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Auto-ID Lab Puts Expertise to Work

Cambridge's Auto-ID Lab will offer independent RFID equipment testing and instructional courses in 2004.
By Jonathan Collins
Tags: Standards
Nov 24, 2003The Auto-ID Lab at the University of Cambridge, England, has unveiled plans to offer commercial training and testing, starting in early 2004, to leverage its educational strengths and technical experience. The Cambridge facility, along with the labs of five other universities around the world that were part of the Auto-ID Center, is now a member of the newly formed Auto-ID Labs, which will continue the research and development work on a global RFID infrastructure based on the Electronic Product Code (EPC). Since the disbanding of the Auto-ID Center, the Cambridge Auto-ID Lab has had to find new ways to underwrite its mission.
Helen Duce

“We have funding [from EPCglobal, via MIT] for around 20 percent of the half a million pounds we need each year to operate,” says Helen Duce, director of the Cambridge Auto-ID Lab, a department of the university's Institute for Manufacturing. To help fill the financial gap, the lab is preparing a number of commercial offerings aimed at RFID vendors and users.

On the technical side, the lab plans to provide performance profiles of RFID readers and tags from any vendor, regardless of frequency and protocol. The work will be carried out in its own lab and will test such things as read range, optimum tag and reader positioning, and the types of materials or products a tag is best suited to track.

“If users are buying tags and readers, they need to know how they will perform. At present they have no place to go for impartial advice,” says Duncan McFarlane, the research director at the Cambridge Auto-ID Lab. Although the service will be targeted at end users, McFarlane maintains that it is also likely to appeal to vendors looking for a way to objectively quantify the strengths of their equipment to differentiate their offerings in the market place.

These profiles will help determine not only the best performing equipment for any deployment but also the best way to deploy equipment to get the greatest possible performance, says McFarlane. The lab is confident that it will be able to test a specific piece of equipment and report on its performance within a matter of days. Pricing for the service has yet to be determined.

The Cambridge Auto-ID Lab also will offer four different training courses, ranging from one to five days in length, under the name easyEPC. One of the day courses will introduce new users to the technology and provide attendees with a grounding on what EPC is, how it will impact attendees businesses and what next steps they need to take. “It’s an Auto-ID 101 style course,” says Duce.

The other one-day course will be aimed at people working at RFID implementers. It will review the main technical elements of the EPC network, and attendees will get a basic understanding of the operation of the EPC network.

The two longer courses will be more intensive. One will consist of five days of heavily technical instruction targeted at corporate IT managers who need to implement EPC technology and at IT vendors who wish to produce EPC-compliant technology. The other is a three-day train-the-trainer course to teach attendees how to educate their teams, customers or company on all aspects of EPC technology and its implementation.

The one-day courses will be offered two or three times a quarter, while the multiday courses will be just once a quarter. Class size will be limited to around 50 attendees, except for the multiday course, which will be limited to around 15 attendees.

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