Amazon Announces Program With Auburn RFID Lab

By Mark Roberti

The new initiative aims to integrate RFID into the online retailer's existing high-tech fulfillment system to further improve supply chain efficiencies.


During the official opening of the RFID Lab at Auburn University last week (see Auburn RFID Lab Holds Grand Opening), Dave Clark, Amazon‘s senior VP of worldwide operations and customer service, announced that his company was partnering with the lab to conduct research into how radio frequency identification might be integrated into Amazon’s existing high-tech fulfillment centers.

“We are partnering with the lab to develop new solutions for implementing RFID in our Amazon supply chain, specifically focused on tagging and driving inbound items through our fulfillment process,” Clark explained. “We are going to have Auburn students and faculty come to our fulfillment centers to work on designing technology, then test it in the lab and deploy it in our fulfillment centers after successful tests. We fully expect to be inventing new processes, new technology and new uses of RFID as we allow customers to experience faster delivery, lower cost and greater selection.”

Amazon’s Dave Clark

Amazon, Clark reported, is “in the early stages of working on RFID programs,” but the company believes that the technology holds great promise for matters that are central to its competitive advantage.

“Our focus is always on speeding up deliveries, lowering costs and increasing selection,” Clark said. “RFID-tagging technology is a path to further improving all of those. It gives us the opportunity to speed up the receipt of goods into the building. It gives us better tracking of shipments out to customers, and, when connected to our existing software and robotics infrastructure, it should help us to further speed delivery to customers.”

According to Clark, students and faculty members from the lab will likely spend time at Amazon’s Prime Now one-hour delivery site, located outside of Atlanta. This summer, they will also likely visit Amazon’s new, automated fulfillment centers in Dallas or New Jersey, in order to study operations and determine where RFID might add value.

“We’re excited about having a group of Auburn students and faculty out into one of our new, eighth-generation fulfillment centers, where they are going to get to work with world-class robotics, software technology infrastructure and a great team of people who are focused on customers every day,” Clark stated. “We think they are going to be able to evaluate how to integrate RFID with what we’ve already built, come back to this lab and work with us to develop new solutions and help us deploy those in our sites.”

Amazon recently received a great deal of attention for its plans to use unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to deliver packages to customers. Asked by RFID Journal if there were any plans to test RFID on drones, Clark said there was currently “no connection” between the company’s planned use of drones and its research on RFID.