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Ultra-Wideband RFID Tracks Nuclear Power Plant Workers

Radiation measurements, combined with real-time location information, enable managers to track workers and assess safety based on radiation exposure.
By Jill Gambon
Ubitags operate at 5.8 to 7.2 GHz and transmit a unique 32-bit ID number to RFID interrogators—boxes approximately 6 inches tall and networked through Ethernet cabling. The Ubitags are read 10 times per second, Hughes says, though only one or two are in use at any given time. The Ubisense system employs a minimum of four interrogators are to create cells throughout a building, or across a campus.

At Sellafield, cells can be as large as 15 meters by 15 meters in size. So far, two cells have been configured. The Automess 6150 AD records and transmits the dose rate approximately once per second. "The Automess itself does not transmit data," Hughes says. "We use a radio modem to do that. It transmits at a standard radio-modem frequency."

The interrogators read the tags from as far as 150 feet away, then forward the data to the Ubisense Smart Space software platform, integrated into an organization's existing information system. Unlike conventional RFID systems, which operate on single bands of the radio spectrum, UWB sends a signal over multiple frequency bands simultaneously, from 3.1 GHz to 10.6 GHz. UWB signals are also transmitted for a much shorter duration than those used in conventional RFID. Last month, the European Union spelled out conditions for using ultra-wideband technology across the European Union (see EC Spectrum Decision Expected to Boost UWB RFID Adoption).

With an estimated price tag of $126.5 billion, the ongoing nuclear power plant decommissioning efforts in the United Kingdom are a costly undertaking. Green says this ability to monitor the radiation exposure and manage workers in real time can improve productivity.

Vishnu Sivadevan, a research analyst with consulting and market research firm Frost & Sullivan, agrees that Ubisense's RTLS products can boost productivity and also improve worker safety. Research has proven UWB technology to be well suited for harsh indoor environments, he says, making UWB-based products "highly suited for locating and tracking people in nuclear facilities." Sivadevan believes Ubisense RTLS products have demonstrated a high degree of location accuracy, which he says is imperative in a setting such as a nuclear power plant. "The safety of the employees working in such environments is improved considerably."

According to Green, Ubisense recently landed two other nuclear power customers, one in Canada and another in France, that also plan to incorporate the RTLS technology into their radiation-detection systems. Overall, business is picking up for the five-year-old company—last year, he says,, it doubled the number of its customers to about 165. Those customers include the U.S. Army, which is using Ubisense technology to track soldiers on training missions at Fort Benning (see U.S. Army Uses UWB to Track Trainees), and Fish Software, a maker of interactive tools for trade shows and consumer events, which is using the company's RTLS to help identify and monitor trade-show attendees (see UWB to Help Sales Staff Fish for Leads).

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