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RFID Is Key to Car Clubs' Success
Hundreds of thousands of drivers worldwide prefer car-sharing to owing their own wheels—and they use an RFID-enabled card or fob to get in the driver's seat.
Before long, the organization was spending more time developing and managing the car access and reservation system than it intended to—so much so that this was inhibiting its ability to grow and raise awareness and participation in its car-sharing offerings. Therefore, it decided to spin off its reservations and RFID system, with Kusler at the helm of the new entity, to form a company called OpenCar Networks.
OpenCar Networks' goal, outside of maintaining the City CarShare reservations and RFID car-access system, is to license the technology to other car-sharing companies, both nonprofit and for-profit, Kusler says. Car-sharing companies in Austin (Texas), Cleveland, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Wilmington (Delaware) presently employ the OpenCar Networks system. The fobs issued by OpenCar contain passive 125 kHz RFID tags, with an RFID interrogator built into the company's dashboard-mountable computer. The member ID encoded to each driver's tag is protected with a 40-bit encryption key, he explains, so that only an interrogator inside an OpenCar computer can access the number. That number is encrypted to prevent the member ID from being read by an unauthorized party attempting to clone a legitimate card and use it to access one of the cars.
The RFID inlays and interrogators used by the OpenCar platform are supplied by Applied Wireless ID (AWID) and were originally produced for building access systems, wherein the readers are powered by a building's electrical system. When transferring that technology to the car-share platform, Kusler says, AWID and City CarShare needed to reengineer the AWID SR-2400 interrogator to lower its power requirements so it could run off a car's battery without depleting it. City CarShare's IT director, Bryce Nesbitt, says that early on, when the company had few members and some cars in the fleet were infrequently used, these actions were not enough—drivers sometimes found that the battery inside the car they intended to drive was dead.
City CarShare is now working with AWID to further refine its reader's power requirements so that, even though drivers no longer encounter dead batteries on a frequent basis, the issue will be eliminated. Looking further into the future, he says, City CarShare—which currently has 8,500 active members and a fleet of 250 vehicles—hopes to develop a partnership with public transportation systems in the San Francisco Bay area, so that the RFID-based fare card being tested by train and bus commuters might also be employed to access City CarShare automobiles parked near transit hubs. This would require that the firm migrate to a passive 13.56 MHz inlay and install interrogators able to read both these and the already-deployed 125 kHz fobs. "We would use only the ID number encoded to the transit card to identify the user," Kusler says, "and would continue to use our existing reservations systems to handle payments for the car use."
Eventually, he notes, the company hopes to offer a means for commuters to utilize cell phones equipped with RFID tags that follow the Near Field Communication (NFC) protocol to access the cars, by encoding the user's member ID to the tag inside the phone. "The XceedID XF1100 is our current choice for a multi-technology readers," says Nesbitt, "as it reads AWID, ISO 14443A and NFC."
In November 2007, Flexcar and Zipcar, the two largest car-sharing companies in North America, announced a plan to merge. As a result, Flexcar automobiles, which currently use the Invers system, will migrate to Zipcar's car-access system. Zipcar and Flexcar both issue RFID cards to drivers, who then present the cards to readers integrated in a dashboard-mounted computer. As with most car-share formats, Zipcar uses a cellular network to link the dashboard-mounted computers to its reservation system. The company has declined to provide RFID Journal with further details regarding its RFID cards and interrogators.
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