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VW's Auto City Runs on RFID

As many as 700 customers daily pick up their new cars at Volkswagen's theme park, where workers use RFID to ready each vehicle and match it up with the right owner.
By Rhea Wessel
Volkswagen considered a variety of different technologies to help it achieve its objective, opting for an active RFID system operating at 868 MHz because it offered the lowest up-front and ongoing costs. Volkswagen performed pilot tests with bar codes but decided against such a system because scanning the bar-coded labels involved too much manual work. The company also tested a passive RFID solution, but chose against that because the read range was too short and, again, required too much manual work.

Because of the short range, VW employees would have to get out of a test van carrying a reader (interrogator) and walk directly to a vehicle for proper identification. Or, in such cases as the cleaning line, a worker would have to approach each vehicle with a reader to get a positive ID. In a third test, Volkswagen looked at an active RFID system operating at 2.45 GHz. This system generally performed well, but had problems reading when the test van carrying the interrogator was driven at higher speeds past tagged cars in the test holding lots.

i-PORT Linux-based fixed interrogators, developed by Identec, are used throughout the Volkswagen plant.

The automaker also considered a GPS-based system, but ruled it out after tests showed that the price of a GPS-based tag was too high, the battery life was too low and the ongoing costs of data transmission (via GSM telecommunications networks) were too high. Finally, Volkswagen considered a real-time locating system (RTLS), but ultimately rejected it because, like the GPS system, it was too expensive.

Identec Solutions equipped Volkswagen with its Intelligent Long Range (ILR) wireless technology. The system uses an active tag, the i-Q8, which carries 32 kilobytes of data. The i-Q8 tag is encased in a 7-inch-long plastic housing topped with a hook similar to that of a coat hanger, which can hang on a car's rear-view mirror. Branded with a Volkswagen logo, the tag features a small LED that flashes when it comes within range of a reader. Because it uses little power, the I-Q8 can be used for about six years before the non-replaceable battery runs out.

Here's how the system works: After a car is unloaded from a truck or train bringing in vehicles from plants around the world—or, in the case of a Golf, Bora, Jetta or Tuoron model, after it arrives straight from the adjacent factory—a worker drives the car to the entrance to one of Volkswagen's three holding lots. The driver then presents a lot attendant with a piece of paper detailing the car's ID number and the various predelivery tasks that must be performed.

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