Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Thursday, 11 September 2008 18:19 UK

Q&A: The Box

The box being loaded by a crane
The BBC is embarking on a unique project to explain international trade and globalisation by tracking a shipping container around the world for a year.

The BBC Business news team has been working with communications and technical experts to set up the project and track the Box.

BBC News website readers have been sending us their questions for our Box team:


Can you programme the map so it shows a red line to indicate the exact route the box has taken? At the moment it is in Leamington Spa - I would love to see how it got there.
Brian Jones, London, UK

BBC BOX TEAM: We've just updated the map so it now shows all the previous locations sent from the Box. Hovering your mouse over the green dots will show the location and time the update was sent. The map also shows the approximate route the Box has taken via a green line connecting the dots. This isnít an exact representation of the route because we are not getting minute-by-minute updates from it.

Iím wondering about the satellite system set-up of the GPS system. I am an engineer in the transport telematics field and naturally curious. How often do you expect to get updates from the Box?
Matt Smec, Eden Prarie, USA

BBC BOX TEAM: Weíre currently scheduled to get three location updates every 24 hours from the Box. We need to keep the number of updates down because each one costs a small amount, and they run down the battery on the GPS unit. We may vary the frequency of updates if necessary, and it might be varied for us if there is an obstruction or some other problem with getting the signal out. Sometimes we know when this will happen - the first major sea leg will see our container placed deep in the ship's hold because of its weight (12,000 bottles of whisky are very heavy!), so we're planning to switch to the ship's location system in order to keep track of progress. We'll switch back to the container's own unit when it's unloaded the other end.

Will there be a scheduled broadcast about the project or it will be flashed in News as and when it reaches various destinations?
Tejas Shah, Bunbury, Australia

BBC BOX TEAM: Our plan is to run pieces on the BBC news channels in the UK and internationally when the Box reaches its destinations. Because of the nature of the project itíll be hard to plan these to a strict schedule. All of the pieces will be available online throughout the project.

I am a geography teacher at Chinese International School. My year eight class will be studying shipping and containers later this term. Will the container be passing through Hong Kong?
Sue Papper, Hong Kong

BBC BOX TEAM: We hope that the Box will travel several times to Asia although at the moment we canít say for certain it will be in Hong Kong. We do know that it will be in Shanghai sometime in the next few weeks.

Could smugglers use the notoriety of the Box to actually smuggle contraband, gambling that it will not be subjected to the normal checks or at least not to any extra ones, precisely because of the BBC's involvement and web scrutiny?
Memetic Engineer, London, UK

BBC BOX TEAM: Thatís an interesting thought. Given the way we are working with NYK shipping line and constantly monitoring the container and its contents it would be extremely hard to hijack it. There are obviously risks associated with this sort of project and precautions we canít talk about.

The map does not show that it has moved. We are a small rural primary school and learning this term about being global citizens! We look forward to understanding more about transport and trade with this project. Is the container still at Southampton?
Debbie Watson, Ennerdale Bridge, UK

BBC BOX TEAM:At the time of writing the map is now showing the Box has arrived in Scotland where has collected a consignment of Scotch whisky.

Please tell me it's going via the Panama Canal! A friend went through on a frigate and I found it really fascinating. The cargo ships looked huge and just managed to squeeze through the locks. Trying to spot the Box on there would be great!
Liz Fairley, Telford, UK

BBC BOX TEAM: The Panama Canal would certainly be a fantastic location for the Box to pass through and itís something we are looking at. We also hope to have a reporter broadcasting live during at least one crossing, probably on a Russia leg of the journey.

My company has developed freight C02 calculators that give the carbon emissions per container by sea, road and rail journeys. Are you interested in applying C02 measurements for each journey of your container?
Gerry Lawler, Felixstowe, UK

BBC BOX TEAM: We are planning to look at carbon emissions and environmental questions raised by international transport at some point during the year. Our team may well contact you!

Will the Box carry rubbish or recyclable material at any stage? There was a recent controversy in The Daily Mail saying our rubbish goes to India. Zero waste enthusiasts, like myself, were appalled by this assertion.
John Costigane, UK

BBC BOX TEAM: We havenít planned each cargo for the year and it will be dependent on what real demand there is and the timing of each leg. This sounds like an interesting story and weíd be happy to cover it and the debate if that were to be a cargo at some point.

We are enjoying following the Box on its travels. But already, just one day into the voyage, a note appears highlighting a whisky distillery in Scotland. Is that its first destination? And if so, how do you know this?
Steve and Jessica, Toronto, Canada

BBC BOX TEAM: Yes this is the first destination. Because of the way we are working and planning this project we will usually find out what the next shipment will be around two to three weeks in advance and we will share it with you when we do.

As a freight forwarder I hope the Box will emphasise the invaluable nature of the shipping industry. I was however a little worried when Declan announced on Breakfast that the container would be loaded with a consignment of whisky. Has the vehicle been hijacked yet?
Stuart Howard, Birmingham, UK

BBC BOX TEAM: Declan did offer to travel with the whisky inside the container as a precaution but we decided on health and safety grounds this wouldnít be such a good idea!

We are doing something very similar as part of a Canadian project for the department of transport. We have installed three GPS tracking units on our 20 ft container. I was wondering which GPS tracking unit you are using?
Howard Posluns, Montreal, Canada

BBC BOX TEAM: The selection of transceiver and GPS was determined by the global scale of the project and the need to provide a solution which could be remotely managed and reliability. Our technical team selected the Inmarsat C system as the most capable solution. Inmarsat C is primarily an extremely reliable data transceiver, GPS being just one of the things it can do.

At the moment you can only see where the box is at the instant you happen to look at the map. There is no feel for where it has been and how long it took. So is there a way in which a plot of the route with dates can be overlaid on the map, or failing that a tabular log showing location and date?
Dave Griffiths, Harlesdon, UK

BBC BOX TEAM: Done - see answer to first question for more details.

What is the container number? We ship tobacco globally here in the USA so will keep an eye out for it!
Kevin George, Winterville, USA

BBC BOX TEAM: The number of the box is NYKU 8210 506.

Will the container have special treatment or will it be treated like a normal container and spend eleven months at the back of a stack of empties in a container yard in Pittsburg PA?
John Clark, Ipswich, UK

BBC BOX TEAM: Hopefully it won't be hijacked or abandoned in Pittsburgh for seven months, although it may be left in Southampton for a week!




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