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AT&T Steps into RFID Student-Tracking Minefield

AT&T has announced an asset tracking solution that targets the K - 12 education market. Combining RFID and GPS, it is designed to enable standard asset- and person-visibility on school premises, as well as the more novel ability to track and monitor school buses and the student passengers therein.
Dec 14, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

December 14, 2007—AT&T has announced an asset-tracking solution that targets the K - 12 education market. Combining RFID and GPS, it is designed to enable standard asset- and person-visibility on school premises, as well as the more novel ability to track and monitor school buses and the student passengers therein.

School buses are equipped with GPS and RFID devices, which relay data back to a school staff-accessible website via AT&T's own wireless network. The GPS provides locationing information, while RFID captures information about students -- who carry tags -- that have gotten on or off the bus. The combination of GPS and RFID data allows a school to determine the location of a student currently riding a bus, or the location where a student got off a bus. The security benefits of such visibility are clear, but AT&T indicates that there are also benefits pertaining to more efficient routing of bus travel, which can save a school money in reduced fuel, bus maintenance, and labor.

The in-school asset-tracking component is very similar to the RTLS solutions increasingly adopted in hospitals -- it allows staff to save time by more quickly locating equipment, while also curbing loss and theft of that equipment, which is often expensive and mobile (think school lab equipment, computers, etc.). The person-tracking component enables automated student attendance-taking, school visitor tracking (including alerts when unauthorized visitors enter prohibited areas), and improved emergency evacuation management.

In addition to providing the software, hardware, and services, AT&T designs, installs, and manages the system for schools.

Student-tracking has proved a controversial application for RFID. While the prospect of enhancing the safety of students as they commute to and from school is very appealing to parents and school administrators alike, many parents balk at the prospect of having their children tagged. Recall that the anti-RFID legislation in California was precipitated by a student-tagging program at an elementary school in Sutter, California, which sparked a furor by parents who were inadequately informed that their children would be tracked (see Uproar Over School's RFID Student Tracking).

It is possible that the reaction was so negative because parents felt their children's privacy had been violated without sign-off by the parents themselves. If the initiative had been more transparently communicated, perhaps they would have been more receptive. Based on the launch of this solution, AT&T apparently believes that such programs will indeed be accepted.

See the announcement from AT&T
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