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Lockheed Looks for a Savi Buyer

The defense contractor seeks to sell off its 433 MHz RFID tag and reader division, which plans to shift its marketing and product-development focus to the commercial sector.
By Claire Swedberg
The DOD's use of RFID has not declined, according to Mark Lieberman, the automatic-identification technology (AIT) program manager at the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Va. What has changed over the past few years, however, is the department's increased reliance on reusing active RFID tags, he says, resulting in less of a demand for new tags. What's more, he notes, "current DOD contracts for RFID tags and infrastructure items are awarded to multiple suppliers providing competition for government business. There was a time when Savi was the sole supplier of tags and infrastructure end items to DOD."

Savi invented the 433 MHz RFID technology underlying the ISO 18000-7 standard—which was first ratified in 2006—and launched a number of licensing programs aimed at providing hardware developers with a way to access a portfolio of Savi patents under reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) terms (see Savi's New Licensing Program Slashes Costs for ISO 18000-7). In 2009, the company spearheaded the formation of the Dash7 Alliance, a consortium comprising RFID users and approximately 20 RFID technology companies that market products complying with the standard (see Dash7 Alliance Seeks to Promote RFID Hardware Based on ISO 18000-7 Standard). One company that competes in the government sector is Identec Solutions, which has been providing the DOD with 433 MHz active tags and readers for three years. "The opening of this market to other vendors like us did change the market dynamic quite a bit," says Gerhard Schedler, Identec's president and CEO.

Savi Technology provides its products not only to the DOD, but also to NATO and, in the private sector, to Dow Chemical and other Lockheed Martin business segments. For instance, Kelly says, Savi's products, including active RFID tags and software, are being used as part of Lockheed Martin's "Flight Line of the Future" strategy. "Lockheed Martin uses Savi Technology in support of the F-35 production line," she states.

Savi's shifted focus to the commercial sector comes under fairly new leadership, as Clark became the company's CEO in January of this year. Moving forward, he expects the firm to continue expanding into the commercial sector with products based on an enhanced version of the 18000-7 standard, targeting end users in the commercial market that require active RFID solutions for tracking high-value assets. The company has submitted a proposed enhanced version of the standard to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), Clark says, which includes a higher data rate than the current 18000-7 standard, as well as the ability to transmit sensor data, hop transmissions from tag to tag and utilize multiple channels (the current standard supports only a single 500 kHz channel).

The Dash7 Alliance, meanwhile, has submitted its own new standard to ISO for review. Its proposed standard, known as ISO 18000-7 Mode 2, also focuses on the commercial rather than government sector (see Dash7 Alliance Working on New Specification, Tags for ISO 18000-7). Mode 2 would allow the integration of 433 MHz active and 13.56 MHz passive RFID technologies onto a single tag, and—like the enhanced Savi version—would support a higher data rate, multiple channels and peer-to-peer (tag-to-tag) transmission, thereby making possible a variety of new applications. RFID products based on the Mode 2 specification are already commercially available, such as those produced by a company called Agaidi, and used for a project in Finland (see Helsinki Airport Puts 'Guidance Display Card' to the Test).

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