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Tablet App Enables RFID Tracking of Aircraft Safety Equipment

MAINtag will commercially release its FLYcheck solution next month for use in aircraft cabins, and its dual-memory chips are now being deployed in EAM Worldwide vests destined for Airbus' A320 planes.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 14, 2013

After successfully completing four beta tests with three airlines and an aircraft safety equipment manufacturer (OEM), MAINTag, a provider of radio frequency identification technology to the aerospace industry, plans to release a solution for tracking and maintaining cabin equipment aboard aircraft via an Apple iPad or Android-based tablet, using an RFID reader connected to the tablet.

The solution, known as FLYcheck, is expected to be made commercially available on Sept. 15, and will feature MAINTag's newly released WAVEbox Cube ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID reader that attaches to a tablet's carrying case. FLYcheck also includes MAINTag's FLYtag Fiber tags and hosted software, enabling a user to track the location and status of tagged equipment, such as life vests and oxygen canisters, via a Web browser.

FLYcheck was developed to provide an airline with an easier, quicker method of locating assets during inspections and maintenance performed on safety equipment within an aircraft cabin. Although there are already solutions available for tracking the equipment via RFID, says Bruno Lo-Re, MAINtag's founder and CEO, FLYcheck allows users to employ an iPad or tablet rather than a standard handheld reader, and offers an Internet-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform to eliminate the need to install RFID data-management software onto an airline's existing back-end system, or to integrate with its parts-management software. Because the technology is easy to install and employs a user's own tablet devices, Lo-Re explains, it is a low-cost solution. "We're talking about an ROI [return on investment] based on months," he states.

MAINtag already supplies its FLYtag Fiber UHF EPC RFID tags with 2 kilobits of memory to manufacturers of aircraft personal safety equipment for use within the cabin. The tag is available in both dual- and single-record formats, and is compliant with the Air Transport Association's ATA Spec 2000 V. 4 specification. Approximately 40 such suppliers are currently using the technology to track components stored on aircraft (both within the cabin and in other areas of a plane). With the growing proliferation of RFID tags on components, Lo-Re says, airlines can now take advantage of the technology on the parts they purchase, including those used inside an aircraft cabin. RFID can help employees identify the locations of life vests or other items within the cabin, enabling them to more quickly determine the location of a particular asset due for inspection, or with an approaching expiry date, and to ascertain if any items may be missing.

However, Lo-Re notes, most RFID solutions require the purchase of handheld readers, which are large, heavy, expensive and not very exciting to use. The tablet-based solution, he explains, is intended to replace the "boring" aspect of performing RFID reads, via a 3D application in which a user can employ the touchscreen on his or her tablet to move virtually through an image of the cabin. The system lets the user turn seat orientation to obtain a different angle, and to then view icons indicating the locations of the items being sought.

First, a user attaches the WAVEbox Cube to the back of the iPad or tablet, by affixing it to the Otterbox case or other protective cover via screws. At present, MAINtag is selling the Otterbox case with the solution, if requested, fitted to hold the WAVEbox Cube reader, which communicates with the tablet via a Bluetooth connection. The user can download an application to access the hosted software, and then set up an account with MAINtag in order to manage and store the collected safety-equipment data. To enter equipment into the system, he or she reads the tag and enters information including product type and expiry date, as well as any inspection or maintenance history, related to the item to which that tag is attached.

During inspection, a user enters an aircraft cabin and opens the FLYcheck software, then views a 3D representation of that cabin and the seats within it on the tablet screen. He or she utilizes a drop-down menu to select the items requiring inspection, and the 3D image is then populated with those assets, in their specific cabin locations, along with their details. Once the inspection is complete, the worker can update the details using the tablet, and that information is then stored on the hosted server, to be accessed by airlines users with a password.

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