Personal Robotics Advance with UHF RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Nov 30, 2010 @ 10:10 AM

Tags: RFID, Healthcare, Robotics

The Future is Closer Than We May Think

GA Tech RobotFor those of you old enough to remember Hanna Barbera’s classic cartoon The Jetsons, how many times have you wished you had a “Rosie” to cook your dinner or clean your dishes?  “She” would have made this past Thanksgiving much more effortless!

The future envisioned by the creators of The Jetsons certainly had a lot more fiction to it than we’ll ever realize.  But, for the idea of the “personal robot” represented by Rosie, the future is closer than we may think, and its name is “Ellie” (or EL-E to be exact). 

A team of researchers -- Charles Kemp, Travis Deyle and Hai Nguyen from Georgia Tech and Matthew S. Reynolds from Duke University -- is focused on applying personal robotics within healthcare and has developed several prototypes.  The challenge of personal robotics is how to make the machine perceive, manipulate and understand the world around it so it can interact with humans and objects to perform specific tasks – like loading a dishwasher or delivering medicine. 

Enter passive UHF RFID.  Humans and/or objects can be tagged with passive UHF RFID labels, providing the interface through which a personal robot can interact to carry out its tasks.  As the Georgia Tech/Duke team explains on its research page:

Passive Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) RFID tags are well matched to robots' needs. Unlike low-frequency (LF) and high-frequency (HF) RFID tags, passive UHF RFID tags are readable from across a room, enabling a mobile robot to efficiently discover and locate them. Because they don't have onboard batteries to wear out, their lifetime is virtually unlimited. And unlike bar codes and other visual tags, RFID tags are readable when they're visually occluded. For less than $0.25 per tag, users can apply self-adhesive UHF RFID tags throughout their home. 

EL-E, one of the prototypes built by the research team, uses ThingMagic M5e UHF RFID reader modules to form the core of the robot’s RFID sensors.  The Mercury M5e is embedded in two ‘antennas’ on the robot – one for reading tags up to approximately 6 meters and other for reading the same tags within 30 centimeters of the robot’s hand.  The image above illustrates this.

The read range and reliability delivered by the ThingMagic M5e is important for this particular application.  The robot needs to be able to have as long a range as possible to detect a label from across a large room, but the finger-mounted short-range antenna is just as important to manipulate a tagged object, such as handing a bottle of medicine to a patient.

While it may be difficult to envision seeing a machine like the prototype illustrated above in your hospital room or home, one way to do so is to consider how the Georgia Tech research team partnered with Willow Garage, a California company that builds robots for research.  Specifically, the team built the EL-E RFID application using Willow Garage’s PR2 robot as the “infrastructure”.  The partnership was featured this past October on CNN’s The Big I show.  The video here shows Charles Kemp and Travis Deyle from the research team demonstrating it for CNN’s Ali Velshi.

When you watch the PR2 in action with the Georgia Tech/Duke team’s application driving it, you can start to think about eventually having your own “Rosie” to make your lives easier.  Now all this robot needs is a New Jersey accent.

RFID for High-Value, Critical-Dose Medication Inventory

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Nov 29, 2010 @ 09:13 AM

Tags: MEPS Real-Time, RFID, Healthcare, Pharmaceutical Tracking

Are You Prepared For The Future?

MEPS RealTimeWith all the national discussion about our healthcare system, the debate rages on about what can be done to reduce cost while increasing the quality of patient care.  Well, RFID can play a significant role in productivity and cost savings solutions that support a number of areas within hospitals and other healthcare facilities.  We’ve already discussed several RFID-enabled solutions in our blog and within our 100 Uses of RFID program, and interestingly enough, 3 of the top 5 most viewed entries in our 100 Uses of RFID program are healthcare related, including:

Enhancing the Patient Experience with RFID

Hospital Inventory Control with UHF RFID

The Batteryless RFID Imperative in Healthcare

Reducing the Risk of Medication Errors with Real-Time Visibility

In addition to being used to better mange high-value assets and provide enhanced patient experiences, RFID can also have a significant positive impact on the productivity of nursing and pharmacy staff, while reducing the risk of medication errors. 

According to several national studies, there are 400,000 preventable medication injuries every year in America's hospitals.  While barcodes have been used to manage medication distribution for some time, by providing real-time visibility of pharmaceutical inventory with RFID, hospitals can implement inventory management capabilities beyond existing barcode systems.

Recognizing this opportunity, ThingMagic partner MEPS Real-Time, Inc. has developed the Intelliguard™ RFID solution for critical inventory, including high-value, critical-dose medications. Thingmagic readers play an integral role in the system components - providing visibility and efficiency from the pharmacy to the patient bedside. 

Watch the MEPS Real-Time Intelliguard video:

By reading multiple RFID tags within a tote or container, INTELLIGUARD’s Pharmacy Reader makes receiving distributor shipments at the hospital pharmacy efficient and accurate.  Real-time inventory control is maintained as medication is distributed within the hospital to an INTELLIGUARD Automated Dispensing Cabinet.  The Automated Dispensing Cabinet increases nursing efficiency by eliminating manual counting and item-level barcode scanning, and through access to ambient and refrigerated medications in one location.  The INTELLIGUARD Patient Bedside Reader assists with the compliance and verification necessary to eliminate medication errors.  Real-time reporting simplifies regulatory compliance and optimizes product shelf-life for better return on investment.

MEPS Real-Time has implemented a pilot study at a major San Diego healthcare facility to provide an inventory management system which tracks the expiration date of high-value, critical-dose medications.  The hospital pharmacy believes that RFID is the only solution that will provide the required visibility while eliminating the item-level counting and inefficiencies associated with their existing barcode system.

Further information is available at and a new Intelliguard video is available for viewing at

IT Asset Tracking with RFID is not Rocket Science

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Nov 24, 2010 @ 12:19 PM

Tags: RFID, IT Asset Tracking, NASA

NASA Ditches Paper & Pen in Favor of RFID to Locate Valuable Equipment

Data CenterThe accurate and timely tracking of assets like laptops, mobile devices and desktop PC equipment is a vital component of any profitable IT strategy.  For many large global companies, tracking servers and server rack components distributed throughout data centers and across the world is equally important.  Counting and tracking IT equipment has historically been done manually - which can be labor intensive, time consuming and prone to human error.  These manual processes also provide a single snapshot in time and often need to be repeated frequently in order to provide a useful picture of inventory and its operating status.

RFID is quickly becoming the answer for many companies looking to automate IT asset tracking in data centers and enterprise office locations – delivering a new level of efficiency and addressing many of the challenges found with the manual processes mentioned above.  And, though the thought of tracking hundreds of pieces of mobile equipment or thousands of server components might be too daunting of a task, deploying an RFID IT asset tracking system is not rocket science.

NASA Takes One Giant Leap Forward

Famous for leading the United States’ space exploration efforts, NASA recently announced its installation of an RFID system to track thousands of pieces of equipment at its Langley Research Center.  Covering a combined 30,000 square feet of data center, office and lab space, the RFID system deployed by NASA is used to track 1,500 servers and other computing devices, along with another 1,500 pieces equipment used by scientists both inside and outside of NASA labs.

To inventory its lab and data center equipment, NASA uses a handheld RFID reader and a combination of room-level tags, to provide information about what should be in the room, and item-level tags to identify specific devices.  Discrepancy alerts are reported to the handheld user and are presumably addressed in real time.  According to NASA, RFID has replaced both their use of paper and pen to track equipment serial numbers and the manual process used to check-out and return lab equipment.  The result?  How about reducing the time required for their inventory counts from three weeks to a single day.

Shoot for the Moon

While significant time savings have been realized by NASA related to their datacenter inventory processes, can RFID be deployed in such a way to deliver a true real-time inventory view and further reduce the need for personnel to access each server rack to read tags attached to individual component?

For these installations, integrating a fixed RFID reader directly into the rack may provide a significant advantage.  Tags designed for on-metal reading have come a long way, as have antenna configurations and the performance of UHF RFID readers in this challenging environment.  While NASA may not have requirements for this type of solution, I expect those who operate large server farms do.  With more high-bandwidth applications, like video, being used by consumers, datacenter growth is predicted to expand.  With this expansion, comes the need for innovative solutions – like in-rack RFID - to continue to advance operational efficiency.

Let us know what your drivers are for automating your IT asset tracking and management processes.  Does better managing a 24x7 datacenter operation lead the way?  How about the need to address loss or theft, reducing over purchases, product cannibalization (resulting in warranty issues), or government or legal compliance? 

[Photo credit 1&1]

RFID Gives Surgeons Second Set of Eyes

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Nov 23, 2010 @ 12:20 PM

Tags: RFID, Healthcare, Oncology

Helps Locate Breast Tumors During Surgery with Precision, Without Risk of Infection

SensoRXOne of the first blog posts in this campaign described how RFID can be used to create a more pleasant environment for cancer patients by having their favorite things, such as music and picturesque scenes, surround them as they enter the clinic. In fact, it’s the most popular post yet.  

RFID is again improving the healthcare experience of cancer patients, but in a very different way. SenoRx, has submitted a patent for an RFID-based system that will give radiologists a more precise way for marking a tumor's location for the surgeon. In this proposed process, the RFID tag, which is about the size of a grain of rice, would be inserted into the tumor. This new way of locating a tumor could potentially reduce the risk of infection and help surgeons locate lesions faster and more accurately. 

The way it happens now is that a patient goes through a one-day long appointment where the radiologist inserts a wire into the lesion, with one end protruding from the breast to mark its location. The surgeon can then follow the length of wire to pinpoint the specific location of the tumor. This procedure usually requires a patient to schedule both radiological and surgical procedures on the same day the wire is inserted to prevent infection that could be introduced by the wire and leave little time for the wire to be dislodged.

However, with RFID, the tag would not move. And because it can be inserted up to seven days prior to surgery, the patient may be able to have it done in conjunction with a regular radiology appointment. For example, while the radiologist examines a patient, he would use a needle injector to insert the RFID tag in the center of the tumor. The surgeon then uses a reader with a probe to detect the tag. A screen on the reader presents the tag's unique ID number, and a sound signal is used to indicate when the reader senses the tag, which gets louder as it gets closer. 

According to a SenoRx Form-10, the device has not yet been approved by the FDA. With the number of uses of RFID in healthcare growing, it is no surprise that the aforementioned post Enhancing the Patient Experience with RFID is one of the most popular posts on our blog.  We’d love your thoughts on today’s post too!

RFID and the Bank Branch of the Future

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Nov 22, 2010 @ 12:33 PM

Tags: RFID, Service Delivery, Banking

Solution Enables Personalized Banking Services and Process Automation

Yes BankI remember the pre-ATM days, when all personal banking was done in the bank, face-to-face with a teller or financial specialist.  No bank cards, PIN codes or touch screens.  I also remember having to wait in long lines, so I’m sure reducing customer wait time was one of the primary reasons banks began adopting a variety of technologies to automate customer experience and drive efficiencies into their process.

It is interesting, however, to see how some banks today are beginning to market in-person service as a differentiator; pointing out how customers are fed up with talking to machines, ATM scams and endless phone calls into phone banking systems that have no escape in order to speak to a real person.  In fact one bank in my local area recently started offering free coffee and doughnuts on Saturday mornings in an effort to connect on a personal level with its clients.  For as many banks as there are touting simplicity and in-person customer service as the future of banking, there are probably just as many exploring how they can leverage emerging technologies to further automate their customer service.

YES BANK of India, for one, prides itself on achieving several market firsts and delivering innovative banking solutions to its customers.  YES proudly claims to be among the first banks in the world to create a Wi-Fi banking network, and the first in India to create an automated teller cash dispenser system and offer speech enabled voice recognition phone banking services.  Building on its technology vision, YES BANK’s South Extension Branch in New Delhi has also introduced an RFID-enabled system that automatically identifies its branch customers in order to enhance their banking experience and provide a new level of personalized service.

By strategically placing RFID readers throughout its facility and providing RFID-enabled banking cards to customers, bank employees are able identify and greet clients by name and have their account information available as they walk through the door.  When customers are done with their banking, the system also captures when they exit, indicating that transactions have been completed and feeding an analytics system that allows the bank to evaluate how long a customer waited before being helped and how long the client spent completing individual transactions.

Spread across 10,000 square feet and billed as the 'Bank Branch of the Future', the South Extension Branch also offers an automated teller cash dispenser machine, touch-screen internet kiosk, speech enabled voice recognition phone banking, Wi-Fi connectivity and a Knowledge Café.  The branch’s YES Lounge extends the exclusive banking experience by delivering a level comfort and privacy not typically found in traditional ‘desk’ banking.

Is banking better off with high-tech services or do you prefer coffee and doughnuts with your teller on Saturday mornings?  Let us know your thoughts about which delivers a better banking experience.

RFID and the Miracle of Life

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Nov 19, 2010 @ 01:11 PM

Tags: RFID, Healthcare, Temperature Monitoring

Delivers Insight into Fertility Cycles and Prevents Mistakes at IVF Labs

This week’s post is contributed by my friend Lucie…

DuoFertilitySince my children have been born, I have gladly forgotten all about the Basal Thermometer and the monthly regimens that went along with it. None of which were guaranteed to bring me closer to parenthood; just potentially increase my chances. Many people don’t realize that there’s more to getting pregnant than just watching the calendar every month – among a few other things! To complicate matters, if you were fortunate enough to calculate the precise window of opportunity for conception, you can’t assume it’ll be the same time the following month, or the month after. Add that to the list of life’s cruel jokes.

Cambridge Temperature Concepts in Cambridge, U.K. didn’t think the joke was any laughing matter. So, they developed an RFID-based system to help women more easily and accurately track their ovulation cycles. The European product is called DuoFertility.

The system contains a small waterproof module with a basal temperature sensor and a passive 125 kHz RFID inlay, a handheld RFID interrogator and a USB port. The module adheres to the skin and logs and stores thousands of temperature readings throughout the day. The same module can stay put up to 28 days; hence the waterproof element. A woman can also enter certain information such as ovulation indicators or results of other tests, such as hormone level tests that she might also be using. About one month's worth of data can be stored in the module's 2 megabytes of memory. Because it relies on a passive RFID tag to transmit the information, the battery is not necessary for data transfer.   

When the woman wants to download the temperature data, she holds the handheld reader (which can read through clothing) up to the module. The handheld device will indicate her fertility level on that day. And unlike the Basal Thermometer, it can predict fertility levels for the next five days. It can take a lot of the emotional drain out of trying to conceive.

Tracking fertility isn’t the only way RFID is helping couples conceive…that is conceive according to plan. According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in London, there were eight mix-ups in IVF clinics in 2008. That means eggs, sperm or an embryo used in an IVF procedure came from the wrong person. Apparently the mix-ups occur when items are mislabeled because of mistakes in the lab's verification procedures.

Research Instruments in the UK developed a system called IVF Witness. It uses small, plastic RFID tags to label dishes and vials that house the eggs, sperm and embryos. The tags contain a memory chip and a coiled copper radio antenna. Each tag is programmed with a unique ID code that is transmitted via the antenna when the tag is interrogated.

It constantly monitors the identity of the dishes and vials that are brought in close proximity of each other on an IVF lab bench. It sounds an alarm if, for example, eggs about to be introduced to sperm, are from the wrong person.

If RFID can prevent mistakes that have such devastating, life-lasting consequences, I wonder if it’s not long before it’s a federal regulation that all IVF clinics deploy it for identity tracking purposes. I’m sold.

[Image source: DuoFertility]

Rings, Spiders, Horsetails, Fish and RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Nov 18, 2010 @ 08:08 AM


Auto-ID Technology Used to Secure Boston Pops July 4th Celebration

Boston PopsI must admit, I often enjoy the small holiday celebrations held in my town more than the larger celebrations held in neighboring Boston.  Don’t get me wrong, events in the city can be spectacular and I’ve attended many First Night celebrations, Life is Good Festivals, fundraising walks and others. But there’s something to be said for smaller crowds, walking instead of driving or taking the train, and a nice hometown feel when it comes to celebrating holidays like Memorial Day or the 4th of July.

I’m not the only one with crowd issues when it comes to the large events.  The Boston Pops Fourth of July concert and its famous rings, spiders, horsetails, fish and other amazing fireworks displays attract over 500,000 visitors.  Over the years, this two-day event at the city's Esplanade along the Charles River has grown to be one of the United States’ largest Independence Day celebrations.  So how does one manage crowd control, traffic flow and the safety of this many audience members?  Enter 20 federal, state and local agencies- and RFID.

Beginning in 2008, Boston 4 Productions (B4) - the management company in charge of the Boston Pops event - implemented a UHF RFID system to manage access to the event’s command and control center.  The system included RFID portals placed at the command center entrance and exit and Gen 2 RFID tags embedded in authorized staff members badges.  In 2009, the system was enhanced to provide a longer RFID read range and integration with other security solutions including video cameras, pressure sensitive floor mats, and red and green stack lights used to indicate whether a person entering the room was authorized or not.  The enhanced system also read RFID badges as personnel exited the command center, providing presence data that could be analyzed to help determine how often specific agencies or individuals accessed the center or other areas of interest.

By all measures, the system has proven successful. Compared to previous years, being able to quickly identify authorized personnel has not only increased efficiencies by proving a higher level of secure access to restricted areas, but it has also reduced manual efforts needed to validate credentials and the associated cost of hiring security personnel to monitor the command center doorways.

I’m sure the 2011 Boston Pops’ Fourth of July concert will be a smashing success.  I’ll be thinking about the large crowds and massive management efforts needed monitor and secure the area (with the help of RFID) as I lay back and enjoy the small town fireworks show launched from our high school ball field.

Can You See Mi Now?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Nov 17, 2010 @ 12:54 PM

Tags: RFID, Traffic Management, Personal Safety

RFID Addresses Danger of the "Right Turn" for Urban Bicyclists

See MiDo you bike to work?  Are you a bike messenger working in an urban area?  How about a weekend warrior biking through town after a long work week?  If you answered yes to any of these, or if you bike casually every now and then, I’m sure you proceed with caution when biking in traffic – right?

Do you drive to work?  Are you a delivery driver?  How about someone who takes public transportation to work but can’t wait to take your car out for a spin on the weekends?  If you answered yes to any of these, or if you are a "Sunday driver" who takes a leisurely trip around town every now and then, I’m sure you proceed with caution when you see a bicycle rider pedaling down the street – right?

Regardless of the category you fall into, the answer is you probably aren’t as cautions as you should be.  According to the CDC, each year in the US, more than 700 people die as a result of bicycle-related injuries and more than 500,000 people are treated in emergency departments.  More startling is that nearly 60% of bicycle-related injuries treated in US emergency departments are for children 15 years and younger.

In an effort to address this issue and make its streets safer for both cyclists and drivers, the Danish city of Grenå funded a project called “See Mi” (designed by Danish company Idzone).  For this initiative, the city implemented battery-powered RFID readers at busy intersections designed to read RFID tags placed in the steering columns of bikes.  When a cyclist approaches and stops at an intersection, the RFID reader sends a notice to an electronic sign mounted on the traffic light pole.  This notice triggers the display of a flashing 'cyclist' image, indicating that a rider is near and drivers should look before making a turn.

Check out a cool video of the solution highlighting a partnership between Citybike and See mi in London!

Sounds like a promising system - designed to make busy streets safer for both cyclists and drivers.  How does this use of RFID rank among other ‘people tracking’ applications?  Does addressing a real safety issue - like reducing bicycle related deaths and injuries - move you past privacy concerns you may have with RFID?

RFID Left out in the Cold

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Nov 16, 2010 @ 01:02 PM

Tags: RFID, Temperature Monitoring, Race Timing

Solution Provides Tracking, Temperature Monitoring & Scheduling for Iditarod Participants

IditarodDuring this campaign, we’ve seen how one use of RFID actually ends up solving more than one problem - offering added bonuses on top of serving its initial purpose. Today’s application is no different, with one RFID system helping its users overcome three major challenges.

The obvious use for RFID in a race that spans more than 1,000 miles and the course of several days is to help the spectators get a real-time view of the Iditarod. They can see the locations of each musher, in relation to the others, at any given time.

The tracking system used RFID transponders built by IonEarth. Each transponder contains a GPS receiver, an Iridium short-burst data modem that transmits a signal encoded with an ID number, an accelerometer to track speed and a temperature sensor. The waterproof transponders are affixed to the front of the sleds and programmed to transmit their position, speed, heading and temperature every 15 minutes via Iridium's satellite network. With that information, race officials can pinpoint a sled's position to within 20 feet. That’s pretty precise when the sleds are traversing mountain ranges, forests, desolate tundra and frozen rivers - which brings us to the second benefit of RFID in this application.

Because the system tracks the speed of each sled, organizers can see if a racer's pace is slower than normal. Simultaneously, they can also see the temperature being endured by that racer. With the extensive stretch of trails and the variations in landscape, temperatures and winds can change dramatically, going as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit. The data would indicate if a racer needed to be rescued. And forget about using a cell phone in an emergency situation because on these trails cell phones don’t work. 

Cell phones also wouldn’t be able to be used to notify checkpoint teams of a sled’s arrival. But RFID would! For RFID use #3, the real-time view lets volunteers, judges and dog handlers know when to be ready. Before the RFID tracking system, checkpoint teams had to be ready at any given time, requiring someone to be on watch around the clock.

Purists may not like the idea because the Iditarod was invented to pit man against nature. At least the RFID system isn’t enhancing anyone’s performance over another or influencing the outcome. And it’s helping protect the lives of the mushers and the dogs. Who wouldn’t like that? We particularly like the 3-for-1 deal. 

[Photo credit: Boston Globe’s Big Picture]


RFID for Student Tracking

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Nov 15, 2010 @ 12:34 PM

Tags: RFID, Access Control, Attendance Management, Student Tracking

Let Us Know What Grade You Think it Deserves

Lecture HallThe benefits of RFID-enabled student tracking solutions are clear.  In many cases, they can help schools do more efficiently and effectively what they’re already doing manually – like providing secure access to a building and recording attendance.  But at what grade level does student tracking become a privacy issue?  Is it OK to use new technologies to track minors in a public high school to deal with problems of truancy or absenteeism?  How about in a public secondary school where attendance is mandatory?  What about college classes attended by paying adults?

In a post earlier this year, we asked the question: School's out, do you know where your child is?  The post explored placing RFID readers on school buses, tagging students’ backpacks and integrating the data into an attendance and transportation monitoring system.  The goals?  To keep track of young school children in an effort to reduce the chance they get on the wrong bus, get off at the wrong stop or are left on the bus after a route is complete.  Seems like a good idea for kindergarten and elementary school level kids and most parents seem to be in favor of the idea.

The reaction is not quite the same at Northern Arizona University where students are protesting plans to monitor their attendance using RFID chips embedded in their student IDs.  The intent is to install RFID readers in class rooms that hold 50 or more students where it can be difficult to take attendance.  School officials are making the argument that the more classes a student attends, the better their academic performance.  The plan is to provide attendance data to instructors, allowing them to incorporate it into their grading system.  Note: NAU student IDs have included RFID tags for the past four years to provide access to residence halls and athletic buildings and administrators see this as an extended benefit of the technology.

In an age where the cost of higher education increases yearly and competition to attract students is stiff, one could see why universities would want to graduate more students with good grades – and leverage new technologies to help them do so.  Parents footing the bill for school may also find their kid’s attendance data interesting.  Opponents, however, question the use of identification and tracking technologies in a place where young adults are expected to learn use their best judgment and make sound decisions on their own.

Share your thoughts with us.  What grade would you give a university that uses RFID to track student attendance?  How about an elementary school installing RFID on busses in an effort to provide safe transportation for their young students?

RFID Delivers

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Nov 12, 2010 @ 12:04 PM

Tags: RFID, Healthcare, Child Safety

Keeps Your Bundle of Joy Safe and Sound

RFTechnologiesThe day of a baby’s arrival usually goes down as one of the happiest days of people’s lives. We jot down every detail in record books, we save newspaper clippings in time capsules and we get flowers and gifts from friends and family.  There is so much emotion involved, but one should not be concerned about the baby’s safety while on the maternity ward. That should be a safe place, right? 

Continuing our series on applications used to identify and tracking people with RFID, we look today at how hospital security systems are using RFID to add new lines of defense for infant and pediatric safety tracking.  It is becoming commonplace for hospital ID bands to include RFID tags and for readers to be placed near elevators and exits to prevent kidnapping or unauthorized movement within a facility.  While such an event may be unthinkable, these systems have prevented numerous abductions since they’ve been in use.

Some hospitals, however, want to have more immediate information when an alarm goes off.  For example, which patient triggered the alarm and where were they?  What would happen if someone took the band off?  One hospital that addressed these weaknesses was Waukesha Memorial Hospital in Wisconsin.  It recently upgraded its RFID-based infant and pediatric tracking system to allow hospital staff to instantly identify the specific patients who trigger an alarm through a computer screen as soon as an alarm sounds.

Another more recent example is Sutter Tracy Community Hospital in Tracy, California.  Both hospitals use RF Technologies’ Safe Place Infant and Pediatric Security Solution. In addition to the tamper-proof features of its solution, an interesting dimension is the ability to integrate it with the telephone paging systems used in hospitals. RF Technologies dual-frequency RFID tag transmits at 262 kHz to interrogators located in doorways, and at 318 MHz to readers deployed in hallways and other locations. So, for example, if your baby is being taken through the west exit of the maternity ward, hospital staff will know it as soon as the alarm is triggered.

Not that any of this is pleasant to think about, but consider the scenario. As a new parent and patient, wouldn’t it be much better to have the nurse come into your room and say that someone tried to take your daughter but we stopped him at the door rather than the alternative? (As she hands your daughter to you so you can hold her tight). Plus, you’re less likely to file a lawsuit. I bet the hospitals see the immediate ROI from implementing an RFID tracking system.

Having experienced the joy of the birth of my own children, I can’t think of a better use of RFID.  After all, the only emotions that should be felt and shared during such a momentous life event are love and happiness. Don’t you think?

[Photo credit: RFTechnologies, Safe Place® - Smart Sense™ Technology]

Tons of Pig Iron + 2300 °C Blasts + Big Trucks: Are U-Safe?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 @ 12:04 PM

Tags: Ultrawideband, Workplace Safety, RFID

RFID Enhances Safety and More for Steel Manufacturing Plant

POSCOWith more than 1.3 billion tons produced annually, steel is one of the most common materials in the world.  It is a major component in constructing road and railways, buildings, tools, ships, automobiles and many appliances.

As can be imagined, large-scale methods of steelmaking include hazardous work conditions.  Moving tons of raw materials with large machines, operating blast furnaces at temperatures from 900 °C to 2300 °C and experiencing daily risks related to explosions, noxious gas exposure and heavy machinery breakdowns can make for an interesting day at work, to say the least.

Because of these conditions, steel production plants are continuously looking for ways to improve employee safety – and Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO), the world’s second largest steel producers is one of them.  With a focus on reducing job related injuries, POSCO teamed with IBM and Ubisense to develop an RFID-enabled real-time tracking solution to automatically detect and respond to emergency situations.

Are U-Safe?

The U-safety Management System utilizes ultra-wideband (UWB) RFID tags and readers to monitor all areas of POSCO’s Finex production plant located in Pohang, South Korea, including the facility's entrance gate, its 12 manufacturing floors and in stairwells.  Workers and visitors are provided with a helmet outfitted with a UWB tag, allowing users of a central monitoring system to quickly locate individuals in the event of an accident or emergency. 

Providing value well beyond monitoring the location of personnel, the system can also be used for disaster response, man-down detection, safety breaches and visitor escort.  It also offers an alert and alarm system for personnel working with hazardous materials.  For example, if a person enters a restricted zone where dangerous gasses or materials are present, the system detects their entry and triggers a set of event-driven processes that will issue a safety alert if they are in the area beyond a predetermined period of time.

Extending the Value of RFID

Extending use of the solution even further, POSCO has integrated the RTLS capabilities of the u-safety management system with their automatic lighting controls.  When the presence or absence of employees is detected in various areas of the factory, the lighting levels are adjusted accordingly – reducing energy consumption and gaining cost savings.  Not surprisingly, plans to use the system to monitor work-in-process and asset management are also being considered.

Implementing this type of solution seems to be a natural fit to improve safety in hazardous work areas.  Should it stop there or do you think the benefits of such a solution can benefit other types of businesses?

[Photo credit: Small iron ore in a blast furnace Kwangyang ¼ soetmul is making the melt. 
Gimsominui with permission by the author gonggaeham public domain]

RFID Lets Theme Parks Be Fun for All

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Nov 10, 2010 @ 10:36 AM

Tags: RFID, RFID Wristbands, Theme Parks, Child Safety

Takes Special Care of Special Needs Guests and Children

Morgan's WonderlandThe words “25-acre theme park” could make any parent of small children quake in their boots. For the parents or caretakers of people with special needs, a theme park of that size may be out of the question,  more trouble than it’s worth or just plain not fun.

Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas is providing safe entertainment for people with special needs and they’re doing it with the help of RFID. Guests can register with an online system that obtains information from visitors before they get to the theme park. Important information on each guest such as health needs, handicap accessibility requirements, allergies, medications and the names of the people accompanying them is forwarded to an RFID system. The guests can print a bar-coded ticket containing their specific information that they bring with them to the park.

When visitors arrive at the park, their printed bar-code tickets are scanned. Workers then provide each member of the group with an RFID-enabled wristband. The wristband contains an active RF Code 433 MHz RFID tag for location purposes, and a high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz tag provided by ViVOtech. The HF tag is designed to be read at close proximities at the exit and registration area. RFIDTec's Location Station software links the wristband ID numbers to the information provided about each guest at registration.

Consultant Denim Group used a Threat Modeling technique to identify potential security weaknesses during the planning stage. Based on that reconnaissance, RFID readers as well as RFID kiosks were strategically placed throughout the park to help visitors keep track of members of their party. Handheld RFID readers at the gate issue an alert if someone tries to leave without their party. If a group leader loses someone, he can visit an RFID kiosk where the passive HF tag on his wristband is read. The software would pull up the ID numbers for the members in his party and display the location of each person via a map of the park on the kiosk monitor.

I can think of a dozen other places where this type of application could be useful. I try not to be an alarmist when it comes to my kids’ safety, but automated systems like this can give parents one less thing to worry about – especially in the craze of large theme parks where losing site of an excited child can happen easily.

Where do you think RFID system like this could provide the most benefit and would it allow you to kick back and have a little more fun? The mall? The county fair? How about arcades or indoor entertainment centers?

[Photo credit: Morgan's Wonderland]

India’s National ID Card Program

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Nov 09, 2010 @ 11:24 AM

Tags: RFID, Service Delivery, National ID Cards

RFID and Biometrics to Deliver Access to Social Services

India ID CardIn our Billions of Identities post, we highlighted India as a country that has begun issuing RFID and biometric enhanced ID cards to their citizens.  Kicked off in September 2010, the project in India seeks to record fingerprint and iris scans from all residents and store them in a central database.  Given India’s population of 1.2 billion, it is no surprise that this is considered to be the most technologically and logistically complex national ID efforts ever attempted.

The goals of the program are honorable.  Among other objectives, the country’s leaders are hoping to solve development problems and assist in delivering social service spending to hundreds of millions of poor.  According to reports, 40% of benefits in India’s welfare system are stolen by people with fake identification papers.  The national ID program aims to put an end to this fraudulent practice and provide subsidies for food, diesel, fertilizer and jobs to those who really need them.

Modernization through technology is nothing new for India and the government is hoping to be able to leverage the experience it gained over the last two decades while implementing programs to digitize land records, computerize tax filing systems, and provide its citizens with information about government agencies.  Legislation is also being drafted to address the data security and privacy concerns some have with implementing a national ID program, with violators facing stiff fines and prison time.

Technology has helped advance many types of services for many countries – from education to public safety to automating the delivery of healthcare – often resulting in enhanced outcome-focused program delivery.  With the right intentions, oversight and respect for individual privacy rights, it appears India is on track with its national ID program.

What are your thoughts about the growing use of RFID and biometric-enabled national ID cards?  Do the proposed benefits of modernization, reduced fraud, and security outweigh the potential risks?

[Photo credit: BBC News]

RFID Has its Finger on the Pulse

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Nov 08, 2010 @ 02:00 PM

Tags: RFID, Healthcare, Smartphones

Tracking Body Movements for a Picture of Health

Wireless StethoscopeI just read an article about how smartphones will soon replace the stethoscope. The goal of using more connected wireless devices in healthcare?  To keep more of us healthy and out of the hospital – OK by me. 

A similar idea is to use technology to monitor body movement. When you have an annual physical or see a doctor for something specific like weight loss, they have to rely on your answers to track your physical activity. They usually ask questions like: Are you active? How many times a week do you exercise? How far do you walk? We’ve all been in the patient’s shoes before and we know how easy it is to embellish a little, not just to satisfy the doctor, but so we can somehow make it come true by saying so.

Doctors can try to have the patients wear a small pedometer when going about their daily routine, but that only provides a one dimensional measurement that cannot satisfy the need for a full picture of activity. Pedometers can’t monitor smaller body movements, or the position of the body, which could offer more information about a person’s health and well being; like noting the difference between sitting in a chair and sitting on an exercise ball that forces you to engage your torso muscles.  

In an effort to get around this roadblock, researchers at Michigan State University developed a system using three RFID tags that are affixed to a person's upper arm, wrist and ankle. The tags contain proximity sensors and accelerometers, which allow the software to calculate the exact amount of movement and angle of a person's limbs. Each tag comes with an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) 900 MHz EPC Gen 2 RFID inlay and a battery to transmit information. By pinpointing the tags’ locations in relationship to each other, as well as noting the changing angles and the number of movements, the doctor can derive a much better picture of the patient’s health because he knows the amount of energy being expended during certain intervals.

The data that is captured can then be linked to the patient's ID number and stored for tracking and management purposes. So, if you’re seeing a doctor for weight management or a physical therapist for an injury, they can compare and contrast the data from one office visit to the next. For a big picture, they can put that data up against other health measurements such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels and BMI (body mass index) to make sound prognoses and more customized counsel. Nutritionists and personal trainers can also use that energy data to better customize their services.

While the research hasn’t turned into a mainstream product yet, the potential for reducing health care costs seems fairly apparent. Fewer people getting hurt just by going to the gym and trying something new, fewer illnesses resulting from obesity, fewer medications needed to help the heart do its job…you get the picture.

RFID for Wander Prevention

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Nov 05, 2010 @ 11:39 AM

Tags: RFID, RFID Wristbands, Wander Prevention, Active RFID

Providing Added Peace of Mind for Elder Care

Vuance CompanionA question posted to our Billions of Identities blog entry asked if there were solutions to track an elderly person living alone to determine if they are OK.  The answer is yes, and here is some information on that topic that may be useful.

For those of us who have had a family member or loved one suffer from Alzheimer's or some other type of dementia the experience can be painful for everyone involved.  In addition to assistance form the most patient of healthcare professionals, solutions like the Companion anti-wandering system from RFID solutions provider SuperCom (previously Vuance) can provide a new level of peace of mind.

The Companion system includes a battery powered 433 MHz active RFID tag and motion detector embedded in a plastic wristband combined with a low-profile door alarm that contains an RFID reader and infrared emitter that creates an IR field across the doorway.  The alarm device is powered by a 12 volt adapter and can be attached above a doorway to provide the desired area of coverage – about 4 feet. When a person wearing a Companion wristband moves into the IR field near a doorway an audible alarm is sounded, indicating that someone may be wandering outside of a desired area.

While this system was initially designed for in-home care, SuperCom intends to bring similar products to market for nursing homes and other facilities.  In larger facilities, the intent is to create a network of RFID readers to monitor a greater number of individuals and doorways and even integrate with software to send text alerts or pages to specified staff members.

Conceptually this same type of fully integrated system could extend to the home – providing location information, text or pager alerts and maybe even video feeds to loved ones in remote locations to help care for our elderly family and friends.

RFID Put Behind Bars

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Nov 04, 2010 @ 01:00 PM

Tags: Inmate Tracking, RFID, RFID Wristbands, Active RFID

Helps Keep the Peace and Cut Costs in Prisons

Prison BarsThis week we’ve seen a few examples of the ways in which RFID-enabled wristbands can be used to track people for attendance, management and security purposes. The Washington D.C. Department of Corrections is using similar types of wristbands to track the location of the inmates in its Central Detention Facility (CDF). Its goal was to improve safety and cut down on costs.

Monitoring the inmates’ movements helps keep them out of restricted areas. It also helps staff members to find an inmate more quickly should that particular person require assistance or some sort of immediate medical attention. As a result, mistakes on headcounts decrease and so do the instances of prison lockdowns. Lockdowns force the corrections officers to remain on site past their assigned shifts and cost the prison in paid overtime. Needless to say, unnecessary lockdowns due to counting errors cause them to throw money out the window.

CDF completed the installation of an RFID system from TSI Prism with AeroScout WiFi compatible technology. At the time of their booking, inmates are issued a wristband or ankle bracelet enabled with a 915 MHz active RFID tag. The tag is encoded with a specific ID number for each inmate. Both the wristband and ankle bracelet are tamper resistant and send out an alert should it be removed or attempted to be removed. Readers are placed throughout the facility to track the inmates throughout the prison compound.

RAND Corp., a nonprofit research institution conducted a study on the CDF’s use of RFID. The study, "Tracking Inmates and Locating Staff with Active Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID): Early Lessons Learned in One U.S. Correctional Facility," found that in order to truly receive the benefits of implementing an RFID system in a prison, the facility must first fully and clearly outline its objectives.  Because the systems require customization, comprehensive training of the staff is critical. If possible, a pilot study is recommended in one area of the prison to help ensure proper training and gauge inmates’ reactions, among other information gathering tools to help prepare for the full implementation.

The study concluded that if a facility follows these guidelines, the benefits of an RFID system could be significant. It even speculates as to other possible uses and benefits, such as to keep known enemies away from each other to avoiding fights and creating a safer environment for both inmates and guards. Take it a step further and fewer fights could mean lower medical costs and less paperwork.

It’s logical that the same cost and safety benefits would apply in situations where people are released on parole with monitoring devices designed to confine their movements to home and place of employment as well as for inmates when they leave the facility to go to court and help clean the highways.

Hopefully those who hold the purse strings see the big returns from RFID in correctional facilities.

Man-Down Monitoring

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Nov 03, 2010 @ 11:19 AM

Tags: Worker Safety, RFID, GPS, Disaster Management

RFID Provides a Safety Net for Workers in Hazardous Conditions

Utility WorkerFrom remote construction sites to prisons, oil rigs, war zones and hospital psychiatric wards, those working in dangerous environments often rely on innovative technology and extraordinary processes to ensure their safety.  In some cases, providing worker safety may require the use of a dedicated system to detect “non-movement” as an indicator that a worker may be incapacitated due to a fall or other life threatening situation.

Man-Down and Lone Worker monitoring systems often contain a combination of locating and sensing technologies to sense non-movement and the position of an individual (standing or prone), and wirelessly broadcast an alarm or alert to a monitoring station if their status indicates a potentially dangerous condition.  Most monitoring devices also include a panic button and some even incorporate GPS tracking and voice recording, allowing for a wider variety of conditional data.

One such monitoring solution is offered by Axcess International Inc. and is being deployed on an oil-drilling platform in Malaysia to track when workers become inactive, indicating a possible injury.  As explored in an RFID Journal article, Axcess International is positioning their Man-Down Monitoring and Locating solution to oil companies, the mining industry and other markets where hazardous work conditions exist.

The Axcess solution includes 315 MHz or 433 MHz battery powered RFID tags that are activated by strategically placed exciters (readers).  Back end system software translates the tag data – including worker ID numbers and motion sensor information – and provides real-time actionable records to help determine whether a worker’s status requires an immediate response.

In addition to providing a safety net for workers in dangerous environments, applications like this can be expanded on and integrated into a wide variety of safety and productivity enhancing solutions for disaster management, border and port security, hazardous waste chain of custody and others. 

If I was working day in and day out in dangerous and sometime life threatening situations, I’d want to work with a net – an RFID safety net.  How about you?

[Image: By Dori [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-us], from Wikimedia Commons]

RFID Gets Waterproofed

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Nov 02, 2010 @ 07:30 AM

Tags: RFID, Wristband Tags, Access Control, Attendance Management

Helps Control Crowds at the Pool and More

Caddy DayPossibly inspired in part by the Livestrong bracelets, some companies have invented waterproof RFID wristbands for a variety of purposes. One that has received some attention is the 13.56 MHz RFID waterproof wristband tag by GAO RFID. Going hand-in-hand with this month’s theme of identifying, locating and tracking people, this product was made to help manage attendance in swimming pools. The tags are also used to monitor saunas and outdoor water parks. As the number of people increases for any type of water activity, so do the risk factors, so club owners may find this appealing because it could potentially help limit their liability.  And with that could come lower insurance premiums.

The tag can withstand temperatures ranging from -40 degrees Celsius to 70 degrees Celsius and is resistant to vibration that might be caused when a person jumps into the water. An added bonus - clubs and parks can use it as an advertising tool because names, logos and graphics can be printed on the wristbands.  Because of their sturdy design and versatility, the RFID wristbands could also be used to manage swimmers at camp and students on field trips that may involve water sports. I’m pretty sure the owner of my gym would like it so he could better manage time slots at the pool, giving families and avid lap swimmers their turn without the usual hassle.  

Not sure about you, but I just got an image of “Caddy Day,” when I thought of trying to keep the number of excited pool goers to a controlled amount. The lifeguard in Caddyshack could certainly have used some RFID assistance to instill some order and safety!

Synometrix took the waterproofing a step further and combined that feature with being disposable, geared toward medical facilities. These seem like they would be perfect for monitoring newborns in the maternity ward and several other healthcare applications (more on this topic in a future post). These disposable tags also lend themselves nicely to managing access at large events, like concerts with general admission where crowd control can be an issue.

We’re in the digital age, so we shouldn’t need to have a group life guards or a ticket collectors manning turnstiles struggling to manage crowds and the safety of each individual. We’re beyond that - with the help of RFID.

Billions of Identities

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Nov 01, 2010 @ 11:49 AM

Tags: RFID, eID, ePassport

Use of RFID Enabled National eID Cards and ePassports is Growing

ePassportThere are many uses of RFID to identify and sometimes locate people.  Some uses are controversial, some are very practical and can even be life saving.  During the month of November, we’ll be exploring how RFID can be used to identify, locate and track people for a wide variety of applications.  As we cover these topics - from tracking student attendance to “man-down” monitoring - we’re interested to know what you think, so please feel free to provide your comments.

National ID Cards & ePassports

Over the next decade we can expect to see a growing use of electronic identification documents (eID).  From issuing ePassports to secure air traffic, to using national ID cards to better administer local and national programs, correctly identifying people is an important step in many processes.

With all privacy and social concerns recognized, the use of eIDs can offer a great number of benefits including enhanced counterfeit prevention, automation of a variety of municipality-based services and use for emerging contactless transactions.  China and India have already begun to issue RFID and biometric enhanced ID cards to their 1.3 billion and 1.2 billion citizens respectively, and more programs are expected to launch within the next 1 to 3 years.  In fact, starting today, Germany will begin issuing new RFID-based national ID cards designed to provide citizens with a more secure form of identification. 

RFID has also been used in other forms of personal identification, like passports, for years.  The first ePassports using RFID were issued by Malaysia in 1998 and many other countries use them today, including Norway, Japan, most EU countries including Spain, Ireland and the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, the United States, Serbia, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, Albania, and The Philippines.

Online Safety

In addition to providing its citizens with a more secure form of identification, Germany believes their eID program offers a more secure way to conduct business over the Internet.  By offering RFID readers that can be installed on home computers, the German government hopes they can address ongoing worries about personal data security that have kept many Germans from joining the eCommerce revolution and making online purchases.  During the next 10 years, Germany expects to issue approximately 60 million ID cards and 1.2 million ID card readers to its citizens.

What are your thoughts about the growing use of RFID and biometric-enabled national ID cards and ePassports?  Do the safety and security benefits outweigh the potential risks?

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