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Auburn RFID Lab Expands to Avionics With Delta Gift

Delta Air Lines' Aviation Sensor ID Bay will be dedicated to researching and development related to RFID technology use for tracking flyable parts, baggage and tools for airlines, aircraft companies and original equipment manufacturers, as well as for the RFID companies that serve them.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 20, 2017

Auburn University's RFID Lab is building a bay dedicated to aviation-based RFID technology with a gift provided by Delta Air Lines, the Delta Air Lines Foundation and the Jacobson Family Foundation, for that purpose. The airline this week announced its $2 million gift to Auburn for the Delta Air Lines Aviation Sensor ID Bay.

The new research bay dedicated to aviation is one step in what the lab expects to be a broadening of its scope beyond retail-based RFID. Altogether, Delta provided $6 million to the school, with $4 million dedicated to Auburn's Aviation program, in addition to the $2 million dedicated to the RFID Lab.

Bill Hardgrave
With the gift, says Justin Patton, the RFID Lab's director, the lab has already begun building the bay within the existing facility, which includes a simulated aircraft cabin containing 42 aircraft seats, as well as a baggage-loading area and service hangar space for tool tracking. There will also be an area that will simulate an aircraft parts assembly line. The money will be used to not only build out the lab bay, but also fund student and faculty research on projects related to RFID tags in avionics.

The lab has already been working with the aviation industry for the past year and a half, Patton says, to develop data-certification testing program for flyable parts. That program, known as the Data Conformance Program, is intended to help stakeholders from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), aircraft companies and airlines follow a specific protocol for writing and reading data on high-memory tags.

Numerous RFID-based software vendors have been working with the lab to ensure that the software follows a specific template. Since 2005, Patton says, the lab has conducted a variety of other projects as well, specifically for the aerospace industry, while the majority of its work has traditionally been in retail-based RFID technology.

Delta has multiple RFID deployments under way across different sectors. It is using RFID technology at several airports to track passenger luggage with UHF RFID tags attached. The baggage is being identified at four points along a passenger's journey: the handover of baggage to the airline, the loading of luggage onto aircraft, the subsequent delivery to a transfer area at the destination airport and the bags' return to passengers. "Our baggage performance is industry-leading," says a Delta spokesperson who asked to remain unnamed, "and with RFID, we continue to explore opportunities to widen the gap between us and our competitors."

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