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Friday, January 25, 2008

Episode 33 RFID Wave--Do You Know Where Your Kids Are?

EPISODE 33 - RFID Wave--Do You Know Where Your Kids Are?

Radio Frequency Identification

The Center for eBusiness and Advanced Information Technology is a resource initiative established in 2002, designed to help companies apply e-business technologies.
Our primary mission is to:
 Provide education and training programs in e-business
 Create a greater pool of skilled technology talent for Pennsylvania businesses
 Facilitate product development in advanced information technology
 Increase the visibility and capability of Pennsylvania IT-related companies
Recruit, attract and establish viable businesses, leading to job creation and Pennsylvania "brain gain"

Chris Wassel is the RFID Program Manager at the Penn State Behrend RFID Center of Excellence.

Wassel's responsibilities include overseeing the Center's corporate membership and RFID training program. His team has assisted over 20 companies with RFID projects and has trained over 1,200 industry professionals and students in RFID technology. Wassel also manages the Center's state-of-the-art RFID Lab. Wassel holds a master's degree in Business Administration from Penn State Behrend and is an RFID+ Certified Professional.

Yes, the RFID Center sprung from eBizITPA. We provide the organization/registration for the courses, they provide the training.
Contact Info:

Chris Wassel
RFID Center of Excellence
Penn State Behrend
Erie, PA

Pre-interview notes:

What is RFID?

Radio frequency identification is a technology that allows you to uniquely track items using radio waves. Those items can be various things such as cases or pallets of items in a supply chain, high dollar value assets, tooling and fixtures, livestock, employees (through ID badges), or high risk medical patients. RFID allows for unique, item level visibility as opposed to the object level visibility available from barcode or other current methods.

Practical applications for business / practical applications for organizations?

RFID is a suite of technologies that allows for use in many different applications. The most popular use of RFID for businesses now is to gain visibility into the supply chain.

For example, many large retailers and organizations have mandates that require their suppliers to place RFID tags on cases and pallets of items. The cases and pallets are then read as they pass through various points of the supply chain, allowing for much more visibility into the flow of products through the supply chain.

Additionally, RFID allows for more accurate inventory counts, reduced out-of-stocks, and increased sales. Businesses are also using RFID to track materials as they flow internally through a facility. RFID allows for more accurate and easier data capture than current methods. Therefore, work in process goods can be monitored accurately, and accurate process times can be determined. This allows businesses to identify any bottlenecks, and improve their production processes.

RFID also allows for the automation of currently manual processes. For example, businesses may use RFID to automate the goods receipt process or order generation process. This allows for manual labor to be put to use elsewhere in the organization, on more value added activities.

In addition to supply chain and business applications, RFID is being used in many other applications. MasterCard has developed the PayPass, which is an RFID enabled credit card. This credit card allows you to tap your cards on the reader and it links to your account. The EZ Pass system on the highways is a form of RFID. ‘

RFID tags have been used in sporting event tickets and casino chips to prevent counterfeiting. Vehicle immobilizers use RFID technology. The steering columns in new vehicles have an RFID reader in them. The key to your vehicle has an RFID tag and is programmed for a certain ID. The reader in the steering column reads the tag in the key to verify if it is the correct key. If the ID is not correct, the vehicle will not start. This is why some keys have to be programmed before they can be used. Livestock tracking and pet tracking systems may use RFID to track animals. Library systems are also using RFID to improve inventory processes and counts, as well as reduce shrinkage.

How about parents knowing where their kids are?

There are some forms of RFID, and some RFID applications that allow for tracking of children. However, there are also some drawbacks to using RFID. First, an RFID system requires that a tagged object be in the “interrogation zone” for the item to be identified. Therefore, any tagged object that leaves this interrogation zone will not be able to be identified or tracked. The size of this interrogation zone depends on the type of RFID technology being used in the application. For instance, active RFID systems may track tagged objects up to 100 ft, or more.

The active systems also allow for a real time location of a tagged object. Therefore, this type of system may be used for tracking children. In fact, some amusement parks have used this type of system to track children at the park. Parents are able to visit a park kiosk and rent an RFID enabled “wristband” for their children. The RFID enabled wristband contains an active tag. There are active RFID antennas throughout the amusement park that will then track children. Parents can visit kiosks to find real time locations of their children.

Additionally, passive RFID systems are being used in much the same fashion. Children may be outfitted with passive RFID enabled wristbands. However, due to the features of passive RFID, the read ranges are much smaller, and passive RFID does not provide a real time location. Therefore, antennas would be placed at the entrances and exits of amusement park rides, and parents would be able to obtain a “last known location” of their children.

Again, keep in mind that the tagged objects must be inside the interrogation zone to be identified. I also want to make clear that people themselves are not being tagged, or injected, with RFID tags. Applications that track people use some kind of ID badge, wristband, or similar device that is outfitted with an RFID tag. Therefore, there may be some types of applications that allow for tracking children with RFID, but one must know the technology, its limitations, and its benefits before designing one of these systems.

I investigated this some time ago for my limousine company, probably about six years ago but it was not yet available at a reasonable rate, is it now?

Due to the use of industry standards, and advancements in the technology and production processes, the price of the RFID equipment and tags are coming down fast. Passive UHF tags can be found at about 10 cents in volume, and you can purchase a UHF reader w/integrated antenna for about $1500. Prices will continue to drop as technological advancements continue to emerge. The overall cost of an RFID system is a case by case situation. Depending on the application, the amount of equipment and tags needed, as well as the type of RFID used, the costs will vary. In general, although, the price of RFID equipment is dropping

Where can I go to do some research on this?

There are not many online RFID training sites that allow you to access their training material for free. I would suggest looking at This site will provide good information on RFID as well as many articles on applications of RFID and the state of the RFID industry. Additionally, you may be able to find some basic information on websites from RFID industry vendors. I would be more than happy to provide you with more information on RFID technology if you would like!

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