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UCLA Consortium Holds RFID Forum

During its first RFID event, the Wireless Internet for the Mobile Enterprise Consortium explored the current state of RFID technology and demonstrated its multiprotocol multifrequency RFID middleware.
By Mary Catherine O’Connor
Oct 18, 2004UCLA research group Wireless Internet for the Mobile Enterprise Consortium (WINMEC) held its first RFID Forum on October 12 to discuss the current state of RFID technology, and to present information on trends, case studies and the future of the technology and industry. More than 100 people, including representatives from tag and reader companies, systems integrators and a few end users, attended the event.
WINMEC's Gadh

Founded in the summer of 2002 by Rajit Gadh, the group’s director and a professor in the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science at UCLA, WINMEC consists of UCLA researchers and members of sponsoring industry companies, including Intel, Northrop Grumman and Hewlett Packard, who collaborate on research projects in the areas of RFID, wireless multimedia platforms and sensors networks. Industry members provide some funding for the group’s initiatives and hold seats on its advisory board. Currently WINMEC has 17 corporate sponsors, ranging from associate members ($9,500) to diamond members ($175,000).

During the RFID Forum, a team of students and researchers from WINMEC provided demonstrations of an RFID middleware application that, according to Gadh, WINMEC designed to help meet a simple need: a workable, profitable RFID implementation. Gadh is currently looking for organizations to partner with for pilot projects using the middleware.

Gadh said the group’s main objective in developing the middleware was to make a platform that users could deploy so that tags and readers with different frequencies and protocols could interoperate. More than a dozen professors, researchers, post-docs, graduation students and undergrads involved in WINMEC developed the middleware, which is Web based (using Microsoft .NET) and comes with either a Microsoft or LINUX-based client-side application for integration into a user’s IT platform. For the demonstration, a number of tagged products were moved through a series of successful reads using portal readers, handheld readers and readers embedded in shelves. UHF, HF and LF passive tags by different manufactures were used.

RFID information collected from different devices is not consistent in the way it identifies an object, so the WINMEC middleware abstracts, or translates the data into a consistent data set. It uses a “rules engine” to filter the data per a set of configurable rules, such as to turn some readers in a network of readers off for any given reason, or to define the type of data a reader or group of readers sends to the middleware.

“Everyone seems to have a different view of what the word middleware means,” said Gadh. “My main objective is to network tags and readers from manufacturer A and manufacturer B. Gadh said he is in discussions with some of the WINMEC industry members regarding pilots involving WINMEC’s RFID middleware, but could not disclose which companies.

Gadh is a very enthusiastic supporter of RFID technology and is leading a strong consortium between UCLA and the industry member companies. Many attendees in the forum meeting room, which was nearly filled to capacity, attended the demonstrations and were eager to speak to Gadh.

Another RFID-related project being undertaken at WINMEC and demonstrated at the forum is a reconfigurable wireless interface for networking sensors. The demonstration showed how different types of sensors in a sensor network can be wirelessly configured using a variety of RF methods, such as RFID. BEI Technologies, a sensor manufacturer and member company of WINMEC, is collaborating on the project. BEI president Asad Madni presented the project to the forum, saying that possible applications include pipeline monitoring and energy distribution system (remote meter reading) systems.

Also during the forum, RFID implementation case studies were presented from the healthcare, communication and logistics industries. Much of the discussions touched on what suppliers under mandates from retailers and the Department of Defense are doing to meet January 1, 2005, deadlines for RFID compliance. New and emerging uses of RFID were presented, including using RFID over 802.11 wireless networks and using subdermal RFID tags for human access control in high-security areas.

Northrop Grumman’s national account manager for wireless, Dean Knuth, said his company joined WINMEC because of the unique opportunities offered in partnering with an academic group. Knuth said he’s very impressed by WINMEC and Gadh. “Everyone involved in it is intelligent,” said Knuth, a member of WINMEC’s advisory board. “But someone with [Gadh’s] vision is extraordinary.”

Perry Luzwick, who spoke at the forum and is director of business development, mission support systems for Northrop Grumman, agreed: “He asked us, ‘What can we in academia do for the industry and academia?’—not industry or academia. And that was energizing.”

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