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RFID Tracks Military Families' Household Goods

A new project is using the technology to keep tabs on the movement of household goods for relocated military personnel.
By Jonathan Collins
Nov 23, 2005The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has long been using RFID to tag and track shipments of materiel used by troops. Now, a new project is employing the technology to track the personal belongings of soldiers being moved to new posts overseas.

Having performed successfully during a trial in August, the RFID network is continuing its operation as a live application, with plans to expand the network to other shipping channels. The system tracks personal belongings between two U.S. military bases for the DOD's Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) arm, which manages household goods transportation programs for military service members. Symbol Technologies' UHF EPC Gen 1 tags are being attached to individual boxes, some items and the plywood shipping crates—known as lift vans—used to transport belongings between Fort Lewis, Wash., and Grafenwohr, Germany.

Crates and boxes of household goods are tagged as they move through the transportation chain.

The trial served as a first test and implementation for the new system, dubbed Global Move Security (GMS). "The trial was to see that the system works, and it does. We had 100 percent read rates for items shipped during the trial," says Donald Robinson, a spokesman for RFID Decisions, the Seattle-based RFID project consulting and project management firm that developed the trial for household goods forwarder American Red Ball International.

During the trial, several families' household goods were shipped and tracked in each direction. According to the companies behind GMS, the network will also work effectively for civilian shipments, but the DOD provided an excellent client to start with. "The DOD has an annual budget of about $3.2 billion when it comes to U.S. domestic and international shipping" says Robinson. "That represents more than half the U.S. market."

The system includes Symbol fixed RFID portals deployed by RFID Global Solution, and handheld interrogators (readers) from data-collection technology provider PSC. As goods are loaded onto a truck at the customer's pick-up location, shipping agents use handheld interrogators to encode each lift van's tag with the crate's ID number, as well as the number given to identify the entire shipment. Those tag details are then uploaded to the Internet-accessible GMS application so shipping parties and customers can access details about the shipment's location. Customers receive an ID number they can use to log on to an Internet site where that information will be displayed.

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