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RFID Lures Maker of Electronic Lobster Callers

Used to entice lobsters into traps, the gadgets are fitted with EPC Gen 2 tags, enabling the manufacturer to monitor which fisherman are using which devices—and get paid accordingly.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 08, 2007Last September, Aquatic Behavioral Technologies (ABT) began leasing its E-Bait devices, which emit sounds intended to lure spiny lobsters into the traps of fishermen in the Caribbean and Florida. To track each box-shaped unit as it travels from the factory to the distributor, onto boats, underwater and back to the distributor again, the company has fitted each one with a passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tag. As a result, ABT can better manage its inventory of Lobster Callers from its home office in Atlanta.

A lobster fisherman places the gadget in a lobster pot, then lowers it under the water, where it "calls" to lobsters, luring them into the cage. ABT manufactures the devices, leasing them to lobstermen at a monthly rate.

Jeremy Black
Every 40 days, the lobstermen must bring the units to a local fishing-supply distributor for battery recharging. ABT pays the distributors to recharge and redistribute the Lobster Callers. After the units begin losing their charge, fishermen check them in at a participating distributor, which issues replacements and recharges those that have been returned. Without an automated tracking system, it would be difficult for ABT to manage which fishermen had which devices, who might have stolen another lobsterman's units, or even who might be missing devices and have failed to return them all.

Billing would be another problem without the automated system, says ABT CEO Jeremy Black, because the company would be reliant on each distributor to keep track of how many devices every lobstermen checked out, and for how long. With hundreds of units going in and out of a distribution center at a time, it would be easy for a lobsterman to bring back the wrong quantity of units, or even someone else's. The company considered using bar-coded tags to identify individual Lobster Callers, but did not believe the bar codes would remain readable after being submerged in seawater, where barnacles can quickly grow onto the sides of the devices and obscure a tag.

At an RFID conference last year, Black says, he met with Kevin Price, CEO of software developer and integrator AccuCode, and together they began devising a plan. "They needed a way to track the devices that would require no sophisticated knowledge or training for distributors," Price explains.

Within about six weeks, Black recalls, an RFID system was set in place that could track each E-Bait device in real-time from the point of manufacture to the specific lobster fisherman to whom it had been leased.

When assembling the devices in a Colorado factory, ABT employees place a passive Motorola EPC Gen 2 RFID tag with a unique ID number into a unit and seal it up. This keeps the tag dry, even underwater. ABT personnel then move cases containing 24 units apiece past a Motorola XR480 stationary RFID interrogator, which captures all the ID numbers. That data is sent via a wireless Internet connection directly from the reader to an ABT server in Atlanta, where the data is stored.

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