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German Research Institute Tests RFID in Construction

The Fraunhofer Institute for Circuits and Systems is extensively testing RFID in casings, facades and insulation, among other uses, to learn how the technology can improve pre- and post-construction.
By Rhea Wessel
Nov 25, 2008The Fraunhofer Institute for Circuits and Systems (IMS), a publicly and privately funded research institute in Duisburg, Germany, has just begun employing a commercial building it has constructed to test the use of radio frequency identification on construction sites, and for energy-efficient building operations.

In addition to RFID, the so-called InHaus 2 project relies on a variety of other technologies for constructing and operating energy-efficient, networked buildings. These include using lasers to create three-dimensional models of the construction site, as well as Web cams to compare those models with the actual site. It is an extension of the InHaus 1 project, in which Fraunhofer built a home on its grounds to test energy-conserving and in-home networking technologies, including RFID.

For the InHaus 2 project, the Fraunhofer Institute for Circuits and Systems is using a commercial building it has built to test the use of RFID on construction sites, and for energy-efficient building operations.

At the InHaus 1 site, open daily for the general public on an appointment basis, visitors can enter the home with an RFID-based or a fingerprint-based access control system. There, they can see, for instance, how an RFID-based medicine chest functions. If a visitor wants to watch a film on the television, she can utilize an RFID card to log in with her preferences and instruct the house's systems to create the proper conditions for her—for example, by closing the window shade, dimming the lights and switching on the TV. Finally, if a visitor wants to generate a shopping list, he can do so by using the touch screen in the kitchen to instruct the RFID reader in that room to inventory the kitchen's individually tagged food items. The computer system will also generate a recipe suggestion based on the ingredients on hand.

During the construction phase of the InHaus 2 project, Fraunhofer used RFID to track supply shipments, as well as to monitor air pressure in insulation panels. The institute wanted to test the use of RFID for providing proper and easy measurements of the pressure in approximately 25 panels, since changes in pressure affect a panel's ability to insulate.

Temperature-sensing RFID tags were installed within the building's concrete ceiling.

To measure and track the pressure, researchers designed RFID tags that employ a Fraunhofer proprietary air-interface protocol and contain integrated pressure sensors. The researchers also designed a custom wireless RFID interrogator that it used to read the panels' tags. The RFID system enables a worker who has installed panels to prove he has done so correctly, without damaging them. The tags remain on the panels and can now be read by facility managers who want to double-check that the devices are functioning and are not in need of repair.

In addition, Fraunhofer also installed passive RFID tags with a proprietary air-interface protocol in the ceilings of the InHaus building. The 133 kHz tags contain built-in temperature sensors. The institute will test the tags' ability to help monitor temperatures within the building. Construction giant Hochtief was the main partner for the construction of the InHaus 2 site. The company agreed to cooperate with Fraunhofer's research projects during the building's construction, in return for the contract to build it.

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