. And they can pick which location to report on.

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