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Aerospace Company Tests RFID Solution for Tracking Cell Phones

The project uses GuardRFID's Active Label, a 6-millimeter-thick, battery-powered 433 MHz tag small enough for monitoring mobile devices, tools and thermometers.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 18, 2013

Guard RFID Solutions (also known as GuardRFID) is marketing a 6-millimeter-thick active 433 MHz tag that it claims is the lowest-profile active tag currently available on the market. The tag was designed at the request of a customer in the aerospace industry that required an active tag small enough to be attached to cell phones, according to Zahir Abji, GuardRFID's president and CEO. That customer piloted the new tag with GuardRFID's software and readers.

GuardRFID's active tags are used to track individuals and assets in real-time location system (RTLS) applications, by beaconing at preset intervals, or when excited by a low-frequency (LF) transmitter. Last year, Abji says, an aerospace customer approached GuardRFID with a unique problem to solve. Because the work being performed at that facility was highly sensitive, staff members or contractors entering specific areas were required to leave their mobile phones in a locker or other location outside the secured area. In this way, he explains, the company and its customers could be assured that no one could take a picture or send data to another party regarding work-in-progress.

The Active Label tag (AT-4BLF) is designed to fit unobtrusively on a smartphone or other small object that needs to be tracked.
However, ensuring that personnel do not forget this rule and inadvertently carry their phone into the secured area was difficult without reminders or officer-conducted searches. The company tried attaching a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID label to each phone, but found that the tags were not always read, especially depending on the orientation of the phone's tag within an individual's pocket or bag. In addition, passive tags require an array of antennas around a door that could be deemed aesthetically problematic. Active tags, including GuardRFID's existing active RFID tags, tend to be too thick—about a half inch or more in height—to attach to a phone.

To address this problem, GuardRFID's engineers developed a new tag, known as the Article Tag or Active Label (AT-4BLF), that comes with a battery, a motion sensor and a temperature sensor. The tag, which measures 1.56 inches by 1.26 inches in length and width, can be affixed to the back of a cell phone via adhesive. The built-in motion sensor enables the tag to beacon more frequently when the object to which it is attached is moving, but less often when stationary, thereby extending the battery life (which is estimated at 12 months with 60 percent motion, and at 24 months with 5 percent motion). The tag can also be used in security applications for objects that should never be moved—for example, the GuardRFID software can be configured to issue an alert to management in the event that such an object begins moving. The temperature sensor, though not utilized in the aerospace application, would enable users to track temperature conditions within such environments as refrigerators or freezers, Abji says.

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