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USPS Uses RFID to Manage Vehicles, Drivers

The system provides a range of functions, including driver authentication, real-time vehicle location and speed, weight and impact sensing.
By Beth Bacheldor
Jul 10, 2006At a dozen sites across the United States, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is in the process of adding RFID-based tracking systems to improve efficiencies and cut costs associated with the operation and maintenance of forklifts and other industrial vehicles used in its processing facilities. The USPS has already installed the system at about 40 sites since the three-year contract started in 2005.

At the heart of the implementation is the Powered Industrial Vehicle Management System, or PIVMS, based on I.D. Systems's Wireless Asset Net tracking system. "This system allows for driver authentication; real-time location of vehicles; two-way messaging; maintenance and productivity tracking; speed, weight and impact sensing; and impact accountability; and facilitates OSHA [the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration] compliance and tracking, just to name a few of its capabilities," says Victoria K. Stephen, manager of material-handling deployment with the USPS' engineering department.

Tne USPS has already installed the RFID-enabled VAC at 40 locations.
PIVMS includes RFID-enabled devices called Vehicle Asset Communicators (VACs), installed on a variety of USPS vehicles (classified as Powered Industrial Vehicles, or PIVs). These include forklifts towing trucks and powered pallet lift devices known as walkies. Such vehicles are used to move pallets, USPS mail transport equipment and other large mail containers off and onto trailers, at docks and between operations within a processing facility.

Much like an active RFID tag, each VAC holds a unique ID number associated with information on a particular vehicle, recorded in the PIVMS database. But Greg Smith, I.D. Systems' vice president of marketing, says VACs are more than just RFID tags, because they can facilitate two-way communication. "This is really a mini-computer," says Smith. "It has a lot of memory and functionality." The VACs communicate over a single channel in the 900 MHz band to gateways that can also process data and transmit it to client/server software for systems management, analytics, reporting, real-time location tracking and other functions.

Each VAC is wired to various sensors on the vehicles and contains built-in intelligence to process some of that data. A VAC also includes an LCD display screen, a keypad with 20 numeric and function keys and a proximity-card interrogator that reads the RFID tags embedded in USPS employees' ID badges. The maximum communication distance between a gateway and a VAC is 1,000 feet.

"The quantity of gateways installed varies widely with the size of the facility; some facilities may need only one; some may have dozens," Smith says. "Each VAC determines its own location based on the way it communicates with RF beacons located throughout the facility. The VAC generates special location data records periodically and transmits them to gateways. From there, the data is translated via database to a graphical software map of the facility."

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