Juul Labs is today launching a pilot for its new Track & Trace program, which is meant to use data to identify exactly how Juul devices wind up in the hands of minors. Juul vaporizers all have a serial number down at the bottom, by the Juul logo. However, it wasn’t until recently that Juul had the capability to track those serial numbers through every step of the process, from manufacture to distribution to retail to sale. With Track & Trace, Juul is calling upon parents, teachers and law enforcement officials to come to the when they confiscate a device from a minor and input the serial number. Each time a device is input in the Track & Trace system, Juul will open an investigation to understand how that minor wound up with that device. In some cases, it may be an issue with a certain retail store knowingly selling to minors. In others, it may be a case of social sourcing, where someone over 21 years of age buys several devices and pods to then sell to minors. Juul will then take next steps in investigating, such as talking to a store manager about the issue. It may also enhance its secret shopper program around a certain store or distributor where it sees there may be a spike in sale/distribution to youth to identify the source of the problem. To be clear, Track & Trace only tracks and traces the devices themselves, and does not use personal data about customers. It’s also worth noting that Juul Labs has increased Juul isn’t yet widely publicizing Track & Trace (thus, the “Pilot” status), but it is focusing on Houston as a testing ground with banner ads targeted at older individuals (parents, teachers, etc.) pointing them to the portal. Of note: the ad campaign is geofenced to never be shown in or around a school, hopefully keeping the program a secret from young people illegally using Juul. The company wants to learn more about how people use the portal and test the program in action before widening the campaign around Track & Trace. That said, the Report portal is not limited to Houston residents — anyone who confiscates a Juul can report it through the portal and trigger an investigation. “It’s important to note that the pilot is an opportunity for us to learn how the technology is working and optimize the technology,” said Chief Administrative Officer Ashley Gould. “It’s not just at the retailer level. It’s a whole process through the supply chain to track that device and find out if everyone who is supposed to be scanning it is scanning it, and the software that we’ve created to track that serial number through the supply chain to the retail store is working. The only way we’re going to know that is when someone puts in the serial number and we see if we have all the data we need to track it.” According to Juul, every device in production will be trackable in the next few weeks. In other words, Juul vapes that are years old are likely not fully traceable in the program, but those purchased more recently should work with the system. Juul has been under scrutiny from the FDA and a due to the device’s rise in popularity among young people. Outgoing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has called it “an epidemic” and . Juul has also made its own effort, , enhancing their own purchasing system online to ensure online buyers are 21+ and not buying in bulk, posing as Juul products, and exiting its Facebook and Instagram accounts. But Juul Labs also committed to build technology-based solutions to prevent youth use of the product. Cofounder and CPO that the company is working on Bluetooth products that would essentially make the Juul device as smart as an iPhone or Android device, which could certainly help lock out folks under 21. However, the Track & Trace program is the first real technological step taken by the e-cig company. And it’s been an expensive one. The company has spent more than $30 million to update its packaging, adjust printing standards, changing manufacturing equipment, and integrate the data and logistics software systems. For now, Track & Trace is only applicable to Juul vaporizers, but it wouldn’t be shocking to learn that the company was working on a similar program for its Juul Pods.
Acting FAA chief Daniel Elwell, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt and Calvin Scovel, the Transportation Department’s inspector general, face a Senate panel during a hearing on airline safety. (C-SPAN Photo) Were airline pilots adequately trained on a catastrophic scenario involving the automatic flight control system for Boeing’s 737 MAX airplanes? And did the Federal Aviation Administration cede too much of its responsibility to Boeing when the system was certified as safe? Those are among the key questions that U.S. senators had for federal officials today during a pair of Capitol Hill hearings today. Meanwhile, Boeing brought about 200 pilots and airline industry officials to Renton, Wash., the base of operations for the company’s 737 program, to learn more about the changes being made in the wake of two fatal MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. October’s killed all 189 people aboard, while this month’s killed 157. In both cases, investigators have focused on an automatic flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. The MCAS software system was added to the 737 MAX, the latest version of the 51-year-old 737 line, to compensate for the aerodynamic effects of a larger engine and guard against stalling. But preliminary findings from the Lion Air investigation suggest that spurious data from a single angle-of-attack sensor forced the MCAS to push the plane repeatedly into a nose dive. Investigators suspect the same scenario in the Ethiopia crash. Even before that crash, Boeing was working on a software update to address the bad-data scenario. At a Renton news conference, Mike Sinnett, Boeing’s vice president of product strategy and development, confirmed that the update would have the MCAS come into play only if both angle-of-attack sensors detected indications of a stall. The system would be activated only once, rather than repeatedly, and could more easily be counteracted manually by the pilot, . Tests of the software changes were on the agenda for this week’s Renton gathering. All 737 MAX planes are grounded worldwide due to concerns about the crash, resulting in continuing disruption and costs for airlines. But once the FAA and its counterparts in other countries give the go-ahead, the software update could theoretically be distributed in a matter of days. Sinnett also said pilots would receive half an hour of computer-based training on the MCAS software changes, but that no additional training in a flight simulator would be required. He said the training plan has been “provisionally approved” by the FAA. The training issue came up repeatedly today at a congressional hearing organized by the Senate Commerce Committee’s panel on aviation and space. Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell told senators that he didn’t believe the MCAS system was specifically addressed in flight simulation training. He said regulators initially agreed with Boeing’s analysis that the system made “no marked difference in the handling characteristics” of the 737. But in light of the fatal crashes, Elwell said training procedures are “an area that we will look into very, very carefully.” At an earlier hearing, organized by the Senate appropriations subcommittee focusing on the Transportation Department and other agencies, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao faced tough questions about regulatory oversight, or the potential lack thereof. During the certification process for the 737 MAX, Boeing drew up its own safety analysis of the changes made from the design for the previous 737 model. In an , The Seattle Times quoted unnamed sources as saying that the analysis downplayed risks associated with the MCAS system. One former FAA engineer said the agency’s review of Boeing’s analysis was “rushed to reach [a] certain certification date.” When Chao was asked about the relationship between Boeing and the FAA during certification, she insisted that the FAA was in charge of the process. “The FAA does not build planes. They certify. But this method of having the manufacturer also be involved in looking at these standards is really necessary, because … the FAA cannot do it on their own,” she said. “Having said that, I am of course concerned about any allegations of coziness.” Chao emphasized that safety is her department’s top concern, and noted that additional steps were being taken to respond to issues raised in the aftermath of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. Last week, Chao asked the of the certification process for the 737 MAX, and that investigation is getting under way. This week, to suggest improvements in the FAA’s oversight and certification process. During this afternoon’s hearing, Elwell said the cooperative approach to aircraft certification was deeply ingrained in FAA procedures. If the agency were to do the job without delegating duties to manufacturers,, he said.