Toll Roads and Car Management Improve with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Apr 24, 2012 @ 10:35 AM

Tags: RFID, Traffic Management, Automobile Access

RFID for TollingWhile reviewing content on our Web site recently, I visited the RFID Basics page where we use an example of a car passing through a toll booth to describe how RFID works. It is a great example because you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t driven through a Fast Lane, EZ-Pass, or other electronic toll collection system.  Does anyone know when the first RFID-enabled toll booth was deployed in the United States? We’ll give you the answer in a bit.

An often reported benefit of RFID is that you can leverage it for a project, process, or procedure, and it ends up providing value beyond what it was originally intended for. Even back when it was first introduced for toll roads, other than making the driver’s life easier, this RFID-enabled system helped states increase revenue and allowed law enforcement to set up more accurate notifications in Amber Alert or stolen car situations.

Taking the convenience factor even further, because of RFID, many highways now have no toll booths. Not because they aren’t collecting tolls, but because they have implemented RFID in such a way that the tags attached to car windshields can be read at high speeds and with excellent accuracy. No big, cumbersome collection booths required.

Coincidentally, at the time of writing this post, I saw the following headline: India's first RFID technology toll comes up near Chandigarh.  According to the article, India's first RFID-based toll plaza was recently inaugurated on National Highway No.5 at Chandimandir in Haryana's Panchkula district.  The anticipated benefits are many: seamless travel, time and fuel savings, and a reduction in traffic jams.  My guess is they will realize other benefits along the way as well.

Now back to our quiz. The first RFID-enabled toll booth was deployed in Dallas in 1989.  Were you close?


RFID Revolutionizes the Electric Vehicle Industry

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Mar 07, 2012 @ 03:43 PM

Tags: RFID, Automobile Production, Electric Vehicles, Automobile Access, Vehicle Tracking

Electric Vehicle ChargingRemote car starters. Curtain side airbags. Cars that you can talk to and that talk back. Those luxuries are old news these days, having made their way into almost every car on the road.

Wireless cars that are connected to databases of information as well as connected to each other are being reported on a lot in the media today. It won’t be long before those cars are on the road telling their drivers where they can go for Sushi, and if they have a new email which can be displayed on the dash for safe viewing.

Electric cars were once thought of as futuristic, but these too have become a reality. Down the road (pun intended!), we should expect to be surrounded by them. Right now they are mostly compact and well suited for driving and parking in space-constrained metro areas. But because of the advantages they afford us, we see that industry grow, and grow successfully in part, with the help of RFID.

First let’s take a step back and review what RFID has done for the automotive industry as a whole.

Location of Cars

How many times have you been so ready for a vacation, eagerly taking the keys from the rental car agent, only to spend 30 minutes waking around a hot parking lot with your family and suitcases because you can’t find your car? We’ve seen how RFID with GPS makes this practice a lot more convenient for the customer and far more efficient for the rental agency. The benefits are clear: visibility of all cars in the lot; immediate availability of cars as they are needed; improved inventory management so popular cars are on-hand more often; and reduction of paperwork and manual record keeping. A no brainer!

Parking Garage Access

The type of RFID implementation to locate cars also works for fleet management and parking garage access and payment. Long-range identification in combination with high-speed RFID is the best option for hands-free identification of cars as they enter and exit a parking facility. Parking facilities and parking garages at airports feel the pressure to find ways to grow revenue. RFID helps achieve that goal by bringing increased efficiency, security and convenience, while minimizing environmental impact. Pretty soon we won’t need to remember to bring our parking tickets with us to pay the cashier before we leave a garage, which is obviously not very convenient.


We’re not talking about LoJack, although that does use radio frequency for location tracking. We’re referring to a use case where European manufacturers used RFID as “car immobilizers.” The keys are equipped with an RFID tag, and an interrogator installed in the steering column. In order to start the vehicle, the reader validates the unique identification number from the RFID-enabled key. A duplicate key would not be able to start the car because it wouldn’t be able to pass the reader’s verification without the tag.

Recharging Stations

Now, getting back to the electric car. The advent of this development has brought about another automotive market need that RFID is helping to serve - wireless charging stations.

EV-Charge America’s approach to electric vehicle charging stations uses a wireless, networked, meshed-LAN array of subscription-based stations that can be located anywhere with Google Maps, OnStar, hand-held devices and smartphones. Once at an EV Charging Station, drivers can unlock it, activate it and start the flow of electricity by waving their RFID-enabled key ring in front of the unit's reader.

To charge an EV at IKEA San Diego, drivers swipe their RFID-enabled Blink InCard, plug the charger into the EV, and then shop at their leisure in the IKEA store while the vehicle is charging.

Coulomb Smartlet charging stations will eventually let drivers use an RFID-enabled credit or debit card to pay for their electricity.  Subscribers are issued cards equipped with a high-frequency passive RFID tags so they can simply hold their card up to an RFID interrogator embedded in the Smartlet unit.

A ZigBee transceiver, compliant with the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, is used to pass the captured data to a ZigBee gateway, which then passes the data to a central server containing software that validates the card's ID number and account status – in real-time. Not to mention that the signal between the card and reader will be encrypted to secure the data transmitted by the cards. Without this added protection, people would most likely hesitate to take advantage of the benefits of paying with RFID credit and debit cards.

In the same way that RFID is reshaping aspects of the retail and healthcare markets, it is revolutionizing the Electric Vehicle industry which is still arguably in the nascent stage. If it can help shape an industry that has not had time to mature, imagine what RFID can do for a well established industry.

Dude, Where’s My Car? RFID Knows.

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Jan 16, 2012 @ 01:31 PM

Tags: RFID, Automobile Access, Vehicle Tracking

RFID Vehicle TrackingImagine this scenario for a minute.  You’ve got a couple of hours between meetings and have to run an important errand outside the city limits.  No problem you say, I’ll login to my Zipcar account, reserve a car for an hour or so and be on my way.  You get the confirmation email letting you know that your car is parked somewhere between #100 – #500 Center St.  As it turns out, a lot of cars are parked in this location, and did I mention that it’s raining? So much for a simple transaction and convenience, you’ve just wasted 30 minutes of your available time trying to locate your car and will now be hard pressed to complete your errand in time to be back in the office for your next meeting.

Hello GPS and RFID

Now most people are familiar with GPS technology and have probably used one of these devices at some point in order to navigate an unfamiliar route and get to their destination. However, as illustrated in the example above, a GPS doesn’t help all that much if you can’t find your car.  Or can it? A new car service known as Car2go which launched in the summer of 2010 in Austin TX, has found a way to implement GPS and RFID technology to help its customers instantly locate and gain access to their cars.

Here’s How it Works

Using an iPad app, the GPS device in the car points you to the precise location of the car you have reserved. No more searching general locations and wandering up and down the streets or through parking lots.  Once you have arrived at your car, RFID makes things really easy.  Simply tap your membership card on the windshield and the doors open. The membership card contains the RFID tag and the windshield contains an embedded RFID reader. Now you can grab the keys from the glove box, punch in some numbers on the keypad and you are on your way.

This just another example of how companies are finding ways to incorporate RFID technology into every day functions to make our lives easier.  It’s no longer a technology that is reserved to address big business issues related to supply chains and distribution channels, or to make possible game-changing hospital procedures. Keep following along as we reshape the way you think about RFID.

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. 

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