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Solar Power Helps RFID Track Anywhere Under the Sun

Dozens of RFID readers in remote locations use solar panels as their only power source. The U.S. Army and Emprevi, a Colombian logistics provider, are each using solar-powered roadside readers from Savi Technology to track vehicles and cargo that pass by and report the data to distant software applications.
Nov 30, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

November 30, 2007—Solar-powered RFID readers are being installed to help track things anywhere under the sun. The U.S. Army and Emprevi, a Colombian logistics company, operate systems that use solar panels to provide power for signpost-style roadside RFID readers that track cargo passing through remote locations. The systems are separate and not part of the same logistics network, but each features roadside active RFID readers from Savi Technology.

The readers are mounted on signposts along highways. The signposts automatically identify and record RFID-tagged vehicles and cargo that pass. Readers then report the event to Savi's Site Manager software system, using a variety of communications options.

"The solar-enabled signposts (readers) are powered purely by the solar panels. There hasn't been an issue generating enough power -- the decision where and whether to use solar really comes down to the installation cost," Savi spokesperson Mark Nelson told RFID Update. "Our readers and signposts tend to be installed at remote locations, especially where there aren't electrical outlets or a lot of existing power generation infrastructure, so it's often cheaper to install solar than to run a power cable."

The U.S. Army has installed solar-powered readers in Kuwait, Qatar, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and is planning or considering additional installations for Afghanistan, Italy, Japan, Korea, and California. Emprevi uses the readers at locations throughout Colombia.

"It goes without saying that installations make the most sense where there is plenty of sunshine," said Nelson.

The largest installation is in Kuwait, where 50 solar-powered readers have been installed as part of a system that tracks 25,000 tags per day. Savi offers solar panels as part of the Early Entry Deployment Support Kits it created for the U.S. Army that enables the military to quickly set up a tracking system in a new area.

The Army makes extensive use of Savi's RFID and communications systems to track its materiel throughout the world. Savi holds a multiyear contract, which expires next month, to supply hundreds of millions of dollars worth of RFID-based tracking systems to the U.S. Department of Defense (see DoD Doubles Active RFID Spend to $425M).

Defense is Savi's core market, but the Emprevi installation is an example of how commercial firms are increasingly adapting military-style tracking systems for supply chain operations. Automakers, 3PLs, and port operators are among Savi's commercial clients.

"Solar energy powers some of the more remote sections of Emprevi's RFID network that would otherwise lack a constant, dependable power source," Emprevi's president Mauricio Barberan Canas is quoted in Savi's announcement. "While taking advantage of a clean, renewable energy source, the system also leverages highly advanced information and security technologies that greatly improve Emprevi's supply chain security, visibility, and management."

The need to power active RFID systems is driving innovation. Based on the U.S. Army's plans, the number of deployed solar-powered readers is sure to grow. In addition to solar power, a variety of battery technologies are being developed to power RFID tags. Most are not ready for mass production and widespread use, but one researcher predicts non-traditional printed and thin-film RFID tag batteries will become a multibillion dollar market (see RFID is the Future for Thin-film & Printable Batteries and New Battery Could Drive Semi-active RFID Growth for more background).
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