Urban Planning with Building Blocks and RFID Paint Brushes

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Sep 30, 2010 @ 08:21 AM

Tags: RFID, Construction, Urban Planning

Next-Generation Building & Cityscape Modeling

After being commissioned by Alexander the Great to lay out the city of Alexandria, the Greek Hippodamus (c. 407 BC) became known as the "Father of City Planning".  My guess is he didn’t use a CAD system or RFID to help with his design.  How times have changed.

3D ModelingAs mentioned in our post Construction Management with RIFD, RFID and sensors (RFIDS) are being integrated into building materials, enabling new Building Information Modeling (BIM) capabilities and allowing construction firms to use real-time data to enhance construction processes.  And now, new RFID-enabled 3D building design tools are being developed to assist planning professionals even before the construction phase begins. 

According to a recent EE Times Europe story, researchers at the CEA-LETI (Electronics and Information Technology Laboratory of the French Atomic Energy Commission), are developing 3D interactive urban modeling tools using a combination of RFID and Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) based motion capture technologies.

The prototype application includes an interactive table that holds a physical model of an urban area under construction.  13.56MHz HF RFID tags are applied to movable 3D pieces used to represent existing and planned buildings and are read by a total of 960 embedded RFID readers.  The interactive table is coupled with computer assisted design (CAD) software that renders the views of the urban landscape. 

During the planning phase of an urban area, users can reorganize the layout of a city or suburb by manually moving the 3D pieces around the table.  This movement is captured by the CAD software which renders new views in real-time.  Taking the solution even further, the research team has developed a number of modeling functions like applying textures to buildings with and RFID “brush” and an RFID-enabled magnifying glass that can be moved over specific blocks to zoom in on elements displayed in the CAD software.

This is a great example of how RFID can bridge the physical and electronic worlds – turning a physical model into an interactive computer-based platform that can be used easily by experts and non-experts alike.  What do you think about the future of tools like these?  Let us know your thoughts on how RFID and sensors can be used for construction planning.

[Photo credit: Gérard Cottet]

Automating Point-of-Sale Processes with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Sep 29, 2010 @ 12:09 PM

Tags: RFID, Retail, Smart Shelves, Point of Sale

An End to the Supermarket Checkout Line?

Those of us who have young children know how painful it can be waiting in line at the supermarket. Not only are we dealing with a child who has reached the end of his rope from being told “please don’t crash the cart,” “put that cereal back,” and “don’t run down the aisles,” but at the checkout line it’s a whole new level of combat. Now you have to outsmart the marketing folks who have mastered Point-of-Purchase strategy by getting you to buy candy, gum and assorted trinkets (and the National Enquirer for yourself) to keep you and the kids happy while you’re waiting in line.

MediaCartUsing shopping carts as a "vehicle" for an RFID-enabled solution is not new. By leveraging ThingMagic’s embedded RFID technology Media Cart Holdings, Inc. developed a proof of concept designed to increase store sales and customer loyalty and enable marketers to obtain anonymous, point of sale consumer behavior data to improve advertising effectiveness.

But the shopping experience can get even better. The idea of putting grocery items in a shopping cart and walking out the door without going through a check-out line was reported by USA Today in 2001 and it’s actually not that far-fetched.

The bar codes that already exist on each product could be replaced with printable RFID tags like those developed by researchers from the Sunchon National University, South Korea in collaboration with Rice University in Houston, Texas.  The result of their joint project is an inexpensive, printable transmitter that could be embedded in packaging. Printable RFID tags are practical because they're passive. Meaning the tags only transmit data when they’re activated by radio waves from an RFID reader. In that instant, they return the information contained in the tag.

With RFID customers fill their carts as usual, but instead of going to find an open cashier, they walk past an RFID reader on their way out the door. The reader reads all of items in the cart in seconds and transacts the purchase against a pre-selected account. There will most likely be other options available too, like signing for your purchases at a kiosk once your total is displayed. Combining this point-of-sale data with data gathered from RFID readers at product shelf locations, retailers could also record the changes to the store's inventory and automatically submit replenishment orders to their suppliers.

Researchers admit there are some hurdles to widespread, retail adoption. The printable tags must be no larger than the size of current bar codes and the read range must increase. With the progress made to date in the read range of passive UHF RFIDS tags, as noted in our blog that introduced this campaign, this idea maybe a reality very soon.

What then? What happens to Point-of-Purchase displays? Where will the tabloid magazines go? Let us know your thoughts of what the supermarket of the future might look like by leaving a comment here. 

Traffic Management with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Sep 28, 2010 @ 11:06 AM

Tags: RFID, Traffic Management, Parking & Tolling

You Can’t Get There From Here (or can you?)

In our post RFID for Event & Hospitality Management, we discussed how RFID is being used by ThingMagic partners in the hospitality business to automate processes and provide an interactive and personalized customer experience at events.  In RFID Predictions and Shredding It with Sensors, we detailed how resorts are exploring a variety of RFID and sensor-based solutions to deliver a unique customer experience for skiers and snowboarders.

Victoria Snow FieldsBut how what about getting to your destination first?  Even before you can have fun on the golf course, at the spa or on the slopes, you often have to deal with long drives, traffic congestion and the hassle of finding a parking spot.

RFID has been used in the automotive and transportation markets for many years for vehicle immobilization, automatic vehicle identification (AVI) and in tolling systems.  But could RFID also be used to manage traffic in real-time to reduce congestion or increase parking area efficiency?

Victoria, Australia-based FE Technologies thinks so.  In an announcement detailed in a ZDNet article earlier this month, FE Technologies stated that they will be working with the Victorian Alpine Resort Management Board (ARMB) to evaluate the use of RFID for traffic flow management in the alpine region.  According to Victorian Innovation Minister, Gavin Jennings, the Mt. Buller region attracts around 275,000 visitors traveling in 60,000 cars and 2,000 buses during the ski season and he anticipates that using RFID will allow them to increase efficiencies related to parking and traffic management for both visitors and locals. 

What are your thoughts on using RFID for traffic management?  Would you be OK with having an RFID tag in your car and readers placed at key points along roadways and parking areas if it meant that traffic congestion, dangerous road conditions and full parking lots could be detected and you could receive information about alternatives sooner?   

[Image by Todd Anderson, CC BY-SA 2.0]

Don’t Lose Your Taser Bro

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Sep 27, 2010 @ 10:27 AM

Tags: RFID, HF RFID, Weapons Tracking

Weapons Tracking and Management with RFID

Any organization that uses firearms can benefit from modern technology to track them with increased efficiency and greater accuracy.  The use of serial numbers, registry databases and microstamping are all processes designed to track a firearm through its life to the registered owner.  But, sometimes these solutions are subject to human error or, in the case of microstamping, controversial to the point where they are not widely adopted.

TaserTo keep dangerous weapons from getting into the wrong hands, federal, state and local government agencies, private security companies and corrective institutions all need to have strict accountability processes for the weapons they store in their armories and issue to their personnel – and RFID can help.

Similar to tracking any other item of value, RFID-enabled weapons tracking systems automate the management of firearms and related gear, providing a real time who, what and when audit trail.  For example, fixed RFID readers placed in the doorways and issue stations in armories can read items passing in and out of designated areas.  Mobile RFID readers can be used to rapidly identify items in a large firearm inventory, reducing count times and helping to find items that may be misplaced or missing. Several types of RFID tags have also been designed with strong adhesives and ruggedized exteriors for mounting on metal surfaces and to provide moisture and abrasion resistance – making them ideal for weapons tracking applications.

Extending the benefit of RFID, firearms manufacturers and retailers can use the technology to manage shipments from the factory to the retail display case.  This closed loop system provides added measures to deter theft and fraud along each step of the shipping and receiving process, securing the weapons supply and distribution chain further.

An example of a weapons tracking solution was recently deployed by the U.K.'s Nottinghamshire Police Department.  This solution uses high frequency (HF) RFID enabled cabinets to track Tasers issued to its officers, enabling an audit trail of Taser usage.  Similarly, solutions using ultra high frequency (UHF) RFID can provide real-time visibility into an organization’s entire weapon inventory, resulting in faster and more accurate locating, distribution and issue resolution.

Regardless of the side of the gun control debate you land on, do you think the use of RFID can enhance the way firearms are tracked by organizations that manufacture and use them?  Please share your thoughts with us below.

Shredding It with Sensors

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Sep 24, 2010 @ 01:36 PM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Social Networks, Connected Devices, Gaming

Nokia and Burton Boards Combine the Misty Flip with Mobile Apps

I admit it - I’m starting to sound like a broken record on this topic, but I think solutions like these will introduce RFID and sensing technologies to the mass consumer market, leading to a very interesting convergence of RFID and wireless sensor data capture, social networks and the mobile web.  And, they’re just plain cool!

In an earlier post titled RFID Predictions, I mentioned that I have long thought that there was a natural connection between RFID and social networks, and that someday this enabling technology and would collide with the massive reach of the social web.  I pointed to Epic Mix – a combination RFID tags in lift tickets, RFID readers on the slopes, mobile applications, social networks, and virtual currency – as an example.

In my email inbox today was another interesting example of the combination of wireless sensors, mobile devices and connected games.  It started with the Nokia Push project in 2009 which integrates small sensors into skateboards to capture motion data about the tricks and movements of riders.  This program has recently been extended to a collaboration with Burton Snowboards where similar data from snowboard rides is pushed to a Nokia phone and displayed in a game-like interface.  Sharing this information via Twitter and Facebook is a natural extension of the application, presumably providing new opportunities for mountain operators and retailers to connect with their customers.

Your thoughts?  Will this example of a connected everyday object – where in-vehicle RFID can be used to make sure your boarding equipment is in your car and sensors allow you to share your experience on the slopes with the world in real time – enhance your experience on the slopes?

RFID Helps Estée Lauder Innovate

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Sep 23, 2010 @ 01:40 PM

Tags: Business Intelligence, RFID, Retail

Interactive Kiosks Provide Unique User Experience & New Level of Business Intelligence

We’ve covered the use of RFID in the retail market in a few recent blog posts:

Specialty Retail Inventory Management with RFID highlights how small retailers can compete with big box stores by implementing RFID for stock counting and item level security.

RFID Enabled Smart Shelves provides examples of how RFID can be integrated into store displays or fixtures for inventory management.

Designer RFID showcases how two European retailers have implemented RFID to deliver a better customer experience and improve store efficiencies.

Not to be lost in each of these examples is the important combination of creating a unique customer experience and the value of actionable data that could not have been generated without RFID. 

Estee LauderGiven that the first line of their corporate bio identifies them as a “technologically advanced, innovative company” it is no surprise that this personalized user experience and new level of business intelligence is just what beauty business leader Estée Lauder was after with the RFID-enabled kiosks they developed to promote their Lab Series Skincare for Men. 

Unique User Experience

When shoppers remove an Estée Lauder's Lab Series Skincare for Men product from the kiosk, an RFID reader reads the tagged product triggering a video to play - providing the shopper with information about the item they’ve picked up.  When the product it returned to its place, the video stops playing.  In an RFID Journal interview Dominic Lennon, IT director of Estée Lauder explains how this unique customer experience is offered:

"The whole of this system is based around providing a solution that uses RFID as a mechanism to deliver the content to the end user," says Dominic Lennon, Lime IT's director. "The users do not have to press anything, scan anything or touch anything to get the content delivered to them; the user has only to pick up a product—a very natural human action."

Business Intelligence

Additionally, each time a product is removed from and returned to a shelf, data regarding that action is sent via the Internet to an Estée Lauder server.  This allows Estée Lauder to compare the kiosk action records with actual product sales transactions in order to gain insight into consumer behavior and purchase trends.  Conceptually, this is not too different from what Coca Cola is doing with their Freestyle soft drink dispenser which uses RFID to record pour data at each drink dispenser location – allowing for a new level of business intelligence.

Estée Lauder marketing partner signagelive proudly accepted a 2009 Retail Systems Award acknowledging the “Best use of in-store marketing technology in retail” for this project which has been deployed in several House of Fraser sites in the UK and Macy’s in Toronto, Canada. 

So the next time you think you’re confusing the smell of Beyond Paradise with Intuition for Men, just look up and see which video is playing.  RFID makes it that easy.

RFID for Airport Operations

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Sep 22, 2010 @ 04:14 PM

Tags: RFID, Asset Tracking, Airlines, Baggage Tagging, Security

Can RFID Help Make the Skies More Friendly?

AirlinesThe benefits of RFID for tool tracking, parts marking and manufacturing efficiencies have been documented by leading manufacturers of commercial jetliners including Airbus, Air France, Boeing and others.  In fact, with almost 70% commonality in parts suppliers, Airbus and Boeing have been working with the RFID vendor community, regulatory agencies and standards organizations for several years to help design RFID-driven systems and processes.

But what about the use of RFID for airport operations?  As a whole, the airline industry has incurred a cumulative loss during its 100-year history and, in an attempt to maximize profitability, has created complex and not so friendly pricing structures for a variety of services.  Isn’t there an opportunity for airlines and airports to benefit from the integration of RFID to streamline operations, reduce losses and provide customers with a better experience?

Consider the following…

Airline Baggage Tagging

Like tool tracking and parts marking, the benefits of using RFID to identify and process baggage have been proven.  According to research conducted by IDTechEX, in some cases where RFID baggage tracking has been deployed, the cost of handling bags has gone from $7 per bag to $4.  IDTechEX also reports that RFID baggage tagging can save the industry up to $760 million a year.  With this kind of savings, airlines would be able to stop charging bag fees – right? 

Security Gate Processing

Long lines and extended wait times at security gates are experiences most travelers dread.  But what if you are a pre-screened, frequent traveler who poses no security threat?  The combination of RFID-enabled travel cards and boarding-control hardware and software can speed up and simplify passenger identification and other security check point processes.  These “fast-pass” systems are similar to those used by U.S. Customs to simplify border passage for pre-approved travelers.  Wouldn’t shorter security lines make your flying experience a better one?

Asset Tracking & Scheduling

Wheelchairs, food trolleys and utility vehicles tend to be shared, are frequently lost or misplaced and need frequent maintenance.  And these are just a few of the great number of mobile assets within an airport.  By using RFID to identify and locate mobile assets across the vast airport landscape, various airport/airline departments could improve asset availability, reduce the time spent searching for misplaced items, optimize maintenance schedules and provide better customer service.  The next time you’re waiting on a wheelchair at the gate or experiencing a delay due to baggage transport, ask yourself – could RFID have helped?

Personalized Airport Services

Delivering a more personalized experience could go a long way for the frequent and first time flyer alike.  RFID-enabled displays can be used for customized information delivery and exchange – providing unique user experiences and giving airlines and retailers new ways to reach customers.  RFID-enabled kiosks and vending machines offer airport retailers the opportunity to speed transactions, extend loyalty programs and increase sales – while helping dad get back home with gifts his kids really enjoy (nope, the hotel soap just doesn’t cut it)!

Like in other markets, paybacks from RFID systems implemented in the air industry can be realized in a short period of time – particularly where new revenue streams are created.  Will we see a fully RFID-enabled airport within the next 10 years?  Let us know what you think below.

[Photo credit: Sindre Ellingsen/Alamy]

Happy Birthday ThingMagic!

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Sep 21, 2010 @ 11:31 AM

Tags: RFID, Internet of Things, RFID Predictions

10th Anniversary Celebrates Key Milestones and Innovative Applications, and Offers Predictions for the Future

10The company has come a long way in 10 years, since it was founded in a garage in Somerville, MA.  Five MIT alumni had a strong belief in the “Internet of Things,” and a vision to add magic to everyday objects. That magic has materialized into experiences we only dreamed of at the time; like a cancer patient’s favorite music playing when he walks through the treatment room doors, or tracking tools in the back of a pickup truck, or retailers getting a window into what the hot items will be so they can make smarter supply chain decisions.

Over the course of 10 years, ThingMagic’s product innovation and market leadership has been the result of unwavering dedication to its original vision. The company’s progress is characterized by success stories like Ford, Florida State Attorney’s Office, Greenville Hospital, Zebra and the Disney Family Cancer Center and many others.

One can deduce that it is innovative, real-life applications that once stemmed from futuristic ideas that helped drive market growth for RFID. ABI Research last week forecasted that the value of the overall RFID market will pass the $6 billion mark next year. That means more ideas and more creative uses of RFID in our everyday lives in the years to come.

But ThingMagic isn’t kicking back to celebrate a strong market and 10 years of hard work and achievement. What else would you expect from a company that was founded on creativity, risk and dedication? A party, perhaps! But you can also bet that the leaders at ThingMagic have already been thinking about the next era in RFID and what those futuristic products and solutions will look like. And I bet they won’t be ideas for very long. 

In the spirit of celebrating significant RFID milestones on its birthday, ThingMagic asked industry leaders to share their predictions for what to expect in the next 10 years in RFID. These predictions were announced today in a ThingMagic press release and include these insightful viewpoints from ThingMagic’s founders:

“Passive sensing (RFIDS) and computation (CRFID) will make big leaps forward in the next decade. Building on platforms like the WISP, we can expect to see a proliferation of purpose-built systems where passive sensing and computation are integral to the operation of the system.”

-- Ravi Pappu, Co-Founder and VP, Advanced Development, ThingMagic

“Our interactions with the Internet are beginning to change how we see the physical world and our expectations of how it should respond to us. As the ways in which we share, consume and catalog information in the virtual world continue to grow and change over the next decade, we will start to see how malleable the physical world can become in response to these interaction metaphors to which we have now grown accustomed. RFID, ubiquitous sensor/display technologies and the computing engines behind the scenes will be crucial to these new means of interaction in the physical world.”

-- Yael Maguire, Co-Founder and CTO, ThingMagic

"When we started ThingMagic 10 years ago, common sense suggested that it would take a long time for UHF RFID to be adopted. After all, it took 25 years for the barcode to become widely used! Young and inexperienced as we were we thought we could do it much faster....  just to get surprised by the burst of the RFID mini bubble 5 years later. Today, I do believe that we have a real shot at beating the barcode adoption time by a factor of two. Given the recent and significant uptick in demand for readers I predict that in a couple of years there will be tags and readers all around us and that people will not be able to imagine what life was like without this technology."

-- Bernd Schoner, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, ThingMagic

What are your predictions for the RFID market?  Share your thoughts below and we’ll compile them for a future ThingMagic blog post about the future of RFID.

Smart Buildings

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 @ 02:03 PM

Tags: RFID, Smart Buildings, Energy Conservation

Passive UHF RFID and the Smart Building Nervous System

A recent article published in R&D Magazine reports how North Carolina State University researchers have found that the communication range of passive RFID tags can be tripled when used in building ventilation ducts.

NC State HVACAccording to the article and Dan Stancil, head of NC State’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, using RFID tags with sensors in ductwork could support building temperature, smoke detector, carbon monoxide, chemical, biological or radiological monitoring systems without the need for wiring and associated wiring labor costs.  The group’s research will be published in the September issue of Proceedings of the IEEE.  The research abstract reads:

In this paper, the use of hollow metal heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) ducts as a potential communication channel between passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) radio-frequency identification (RFID) readers and tags is studied. HVAC ducts behave as electromagnetic waveguides with much lower signal attenuation compared to free-space propagation. This low-loss electromagnetic environment allows one to greatly increase the communication range of passive UHF RFID systems and build, for example, a long range passive sensor network spanning an entire infrastructure such as a large building. In this work, it is shown both theoretically and experimentally that the read range of passive UHF RFID systems can be increased by multiple times compared to operation in a free-space environment.

The combination and integration of technology, architecture, mobility systems and networked intelligence are creating adaptive interactive environments that can respond to human activity.   For example, smart homes with RFID enhanced ID-based access control, smart offices with automated user-matched lighting systems, and building security systems that leverage RFID to monitor individuals on the premises demonstrate how RFID can enhance residential and commercial architecture. 

With this recent finding by researchers at NC State, will RFID and HVAC ducts help create a new “nervous system” for building system communications?  What new opportunities do you think these findings will this drive in the areas of facilities management, system automation, and resource conservation?

[Photo credit: NC State Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering]

RFID Predictions

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Sep 17, 2010 @ 04:00 AM

Tags: Calculus of Reality, RFID, Internet of Things, Social Networks

Embedded Intelligence Drives Epic Innovation

“In Two Years, Facebook Places Will Look Like This App

Colorado-based Vail Resorts Inc (MTN) has released what might be the most ridiculously cool and commercially aggressive mobile strategy in the iTunes App Store — and it’s an awesome preview of what bigger real-life social networks will look like soon.”

Given his background as a freelance writer specializing in tech and innovation, his contributions to FastCompany, Discover, Inc, and RollingStone, and authorship of books about iPhone app design and Google Voice, the above headline and article lead published by Chris Dannen in bNet grabbed my attention. 

EpicMixI had heard of Epic Mix being implemented at Vail Resorts and followed some of the initial coverage of the solution before reading Dannen’s article, but Dannen’s colorful descriptions and view of the larger commercial opportunities cemented things for me even further.  I have also long thought that there was a natural connection between RFID and social networks and that someday this enabling technology and would collide with the massive reach of the social web – and here we are.

Combining RFID tags in lift tickets, RFID readers on the slopes, mobile applications, social networks and virtual currency, Epic Mix delivers a unique experience for skiers and boarders at Vail Resorts and may provide a glimpse into what the future of RFID enabled commerce will look like. 

Looking beyond Epic Mix, according to Dannen, “Real-life social networks will soon approach this level of context. MasterCard (MC) is piloting RFID purchasing with debit cards, which would allow a system like Foursquare’s to automatically check you in when you buy something. GPS tracking is getting better (check out the app Glympse) just as consumers’ privacy concerns are loosening. And more of these discrete services are becoming interoperable. More interesting is the money to be made.”

Real Time Data for Real World Apps

Dannon’s comments seem in line with others who share a similar view of the convergence of RFID and sensor enabled data capture, social networks, and the mobile web.

From IBM and their description of A Smarter Planet:

“Data is being captured today as never before. It reveals everything from large and systemic patterns—of global markets, workflows, national infrastructures and natural systems—to the location, temperature, security and condition of every item in a global supply chain. And then there's the growing torrent of information from billions of individuals using social media. They are customers, citizens, students and patients. They are telling us what they think, what they like and want, and what they're witnessing. As important, all this data is far more real-time than ever before.”

Further from WIRED’s recent article, The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet:

“Over the past few years, one of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display… And it’s the world that consumers are increasingly choosing, not because they’re rejecting the idea of the Web but because these dedicated platforms often just work better or fit better into their lives (the screen comes to them, they don’t have to go to the screen). The fact that it’s easier for companies to make money on these platforms only cements the trend.”

The Calculus of Reality and Location-Based ‘Twitter Feeds’

ThingMagic has made its own predictions over the years – describing how RFID will drive The Internet of Things and Reality Search Engines.  Expanding on these views, ThingMagic founders Ravi Pappu and Yael Maguire recently shared their predictions with Greg Huang of Xconomy.  From the article:

“Google is really interested in mapping, but they haven’t crossed the boundary from the street to the building,” says Maguire. “We’re starting from inside. There should be overlap quite soon.”

Pappu took it a bit further. “Think about all the things you could look for. Think about the calculus of reality,” he says. “There’s a certain scale you can put Wi-Fi on—a laptop, phone. But the next level down does not admit batteries.” He’s talking about the idea that tiny sensors could be placed in all of the items you interact with every day, and information from those sensors could feed into a centralized database that keeps track of the physical state of everything in the world. “The interesting premise is, don’t make any changes to the interface, especially the interface to the human. Let them be how they are, and see how you can do this calculus without affecting them.”

It’s not really clear yet what the best applications of all this would be. But tying RFID into the exploding sector of location-based services and mobile applications certainly seems intriguing. You can see this technology as a form of artificial intelligence, Maguire says. “The computer is there observing the world in a very distributed way. Every object is like a little Twitter feed, and something has to make sense of it.”

How accurate do you think these predictions are?  What are your predictions about the future of RFID?

We’ve got more to share.  Stay tuned…

Live From Fargo

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Sep 16, 2010 @ 04:00 AM

Tags: RFID, Asset Tracking, Healthcare, RTLS

RFID for Real Time Visibility in Healthcare – You Betcha

Intelligent InSitesCommunity, commitment and trust were key themes of this week’s 2nd annual Intelligent InSites Partner Summit.  Held in Fargo, ND Sept 13-15, the Intelligent InSites program attracted an impressive mix of RFID technology companies, healthcare solution providers, system integrators, healthcare market analysts and end user hospitals.

Hospital representatives in attendance presented on the value they are receiving from the InSites Enterprise Visibility Platform™ which collects and processes location and sensor data from a variety of RFID and RTLS solutions, provides a visualization of the real-time location and status of people and assets and enables solution providers to generate rule-based notifications and alerts based on the analysis of this real-time information.  Most compelling was the hard data presented by hospitals related to how RFID and RTLS systems are contributing to reduced costs, improved patient care, improved asset management and enhanced workflows.

A new InSites Enterprise Visibility Platform user interface was presented, demonstrating a notable set of capabilities including asset views, alerts, tasks, messages and reporting – all in a very elegant wrapper.

Keynote speaker Doug Burgum - current member of the Board of Directors at Intelligent InSites and former SVP at Microsoft - gave an engaging kick off presentation.  Burgum’s talk was part history lesson on successful partnerships of the past (Lewis & Clark, Alexander von Humboldt & Aimé Bonpland and the Wright Brothers) and part business lesson based on his experience at Microsoft, Great Plains and Take Care Health Systems.  Burgum highlighted how Courage, Caring, Commitment and Community, along with an underlying foundation of trust, can create and change markets. 

Industry analyst/advisor and CEO of ChainLink Research, Ann Grackin, presented a compelling view of the connected healthcare landscape and the significant impact that technology is having on the way healthcare is being delivered today and will be delivered in the future. 

Rapid fire presentations were given by no fewer than 20 technology, OEM and Integration partners, demonstrating the success Intelligent InSites has had in building its partner community.

RFID, WiFi, voice, mobile devices and software as a service (SaaS) are established and emerging technologies that are significantly impacting the delivery of healthcare services.  Intelligent InSites’ desire to support all of these technologies has resulted in a powerful platform for healthcare networks, hospitals, clinics, and outpatient, skilled nursing and assisted living facilities looking for ways to improve patient care.

In his closing remarks, Doug Burgum left the audience with a quote from American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead:

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

A good corporate philosophy and approach to build a successful company?  Yup, you betcha.

DC-Area Software Firm Partners with National Industries for the Blind

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Sep 15, 2010 @ 04:00 AM

Tags: RFID, DoD, Inventory Management

RFID Technology Aids People Who Are Blind in the Workplace

The following was submitted by ThingMagic partner SimplyRFiD, highlighting one of their recent RFID solution deployments.  We’d like to hear from you too.  If you have developed or deployed an innovative use of RFID, please submit it to ThingMagic for potential inclusion in our 100 Uses of RFID program.


SimplyRFIDA new technological system that allows people who are blind to work more accurately and efficiently was recently installed at four US locations, all factories that manufacture garments for the United States Department of Defense.

The company that developed and implemented this system is SimplyRFiD, a Warrenton, Va.-based software company.

Since 2005 a federal mandate has required that Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags be affixed to any clothing or other supplies sold to the DoD. The RFID tags are used to help the DoD better manage their inventory. The tags ensure that all shipments have come from verified providers, and that all packages contain the items they are meant to contain.

Many of the facilities that manufacture goods for the DoD are staffed by workers who are blind. The National Industries for the Blind (NIB), a non-profit organization that helps improve employment opportunities for people who are blind, became interested in ways that RFID technology could be used not only to fulfill government mandates, but to aid factory workers with certain tasks.

The NIB wondered whether a system could be created that would allow workers who are blind to accurately pack boxes with the correct type and quantity of an item.

Engineers at SimplyRFiD developed such a system. By linking RFID tags with audio equipment and allowing workers to communicate via a touch-screen, it is now simple for employees who are blind to know how many items are in a box they are packing, whether the items are the correct items, and which items to remove if a box is packed incorrectly.

“It’s almost a foolproof system,” said Mike Sebach the operations manager at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, located in Salisbury, which was the pilot location for this technology. “If [SimplyRFiD] hadn’t done what [they] did we would have had to give these jobs to sighted workers.”

Sebach said his workers are now able to pack boxes more accurately than sighted workers would. “The system will actually not allow us to over pack or under pack a carton.”

So far, in addition to the Maryland location, this system has been installed in facilities in Texas, New York, and North Carolina. Plans are underway for SimplyRFiD to implement the program at garment factories across the nation that employ workers who are blind.

 “This technology could work in any warehouse, absolutely,” Sebach said.


To promote your use of RFID and educate customers about the innovative ways in which RFID and Sensing technologies are being used to automate data collection, identification and location systems worldwide, please email sdowney@thingmagic.com.

Cleaning Up Hazardous Materials with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Sep 14, 2010 @ 04:00 AM

Tags: RFID, Vehicle Tracking, Waste Management

Manhattan Project Site Transition to an Industrial Park Uses RFID for Waste Management

“Takedown of the West Wing at the K-25 Plant in Oak Ridge Is Complete.” That was the headline this past January in a United States Department of Energy (DOE) newsletter.

West WingThe DOE’s East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), originally the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, was established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project. The ETTP site was designed to produce enriched uranium for nuclear weapons operations. Following World War II, the Plant was renamed the Oak Ridge K-25 Site. It was eventually shut down in 1987.

Most of the K-25 site's process facilities were constructed in the 1940s and 1950s. The waste that was generated at the time: construction material; process fluids; and auxiliary materials used in the gaseous diffusion process, are considered hazardous under today's standards. Most of the plating waste, waste solutions and trash contaminated with radioactivity was disposed of between 1975 and 1989. According to a story in RFID Journal, the K-25 plant was estimated to have generated more than 300,000 cubic yards of waste materials for packaging, transportation and disposal.  

The DOE’s long-term goal for ETTP is to convert the site into a commercial industrial park. The site is undergoing environmental cleanup conducted by DOE’s environmental management contractor, Bechtel Jacobs Company. The decontamination and decommissioning of the seven square-mile section of the Oak Ridge Reservation as well as the building complex, will pave the way for its redevelopment and reuse.

So where does RFID come in? Every shipment resulting from the clean-up requires information regarding the waste, the trucks carrying it and the inspection results. More information must also be captured once the waste is received at the disposal facility.

Bechtel Jacobs decided to implement a solution using EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags and a combination of fixed RFID readers and RFID handheld computers. An RFID tag is attached to each truck in the fleet containing its identification data. Shipping data is then written to the vehicle's RFID tag. What used to take several manually completed forms is now a process that employs reusable passive RFID tags. The RFID Journal story on this deployment also reported that one tag will be encoded with information up to eight times a day and will be read between 40 and 50 times during that same time period.

Not only does the RFID system reduce the paperwork associated with each shipment, it makes the overall operation more efficient and helps the DOE develop best practices that can be used for similar projects in the future.

Check it Out - RFID for Library Media Tracking

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Sep 13, 2010 @ 04:00 AM

Tags: RFID, RFID Kiosk, Library Book Tracking

Significant Growth in RFID for Library Operations Reported

JustBooksSimilar to organizations that operate large supply chain and distribution processes, academic and public libraries need to manage a large number of assets.  These assets have historically included books, but now also include videos, CDs, DVDs and other types of multimedia.  With the expansion of the types of media offered, libraries are also seeking new ways to deliver improved patron services.

For libraries, RFID-enabled solutions offer capabilities that magnetic stripe or barcode technology simply cannot deliver as effectively.  The advantages of RFID include superior data collection rates, automated self-checking for material loans and returns, reduced inventory times, and automated sorting and re-shelving processes.  For patrons, this means a greater probability that the material they are looking for will be on the shelf, less time checking out books and other media and faster location of material that my have been misplaced or not yet sorted.

Established in 1983, ThingMagic partner Great Eastern Impex (GEI) is a leading systems integrator and solution provider in auto ID technologies, and is one of the largest manufacturers of RFID and barcode labels, tickets (tags) and printing ribbons.  With over 25 years experience in delivering value and innovation to customers in manufacturing, retail, distribution and healthcare, Great Eastern Impex also views large library systems as a prime market for the adoption of UHF RFID-enabled solutions.

One such GEI customer deployment is with India-based JustBooks, a Bangalore, India-based startup.  JustBooks teamed with Great Eastern Impex to use RFID to automate the inventory management processes throughout its entire library chain.  JustBooks’ has tagged more than 160,000 library items with UPM Raflatac RFID tags that have been converted into custom book labels by Great Eastern Impex.

Library member cards also include RFID tags that allow customers to use touch screen kiosks that run library management software and include RFID readers from ThingMagic.  These kiosks are used to automate the book borrowing transaction when books are placed by the kiosk during check out and return.  The system is also integrated with the library’s inventory system which allows staff to conduct rapid book counts and make corrections of items that may have been misplaced.

A recent survey conducted by Library RFID Ltd indicates significant growth in the adoption of RFID by libraries.  The report indicates that of 259 respondents from 193 different library organizations (primarily in the UK), 116 have already deployed RFID to some extent.  This is in contrast to only 28 reporting the use of RFID in 2009.  If this is an indication of global adoption of RFID by the library market, things look very promising.

Have you experienced RFID at the library check out?  Let us know how it went below.

RFID for Border Security

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Sep 10, 2010 @ 01:40 PM

Tags: RFID, Access Control, Border Security

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Programs Simplify Passage for Pre-Approved Travelers

The U.S. customs and border protection agency (CBP) secures almost 7,000 miles of the U.S border and other coastal areas and is responsible for screening foreign visitors, returning American citizens, and cargo that enter the U.S. at more than 300 land, air and sea ports.  Its mission of securing trade and travel, enforcing hundreds of immigration and drug regulations and laws, and managing terror threats is a challenging one for sure.

US BorderWith thousands of people crossing the borders each day and being responsible for facilitating about $2 trillion in trade a year, leveraging the latest technology to support their operations is nothing new for the CBP and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Now imagine the long lines and extended wait times that must be experienced by travelers, business professionals and workers crossing popular entry points into the U.S. 

Thankfully, to help elevate congestion and delay, the CBP and its neighboring counterparts have established programs designed to simplify passage for pre-approved frequent travelers crossing U.S. borders on a daily basis.  The NEXUS program administered at designated points along the United States and Canadian border and the SENTRI program in place along the U.S. – Mexico border, offer expedited processing to pre-screened travelers.  To serve the broadest population of travelers, NEXUS and SENTRI services are available at both designated traffic lanes at the border and at kiosks located in airports and at various marine locations.

How it works:  After a thorough background check, approved applicants are issued a photo ID that includes an RFID tag.  By simply waving this ID at border inspection areas outfitted with RFID readers, the information stored on the card is displayed on a computer and analyzed by CBP inspectors who verify that the card holder is an approved frequent traveler.  If all checks out, the traveler is authorized to proceed.

A similar RFID-enabled application developed by Neology is reportedly being used by the Mexican Border Patrol.  By combining Passive RFID with license plate recognition (LPR) into an electronic vehicle registration solution, the Mexican Army Bank is able to control the import and export of vehicles, immigration, and security along every entry and exit point into and out of Mexico.  The solution includes an RFID-based windshield tags that the company reports can be read on vehicles traveling at 100 mph.

According to the U.S. customs and border protection agency, the inspections enabled by RFID take less than 5 seconds, which is significantly less time than clearance through standard lanes. 

What do you think about RFID being used at the border?  How about RFID for other transportation, tolling or security applications?  We’d like to hear from you.

RFID for Automobile Production

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Sep 09, 2010 @ 10:05 AM

Tags: RFID, Supply Chain, Automobile Production

From Ford to Fahrvergnügen, RFID Expands the Opportunity to Streamline Production and Lower Manufacturing Costs

In 1885, Karl Benz built the first car run on an internal combustion gasoline engine and began the production of automobiles in 1888.  In 1908, the Model T was introduced by the Ford Motor Company, followed by the introduction of the assembly line method of mass production.  Henry Ford’s commitment to streamlining production and lowering costs continues in the automotive industry today, which has more challenges and complexities than ever before.

VW LemonWith components supplied by more than 4,000 suppliers and complex processes like subassembly procurement and pre-delivery planning, automobile manufacturers are challenged with maintaining a competitive edge.  Manufacturers continuously need to find new ways to improve material flow, optimize planning and streamline the transport process.  Today, RFID is playing a crucial role in addressing these challenges.

With this week’s 100 Uses of RFID program focusing on the transportation market and having been a Volkswagen owner for many years, I have a personal interest in covering Volkswagen’s use of RFID.  With their dedication to manufacturing quality and the creative ways they differentiate their brand, I’m not at all surprised by Europe's leading vehicle manufacturer’s use of RFID to drive improvements into their supply chain and manufacturing processes.

To improve its material logistics operations and implement an integrated, paperless production and logistics chain, Volkswagen has partnered with IBM.  According to an IBM announcement, VW is driving to become the first vehicle manufacturer to make daily use of RFID in its supply chain and manufacturing processes.  

Highlights of VW’s use of RFID include:

  • Parts suppliers are applying RFID tags to shipping containers carrying auto parts destined for Volkswagen
  • Data from the tagged containers is automatically collected by RFID Readers at key locations throughout the supply chain including supplier shipping areas, various transportation points, parts receiving areas at Volkswagen, during storage, and on the assembly line
  • The same RFID system is used to ensure that all empty containers are returned to Volkswagen’s suppliers

Given the size and complexities of the automobile supply chain and manufacturing process, companies like Volkswagen are implementing RFID to automate key areas of their operations.  Do you expect more automakers to implement similar applications to compete with the lemons coming off of the production line?  Let us know your thoughts.

RFID Keeps its Cool

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Sep 08, 2010 @ 11:44 AM

Tags: RFID, Supply Chain, Pharmaceutical Tracking

Temperature Tracking in Real Time for Sensitive Shipments

PharmaAdmit it. In addition to laughing at the humor of this Nextel commercial, you found interesting how easy it was to know inventory levels, track a shipment and its ETA.  That was a few years ago, and today, people have come quite accustomed to knowing, at any given time, where their package is and when it will get to its destination. And a late delivery is not an option.

But in some industries, speed of delivery isn’t the priority – or at least not the only priority. Temperature is important, too. Pharmaceutical companies are painfully aware of the need to track temperature because the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that they guarantee acceptable temperatures of drugs in transit. Having had to carry Epi-Pen myself, I fully understand that temperatures that are both too high and too low will render them useless. And that’s a scary thought if the only remedy to anaphylactic shock isn’t going to work because of something that is easily within my control. But is it easily within the control of the pharma companies?

They have many, many more potential pitfalls than the customer who needs to be aware of where he’s storing his prescription drugs. They are dealing with transporting drugs through different climates, as well as the complex path of the deliveries which could involve handoffs between transit and temporary storage points. Envision a line that leads from the factory to the product’s ultimate destination. Along this line are supply chain “checkpoints,” where the shipment can either change from road to air, for example, go into storage or go through some other status change. As it moves from one leg of the journey to the next, the environment around the package changes.

Among other shipping companies, DHL has had to figure out how to manage these challenges.  In addition to the FDA mandate, DHL received requests from pharmaceutical customers to offer more options for temperature-controlled logistics. The initial method to meet that need was to use specialized, highly insulated containers that would maintain the desired temperature range. This method proved to be effective, but very costly. It added weight to the shipments and required more packing time making it economically impractical on a large scale.

That’s where RFID came in. As quick background, Deutsche Post World Net (DPWN), the parent company of DHL, formed the Technology and Innovation Management (TIM) Group. Led by its director, Dr. Keith Ulrich, the TIM Group formulated a plan to use RFID technology to track the temperature of shipments at various points from departure to arrival. IBM Global Business Services mapped out the framework which included where and when readings should occur. For RFID expertise, the team engaged the IBM Sensor and Actuator Solutions organization and IBM business partners whose products use RFID technology to track the freshness and temperature integrity of goods.

The RFID system is designed to check and report the temperature of the shipment at every supply chain checkpoint, so DHL knows if there is a problem before the shipment even reaches the airport. That way, DHL can stop the shipment and initiate a new one, minimizing the impact on the customer. In a nut shell, real-time temperature monitoring provides pharmaceutical manufacturers with greater control of their distribution processes. And because it can be delivered at relatively low cost and delivers strong value to the customer, DHL’s first-of-a-kind solution serves as a competitive differentiator.

With this type of solution, I think I’d entrust my Epi-Pens to DHL. How about you?

How to Share Your Car with a Stranger

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Sep 07, 2010 @ 02:33 PM

Tags: RFID, Electric Vehicles, Automobile Access

RelayRides Provides Access to Your Neighbor’s Car with RFID

This summer on the streets of Cambridge, MA, a few well intentioned hawkers were handing out nicely printed postcards with information about what appeared to be some kind of local ride share offering.  A commuter from well outside of Cambridge, I stuffed the card in my bag and didn’t pay it much attention.  It wasn’t until I read a recent article published in Scott Kirsner's Innovation Economy column in the Boston Globe that I made the connection. 

RelayRidesRelayRides, the business being marketed on the post card and the subject of Kirsner’s article, is a Cambridge based start-up that matches people who need a car for local transportation with people who own underutilized cars and want to earn a little money by lending them out.  Marketed as person-to-person or neighbor-to-neighbor car-sharing, RelayRides puts a twist on car-share services by getting car owners to share their vehicles with perfect strangers.  In addition to facilitating the transaction and insuring the drivers, RelayRides also installs the necessary technology in each car – including an RFID sensor that unlocks the doors when a RelayRides membership card is swiped over the windshield.

Car sharing in Europe began decades ago and started to catch on in the United States about 10 years ago. ZipCar, which owns a fleet of vehicles instead of using other people’s cars, is a leader in the car share market with about 325,000 members.  According to an article in The New York Times, ZipCar is experiencing increasing competition from small regional car sharing services, presumably like RelayRides, and from programs offered by well known rental companies like Connect by Hertz and Enterprise WeCar

With Connect by Hertz claiming most of its 10,000 members participating in programs offered at universities and ZipCar claiming to have cars on 140 campuses, the education market seems to be a prime target for their programs.  The growing number of hybrid and electric cars entering the market also seems to be a natural fit for car-share programs – lending to analyst forecasts of membership growth to two million by 2013.

What do you think?  Would you participate in a car-share program with your own car?  On a larger scale, what are your thoughts on the combination of RFID-enabled automobile access for car-share programs, RFID-enabled electric car charging stations, and contactless payment methods?  They seem to be making for an interesting emerging transit and commuting infrastructure. 

RFID Takes a Ride on School Buses

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Sep 03, 2010 @ 01:59 PM

Tags: RFID, Student Tracking, RFID + GPS

School's Out, Do You Know Where Your Child Is?

4-year-old left on school bus”.  Headlines like this one from the September 3, 2010 issue of the Joliet, IL Herald-News seem to be repeated several times every year.  Imagine the panic experienced by a four year old who thought they were going home, but find themselves in the bus parking lot hours later.  Imagine the feeling a parent has when their child does not get off the bus at their designated stop.  Not to mention the resulting calls for the resignation of otherwise responsible school bus drivers and lawsuits filed against schools.

School BusTo help avoid frightening and potentially costly mistakes like these, several school systems have deployed or are considering RFID-enabled solutions to help monitor children when they are traveling to and from school on buses.  Through the combination of RFID tags placed on students' backpacks and equipping school buses with RFID readers, schools can monitor student movement and automate in-transit attendance.  By combining the data form RFID readers with data from GPS tracking devices that are already installed on most buses, school administrators can look up the ID number of a specific student, find out what bus they boarded, the location of that bus and whether they exited the bus or not.  Some systems even send text alerts to parents, letting them know when their child gets on and off a bus and provide an online view of the buses while en route.

Privacy Concerns

The adoption of RFID by the education markets comes with privacy concerns.  Some parents object to electronically tracking their children’s whereabouts, suggesting that it might compromise their privacy.  Despite the fact that passive RFID tags carry little information about the person carrying them and are unable to transmit signals over long distances, these concerns are well founded and must be addressed by solution providers and schools alike.

With the right privacy safeguards in place, during emergency situations or as part of a standard transportation attendance process, RFID-enabled solutions can help schools do more efficiently and effectively what they’re already doing manually.  And, in the case of tracking children on school buses, puts parents' nerves at ease.

For examples of schools implementing RFID solutions to track students on buses, check out the following articles:

Technology Tracks Schoolbus Kids

Indian Schools All Set to Implement RFID and GPS Based Tracking System

Would you be open to your child’s school implementing an RFID-enabled system to monitor and report your child’s whereabouts?   While mistakes happen, I can’t think of one parent, teacher or school administrator who would want to be caught up in the headlines.

Mission Accomplished with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Sep 02, 2010 @ 11:08 AM

Tags: Aviation, RFID, DoD

RFID Lends Precision to Fighter Jet Refueling

We’ve seen how RFID can be used for on-board parts tracking in the plane industry, primarily to streamline aircraft configuration, maintenance and repairs. But the military has found a way to use RFID to improve in air refueling.

F-16When an F-16 Fighting Falcon approaches a KC-135 for fuel, the receiver aircraft is manually tracked by the Boom Operator. The information tracked for the receiver plane includes tail number and squadron and must either be visually identified or communicated by radio. During night operations and radio silence situations, this can be complicated. And when visual identification and communications are hindered, it takes longer for the KC-135 crew to accurately log the aircraft and fuel information. Adding to that complexity is manually entered information which can be inaccurate and thus costly.

The Air Force Flight Test Center constantly conducts flight tests and gathers data to maintain America's tactical dominance in the sky. Along with that, the AFFTC looks to improve the Air Force's efficiency. The KC-135 Automatic Receiver Aircraft Identification (ARAI) testing aims to do just that.

The ARAI is to be installed on KC-135 tankers to make the air-to-air refueling to a receiver plane more efficient and economical. Phase 2 testing for the ARAI began at Edwards Air Force Base, which included a flight test using an NKC-135 test tanker installed with ARAI and an F-16 Fighting Falcon equipped with RFID tags.

The NKC-135 will use its ARAI antennas to scan the F-16 to authenticate it and accurately gauge the amount of fuel transferred. The data that the ARAI retrieves is logged into a computer aboard the tanker. Accurate information is important because when an aircraft is refueled by a KC-135, the plane's squadron is responsible for the fuel cost. The Air Force is now able to budget for their fuel needs and costs more efficiently.

Millions of dollars can be lost every year because of unaccounted for fuel tracking or fuel tracking that is allocated incorrectly. When there is no communication between aircraft, it becomes necessary to estimate. The RFID-enabled process lets the boomer focus on what's important - refueling the aircraft and accomplishing the mission.

Planes, Trains, Automobiles & RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Sep 01, 2010 @ 10:26 AM

Tags: RFID, Asset Tracking, Airplane Parts Tracking, Telematics

Transportation manufacturing industry relies more and more on RFID

Planes, Trains, AutomobileBased upon the uses of radio frequency identification and sensing (RFIDS) we’ve explored during our 100 Uses of RFID program so far, such as asset tracking and automobile telematics, you have to wonder if RFID would have helped Neal Page get home to Chicago any faster in Planes, Trains & Automobiles.  (OK, you may not think of this, but we do since we love this space so much.)

If the car rental company that lost Neal’s reserved car in St. Louis had used RFID to track its fleet, would the car have been there, sparing him the expletive-laden tirade and allowing him to get home?  Would the car that Del Griffith successfully rented have had sensors that would have detected Del’s lit cigarette, keeping it from becoming a charred convertible?  Would the train that broke down in St. Louis been in better condition if RFID helped ensure a higher quality manufacturing process to begin with?

Of course, this classic movie wouldn’t have been as funny or successful if these scenarios played out, but we ask because these are all ways that RFID is being used by the transportation manufacturing industry.  Today, we continue the 100 Days of RFID by kicking-off a three-part series on this market.


Airplane manufacturers use RFID heavily in managing its supply chain.  Given the long, complex manufacturing time for a commercial jet, with millions of parts, Boeing and Airbus have used RFID for parts tracking and inventory control for over six years.  That use is now evolving from supply chains and assembly plans to the tracking of parts onboard the aircraft in use by airline fleets.

Boeing is using RFID tags on its new 787 Dreamliner, which will see first shipments in use by the end of this year.  The Dreamliner has tags affixed on its “maintenance-significant parts,” while the Airbus A350 will uses RFID on 1,500 of its parts for what the industry refers to as “airborne RFID.”

The use of RFID tags on these parts gives airlines the ability to track and monitor avionics and other parts after they've been installed on the aircraft. Information gleaned from the tags will support aircraft configuration management and line maintenance, repair shop optimization and life-limited parts monitoring. Consequently, the fast maintenance turnaround facilitated by RFID can translate into improved on-time performance.


In the train market, a new and very interesting application of RFID is emerging.  Bombadier, which many people know as the manufacturer of Leer jets, also is the number one manufacturer of passenger rail equipment.  Bombardier also runs a $1 billion services business that operates and maintains 8,000 rail vehicles under contract around the world, including the MBTA commuter rail service here in Boston.  To help it grow its existing business in this area, the company is developing a new set of products and services leveraging RFID.

For example, the track on which trains run, must be maintained and visually inspected for defects every 2-3 days.  For the most part, this inspection is done manually by transit workers walking along the track looking for problems, putting them in harm’s way.  As a result, it saw an opportunity for a new RFID-based system called TrackSafe. With the system, track workers wear vests containing RFID tags that automatically link to readers installed approximately every 500 feet along the track.  The readers are connected to a warning light and speaker cluster designed to activate whenever a train approached a construction or maintenance area. Train conductors, alerted to the workers' presence, would instantly know that it was time to slow down and proceed with caution, while workers would be alerted to oncoming trains.

A challenge it had when offering the system, which is not uncommon to RFID applications in general, is the objection among track workers that they would be monitored for the wrong reasons.  To overcome this challenge, Bombardier applied the concept of “sketching the user experience” created by Microsoft product visionary Bill Buxton.  This involves understanding human-computer interaction in order to design technology-driven products that are accepted and effectively used.


RFID in the automobile industry has seen several applications going back to the early days of key fobs, to more recently the integration in the factory, for tracking parts containers across far-flung supply chains and for yard management in vehicle processing centers.

But getting back to our Planes, Trains & Automobiles movie reference, based upon very recent increases in the use of RFID by car rental companies, the days of Neal Page’s lost car may be coming to an end.   Thanks to two advances in RFID technologies, rental companies now can tag entire fleets and use RFID to better manage them from an inventory and security perspective. 

  1. Smart labels – Low-cost RFID tags embedded in windshield stickers can be quickly and cost effectively affixed to rental cars.
  2. UHF readers – The improved read range and performance of today’s UHF readers allow rental cars to be read as they are being driven off the lots, relaying the information instantly to software systems tracking the availability of vehicles.

All of this helps the rental operation streamline its inventory management, improve employee accountability and reduce labor and equipment – not to mention spare its rental agents from expletive-laden tirades from customers!

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