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VW's Auto City Runs on RFID

As many as 700 customers daily pick up their new cars at Volkswagen's theme park, where workers use RFID to ready each vehicle and match it up with the right owner.
By Rhea Wessel
Each car goes through an average of four to five predelivery stations specified via bar-coded instructions printed on the form. The attendant scans the bar-coded data into the system and writes it to an RFID tag, which is hung on the car's rear-view mirror. The driver is assigned a row in which to park the car, rear first. Individual parking spaces are not numbered. After dropping the car off, he walks to a middle lane and is picked up by a holding-lot shuttle bus.

The reading and writing of tags is accomplished on a Linux-based fixed interrogator Identec calls the i-PORT. This reader uses standard TCP/IP protocols and communicates with VW's computer network through an Ethernet or wireless connection. All interrogators in this particular application are fixed.

The i-PORT interrogators read and write data to RFID tags hanging from cars' rear-view windows.

Up to three days before an owner is scheduled to pick up his or her car, a VW worker retrieves it from the lot to begin predelivery tasks. The car's ID number is sent via a wireless LAN to an on-board computer mounted in a shuttle bus in the holding lot. The onboard computer tells the bus's driver and i-PORT, connected to the onboard computer via a cable, which ID numbers to search for in specific rows. Atop of the bus, two i-PORT antennas extend like long, comical ears from either side of the windshield. As the bus drives past the parked cars, the interrogator reads their tags.

The first i-PORTs used in the application had a range of 30 meters, but later versions read at up to 100 meters. Without replacing the hardware, Identec updated the older i-PORTs for VW so they, too, could read at that range. When the van nears the proper vehicle, the driver's onboard computer beeps, and the tag hanging on the target vehicle's rear-view mirror lights up.

The system is calibrated so the driver has time to brake and stop just in front of the car to be retrieved. At that point, a worker jumps from the van, gets in the car (all keys are left in the vehicles) and drives the car to the manned gate of the holding lot, where an attendant reads the tag. Only at this point does the driver learn which of the 20 predelivery stations the car will go to first.

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