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DOD Completes Large-Scale Tests of Mesh-Networking Tags

The technology is being considered as a means for tracking high-value or mission-critical items, even in remote locations.
By Laurie Sullivan
The mesh network has the potential to eliminate the need to change business processes, Evans says. Most RFID technology requires fixed interrogators at every gateway, but this mesh network, he claims, provides visibility from virtually any location—without requiring it to remain in a fixed position. "We're not going to replace passive RFID with this technology," he states. "It's really for high-value items that range from $5,000 and up. Sometimes, the item isn't that expensive, but it's critical for the mission."

Jim Potter, ARINC's program director, says the tags are similar in size to a conventional active RFID tag (a bit larger than a pack of cigarettes), but can talk to each other until they pinpoint the infrastructure to transmit the information. "You can arbitrarily push stuff out in the field and introduce a gateway, which forms the mesh," he says. The gateway transmits an encrypted RF beacon, after which the tags receive the message, decrypt and authenticate it, and join the mesh network. "Once formed, mesh doesn't need anyone's help to communicate the information—it forms itself."

Multiple self-assembling NGWC configurations were deployed during the tests at Moffett Field. One test involved a network of 930 tags reporting through a single gateway. The tags, attached to the sides of buildings, were deployed to simulate asset storage at a large military depot, or on board a ship. A second network was also tested, with 54 nodes stretching half a mile, to simulate the transportation of assets by a railroad or truck convoy. LMI and U.S. Army personnel found that the mesh worked well, and there seemed to be no scaling limitations at the routing level. The DOD indicates that it is convinced the team met all major milestones, such as mesh security, reliability and speed.

As part of the 2009 Joint Logistics Over-The-Shore (JLOTS) exercise in mid-June, the U.S. Army utilized the NGWC logistics system to track hundreds of individual military assets—from cargo containers to Humvees—as they were loaded onto U.S. Navy transport ships at Norfolk, Va., and then shipped down the Atlantic coast and offloaded onto the beach at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

According to ARINC, the JLOTS exercise marked the Army's third successful major test of the system, in a series that commenced in 2008. Later this year, the company reports, the 36,000-acre Sierra Army Depot (SIAD) in California plans to deploy the NGWC logistics system for additional performance testing. The Army is also considering other potential deployments within the coming months.

The DOD's decision whether to deploy this system permanently is still pending. According to Evans, the department's effort could result in the use of mesh-networking tags by other U.S. governmental branches, such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for use with electronic seals on shipping containers.

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