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Reusable Electronic Baggage Tag Powered by RFID

Vanguard ID Systems' View Tag contains two passive RFID chips and an electronic paper display to help airlines and airports track the location of luggage, and send updates to passengers' cell phones when bags are loaded on planes.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 06, 2010After several years of meeting with airlines, airports and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Vanguard ID Systems, a manufacturer of custom-printed bar-coded, magnetic-stripe and RFID cards and key tags, labels and bands, has developed a reusable RFID-enabled luggage tag that includes a battery-free, changeable electronic paper (e-paper) display that shows flight data.

The reusable tag, known as a View Tag, employs radio frequency identification to transmit an ID number that could be linked to a bag's flight information, as well as display passenger and flight data on the tag itself, using only the energizing power of an RFID reader. Like ink on paper, e-paper depends on exterior light to illuminate its text, and can display that text indefinitely, without drawing electricity. Using electronic-ink technology from E Ink (the same technology used in Amazon.com's Kindle and a number of similar devices), the View Tag's display consists of millions of tiny black and white microcapsules. Depending on each microcapsule's positive or negative charge, the screen displays either white or black particles that would spell the destination airport code, and could display other flight data as well.

The View Tag contains a passive RFID-powered electronic paper display.

Vanguard ID Systems is marketing the View Tag as a transitional baggage-tracking solution until more airlines and airports are equipped with RFID readers, so that the View Tag could provide visible data to those without readers, as well as be read by handheld or desktop interrogators at airline terminals, or eventually by reader portals at airports. The View Tag has piqued the interest of airlines and airline associations, says Alan Neves, Vanguard ID Systems' global RFID account manager. Once the View Tag has been re-engineered to have a lower cost than the current prototype model, he hopes to see it in use at airports in as little as a few months from now.

Vanguard ID Systems identified baggage-tracking problems faced by airlines several years ago, and has since been in multiple discussions with major airlines regarding how those issues could be resolved. Currently, nearly all airports and airlines utilize tags as long as 21 inches, made of adhesive-backed paper and printed with the name and three-letter International Air Transport Association (IATA) code for the destination airport, airline name, flight number and passenger name, as well as a bar-coded 10-digit "license plate" number linked to that same flight information. Those tags help airlines and airport employees ensure that the luggage ends up on the right plane. The paper tags' bar codes are actually read only about 60 to 90 percent of the time, Neves says, because the tags can often get tangled up under a bag and be difficult to read, either visually or with a bar-code scanner. In 2009, however, ODIN carried out tests of ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID baggage tags in an airport setting with the baggage conveyor turned up to full speed, and found that six of the tested tag models demonstrated an RFID read rate of 100 percent (see ODIN Forecasts Fast ROI for RFID-based Baggage Handling).

According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Transportation, passengers on domestic U.S. flights in 2009 filed 2.19 million reports of luggage lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered during the baggage-handling process, though the causes were not always bar-coded-related. Only 0.005 percent of all checked baggage is permanently lost, according to Vanguard ID Systems, and most bags catch up with passengers within hours. While the airline delivers any lost luggage to its owner by courier once it is found, it is still highly inconvenient for that customer—and expensive for the U.S. airlines, at an estimated annual cost of $750 million.

This paper system also has a significant environmental impact, Vanguard ID Systems reports, since the approximately 2 billion tags used each year are torn off and discarded after every flight. At airports in Las Vegas and Hong Kong, RFID-enabled tags are being placed directly onto luggage, but they, too, are discarded after each flight.

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