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Army Medical Center Looking to Boost Asset Awareness

Walter Reed Army Medical Center is adopting a system that uses ZigBee-based RFID tags, rather than Wi-Fi access points, to keep better tabs on valuable assets.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Nov 14, 2007Walter Reed Army Medical Center, one of the largest medical treatment facilities within the U.S. Department of Defense, is adopting a real-time location system (RTLS) that uses ZigBee-based RFID tags. The hospital plans to utilize the system to track 4,000 pieces of equipment, according to Awarepoint, a San Diego provider of RTLS technology designed for tracking assets in health-care facilities.

The Washington, D.C., hospital expects the Awarepoint system will help its nursing staff more quickly and easily locate equipment, allowing more time for direct patient care and reducing wait times for patients requiring transport throughout the 1.1-million-square-foot facility. Administrators will use the system to generate automated messages when an instrument is due for periodic maintenance, and to locate equipment in the event of a recall.

From left to right: Awarepoint's access point, tag (the smallest object in the picture) and bridge.

Awarepoint has signed a four-year contract to provide its services to Walter Reed, says Awarepoint's CEO, Jason Howe. Those services include the installation, management and maintenance of the system. The company plans to begin installing the system sometime after Thanksgiving, and hopes to have the installation completed before mid-December.

To locate assets, the company employs active RFID tags operating at 2.48 GHz. The tags transmit their unique IDs over the 802.15.4 (ZigBee) communications protocol, to small receivers (access points) that plug directly into standard 120V AC wall outlets. These tags and receivers also function as transceivers, communicating with each other through the mesh networking protocol. One tag can pass data to a main access point (called a bridge) by first sending it to another tag, which then forwards the information to a separate tag or to the main access point, depending on whether the tag is in range of the main access point. In the Awarepoint network, a tag can send data to a bridge through up to five other tags and receivers.

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