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RFID Helps Yard Operators Find Crashed Cars

The DogBone system, developed by the owner of a salvage yard, enables companies to locate vehicles in large lots, by affixing EPC Gen 2 passive tags to car windshields.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 25, 2010Approximately 10,000 vehicles pass annually through Barodge Auto Pool, a salvage yard near the Fort Wayne, Ind. Barodge receives crashed cars from insurance companies, and stores them as title paperwork is processed, then sells the vehicles in open or online auctions. Because 3,000 to 4,000 vehicles can be stored in the company's 25-acre lot at any given time, when the time comes to sell some at auction, the process of locating the vehicles and bringing them to an auctioning site can be time-consuming. There are also other potential problems, such as the inability to locate a particular vehicle, or delivering the wrong car to auction.

To address these challenges, Barry Howard, Barodge's owner, decided to put his engineering background to good use. He developed an RFID-based system to reduce the time his staff spent searching for vehicles on his lot, as well as the process of handwriting or keying in data related to those cars. The result, known as the DogBone RFID Vehicle Tracking System, was so effective in his own yard, he says, that he founded a company, Alli-Solutions (for which he serves as president), to market it to others in the automotive industry. According to Howard, one unnamed 40-acre lot owner has been trialing the system for the past six months.

Angus McNeely, Alli-Solutions' business development manager
Prior to Barodge's adoption of the DogBone system, when a front loader carried a damaged vehicle to a space on the company's lot, the loader operator would write down details regarding the car, including its vehicle ID number (VIN) and physical description, along with the space's ID number (displayed on a sign located at that particular space) on a piece of paper. Another employee, working in Barodge's office, would receive that document and input the data into the firm's existing inventory-management system software, along with a stock number (the number assigned to the vehicle by the inventory system). When the car was scheduled to be sold at auction, a printout listing that vehicle, along with its space number, was provided to the loader driver. Sometimes, however, the space number was inputted incorrectly, a vehicle was moved to a location with a different space number, or some other error could have been made, resulting in the vehicle not being in its expected location.

The DogBone solution, composed entirely of off-the-shelf hardware components, resolves that problem, says Angus McNeely, Alli-Solutions' business development manager. When a vehicle is brought onto the lot, an adhesive UHF EPC Gen 2 tag is attached to its windshield. A worker uses a Motorola handheld Wi-Fi-enabled device that comes with a bar-code scanner, a GPS receiver and a camera, to scan a bar code printed on the tag, and encoded with that tag's unique ID number.

The user then selects the car's stock number from a list displayed on the handheld device. (In the future, McNeely says, Alli-Solutions intends to offer a handheld with a built-in RFID interrogator, to read the windshield tag's ID number.) The worker uses the device's built-in camera to take a digital photo of the car. The photo and the tag number are then sent back to the company's server via a Wi-Fi connection. On the server, the DogBone software receives the information, including the GPS location, and the space number, links it to the stock number, and forwards that data to the existing inventory-management system software.

Each of the company's loader trucks comes equipped with a Wi-Fi-enabled PC with a screen, a GPS unit and an Intermec RFID reader with four antennas. When the loader is assigned to pick up a specific vehicle, the operator sees on his screen a photo of the car he should be retrieving, as well as a description, its space number and a map of the yard with an icon indicating where that car is physically located. Upon reaching the vehicle, the operator can then compare that picture with the car in front of him. At the same time, the reader captures the RFID tag on that vehicle and the software determines that the car is being picked up, based on the rate and duration of the transmission to the loader's antennas. The DogBone software compares it to the RFID number expected for the particular car being requested, and sends an alert if the information does not match. If the information does indeed match, the operator takes the vehicle to the auction area located on the lot.

Once that task is completed, the operator sees a prompt on his touch-screen display, indicating the next closest vehicle he needs to pick up. This saves the time he previously might have spent going back to the office to ascertain which vehicle he should subsequently retrieve. In that way, the company can increase efficiency and reduce fuel.

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