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Taipei Buries Its Manhole Covers

The Taiwanese city is the first in a nationwide program to replace the metal disks with below-the-surface RFID-tagged cement slabs, to make roads safer for scooters and other vehicles.
By Claire Swedberg

EPC Solutions Taiwan also designed a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC RFID tag made with an Alien Technology Higgs-3 chip and encased in cement. The tag measures 15 centimeters (5.9 inches) in diameter and 2 centimeters (0.9 inch) in thickness.

With each installation, road workers first chisel down the top of the manhole entrance to 40 centimeters (15.7 inches) below the road surface, and place a cement slab over the hole. The workers then take a cement-encased RFID tag and use a Quintet Digital C35 handheld computer to read the unique ID number encoded to that tag. The C35 unit also records the tag's location, thanks to the handheld's built-in GPS module. Next, workers place the tag on the center of the cement slab, after which they bury that slab and the tag in concrete, topped by a layer of smooth asphalt.

EPC Solutions Taiwan designed a reader antenna in the form of a wand that plugs into a Quintet Digital C35 handheld device.

The handheld is then returned to the office, where the RFID number and GPS coordinates are uploaded into the EPC Solutions Taiwan software, residing on the city's server. When employees need to access a manhole at a later date, they walk along the road surface in the general vicinity—based on GPS coordinates associated with that specific manhole—carrying a Quintet C35 handheld computer equipped with EPC Solutions Taiwan's wand antenna. Once the handheld captures the tag's unique ID, it displays that data on its screen. Workers then know exactly where to break through the road in order to access that particular manhole.

To date, the tag-reading process has gone well, according to T.H. Liu, EPC Solutions Taiwan's president, though there have been some challenges in ensuring a read in the presence of concrete and asphalt, as well as water. Currently, he says, the handheld and wand can interrogate tags at a depth up to 60 centimeters (23.6 inches). But in some cases, Liu adds, the city requires tags to be buried as deep as 1 meter (3.3 feet), in order to accommodate pipes. "We are still working on this," he states, to provide a tag that can be read at that distance through asphalt and concrete and, in some cases, water carried in pipes. Reading tags on rainy days, when the road surface is wet, has proven difficult as well, Liu notes, so workers typically do so only on dry days.

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