RFID Helps NOCSAE Study Youth Football Helmets
The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment employed EPC Gen 2 passive tags and readers to track the headgear retrieved from youth football groups, in order to carry out tests.
Once NOCSAE decided which helmets it needed for its own research, Oliver says, he could then check the spreadsheet, locate the appropriate headgear and the company storing it, and then send a message to that firm, along with the RFID number (which was also printed in text and as a bar-coded number on the tag's front). Staff members would take the handheld to the shelves and read the helmet tags until identifying the one required. The helmet was then sent to NOCSAE, which put the headgear through its standard testing in order to ensure that it met the required safety standards. The study's results will be determined in March 2013, Oliver says, adding that although his staff had an RFID reader on hand, they used the device only for demonstration purposes, rather than to identify a specific helmet, since they were working with just a single helmet at a time.
The RFID technology was useful during the initial reading in providing data about the helmet, Oliver says, and proved to be less necessary for locating the headgear. He says he initially predicted that NOCSAE would collect between 5,000 and 20,000 helmets, based on the expectations of the youth football groups that had estimated the number of helmets onsite that were more than 10 years old. In fact, only about 4,000 helmets were retrieved, since the groups were often mistaken regarding the helmets' ages (many were not yet the requisite decade old). Because the quantity of helmets was ultimately less than expected, Oliver says, locating a specific helmet stored on a shelf often did not require an RFID reader, since the item could easily be identified visually by personnel.
According to Oliver, the greatest benefit achieved from the RFID technology came from the initial tag read as the helmet was input into the system. This, he says, provided a record at the end of each day of which helmets had been acquired.
Oliver, however, has a vision of providing RFID in such a way that it would benefit more people than just the reconditioners involved in the 2012 project. Now that the technology has proven to work effectively, he says, "It opens the door to other opportunities." He hopes to work with Serialio to develop a solution in which tags could be placed in the helmets' interior during manufacture, with the Serialio software storing data about each helmet on a hosted server. Youth football groups, or companies that provide helmet refurbishing, could then acquire a handheld reader (or simply input an ID number printed on the tag) to access data about each helmet from the Serialio hosted server, in order to better track the headgear's age, when it was last refurbished and when it may no longer meet safety standards.
As an interim step, NOCSAE may opt to utilize RFID technology again this summer, when the consortium carries out the second phase of its program, in this case refurbishing and then returning them to the appropriate youth football group. In this case, a tag could be applied inside each helmet, with the intention of it being read periodically in the future when data related to that helmet was required. Upon receiving the headgear, the refurbishing company would apply the tag, read it and enter the helmet into the system. If the helmet then was sent back to a refurbishing company, the firm would simply use the handheld reader to capture the tag ID and learn that headgear's history.
Serialio, which has been in operation since 1992, offers bar-code and RFID solutions, including Near Field Communication (NFC), high-frequency (HF) and ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) technologies. Boydston says his company's customers pay an annual fee for software and server access, as well as a one-time licensing fee and the cost of purchasing the readers. They can buy tags either from Serialio or from their own provider. Annual fees, he says, range from $30 to $120 per mobile device, in addition to $99 to $199 for licensing, depending on the mobile device used. Readers cost approximately $600 to $650 apiece, though Boydston says that price may drop slightly in the near future.
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