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Auto-ID Lab Opens in Switzerland

The Auto-ID Center's new lab at the University of St. Gallen will focus on the business benefits of deploying EPC technology.
By Bob Violino
Tags: Standards
Apr 07, 2003April 8, 2003 - The Auto-ID Center today opens a lab in the heart of continental Europe, with a facility at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. The establishment of the new lab formalizes a two-year relationship between the center and the university, and it gives the center a centrally located facility where companies within in continental Europe a place to go to learn about its Electronic Product Code (EPC) technology.

The Swiss lab will be headed by Elgar Fleisch, professor for technology management and director of the Institute of Technology Management at the University of St. Gallen. "Our aim is to look at EPC technology from a business point of view," says Fleisch. "We want to examine business strategies and see where it will help now and in the future."
Elgar Fleisch

The lab grew out of something called M-Lab, a joint project between The University of St. Gallen and ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). The two universities teamed up to study mobile and ubiquitous computing in the business environment and soon realized that auto-identification was a key application. It began working with the Auto-ID Center and helped developed the Product Markup Language that the center hopes will be used to enable computers to understand basic characteristics of the physical world.

"We've been working with [St. Gallen and ETH], which have a close relationship, for about two years," says Kevin Ashton, executive director of the Auto-ID Center. "We reached a point where they are so involved in our research that it is only right and reasonable to turn the work they are doing into a fully-fledged Auto-ID Center lab."

Fleisch says that M-Lab research revealed that business could only generate value with an auto-ID infrastructure by creating new industrial services that change processes. One area of research will focus on how to design callback, track-and-trace and other industrial services. The group would like to create methodologies for designing integrated products and services that any company could use to deploy auto-ID technology quickly and successfully.

The lab will also do research into sensor networks, how to create a large-scale auto-ID infrastructure, and how to integrate auto-ID technology with legacy systems. "Auto-ID is about investing in a new infrastructure," says Fleisch. "There are a lot of good reasons for doing so. It's a complex field, and we want focus on how companies can manage the adoption of auto-ID technologies."

The Auto-ID Center is eager to promote the adoption of EPC technology in Europe (see Will Europe Embrace the EPC?). The new lab gives the center a presence in the center of Europe, where anyone can drive to learn about its work, see demonstrations. The center has had a lab in Cambridge, England, since 2001. A lab will open in China next month. Even though the center plans to launch its technology officially at a symposium from Sept. 15 to 17, the labs will continue to do research on the technology.

"There is a lot more basic research to be done on extending and improving the system," says Ashton. "It's not a case of the Auto-ID Center dusting ourselves down on Sept. 18 and walking away. We're just figuring out what the really interesting questions might be, so there is a great need for ongoing research. In high-tech you can't just stand still."

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