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MIT Research Lab Taps RFID to Manage Files

The Research Laboratory of Electronics is using an EPC Gen 2 RFID system from Barcoding Inc. to manage thousands of funding proposals and other paper documents.
By Beth Bacheldor
The custom Web-based software developed by Barcoding runs on a nearby computer and keeps track of which documents have been checked out, and by whom. If an employee is unable to locate a particular document in the filing office, he or she can go to the computer, look up the name of the person associated with that particular document, and determine who has checked it out. Workers can also look up a file's status via the Web interface from the desktops in their offices. If the document is in a particular worker's office and that person does not recall its location, a Motorola MC9090-G handheld RFID reader can be utilized to find it. That same handheld can also be used to scan the shelves in case a document has been misfiled.

The reader leverages Motorola's so-called Geiger counter feature. Users input the tag ID numbers of any folders they are searching for, then move around the room. The device will begin beeping when it reads inputted tag ID numbers. "The MC9090-G will alert the users when they are close to the file," explains Jon Stroz, Barcoding's marketing manager. While the reader can't pinpoint a document's exact location, he explains, "it will give the user a very small window to look in," by alerting that individual that the document's folder is on a desk or on a particular shelf, thus eliminating the need to search an entire shelving unit or office.

The custom software also provides reports summarizing which documents are checked in and out, says Jack Nosek, a Barcoding software developer. In addition, the software is used to initially input documents into the system, and to correlate those records with the tags' unique ID numbers.

An administrative assistant has been transferring the files into new folders and affixing tags to them. To enter them into the system, the assistant selects the document type (personnel or proposal) from the list in the software, and fills out the fields required by the database. He or she then utilizes a handheld bar-code reader to scan a bar-coded ID number also on the tag (identical to the RFID tag's ID number) in order to associate the tag number with the document.

At times, Stroz says, bar-code technologies make more sense for organizations then radio frequency identification, because RFID is more intricate. That, he notes, was his firm's initial impression when it first met with the research lab. "Sometimes, we suggest to customers to look at bar-coding if they can get similar results, and we presented [to the RLE] a solution that involves bar-coding," he states. "But they said it took too long to scan the files in and out, so we presented the RFID solution."

Van Guilder reiterates Stroz's point. "We wanted to make this as painless and quick for people as possible," she says. "With the RFID system, all people have to do is walk by the system, wave the file in front of the reader, and touch their name on a screen. With bar-coding, they'd have to open up the file, pick up a scanner and scan it. And often people check out several files, so that could take a lot of time. While it might have only added 15 seconds, people might just decide to skip using the bar-code scanner and walk out with the files. Obviously, if people don't use the system, the system is useless."

The RLE began working with Barcoding in December 2008 to plan and implement the RFID system. The system has been up and running since February of this year. Approximately 2,000 files have been tagged to date, with 5,000 or more expected to be tagged in total.

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