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RFID News Roundup

Google takes NFC-enabled search service to Las Vegas; WinWare intros new RFID-enabled tooling, materials-management solution; IATA, GSMA publish paper on benefits of NFC RFID to airlines, travelers; academic researchers develop wireless sensor technology for bridge safety.
Mar 10, 2011The following are news announcements made during the past week.

Google Takes NFC-enabled Search Service to Las Vegas
Google is on the physical move again. The online search company is taking Hotpot, its relatively new search service that leverages Near Field Communications (NFC) technology, to Las Vegas. Last November, Google launched the service, which it describes as a local recommendation engine. Hotpot lets local patrons report on the businesses they like, by using their NFC-enabled mobile phones to scan short-range passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags embedded in "Recommended on Google" window decals adhered to business' store fronts (see Google Brings RFID-enabled Hotpot to Portland, Austin). Hotpot is an adjunct to Google's Place Pages, which feature Web pages that the search engine's users can access to find information regarding a particular business' hours of operation, as well as photos, videos, coupons, customer ratings and reviews. Place Pages are initially created by Google, but business owners can edit and update their individual pages, such as verifying Google search and maps information, responding to reviews, adding coupons or offers, and more. The NFC-enabled Hotpot NFC tags in the decals are encoded with ID numbers that instruct NFC-enabled phones to display the appropriate Place Pages associated with those businesses. The first Hotpot pilot projects to include NFC RFID technology took place in Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas, and on Mar. 4, Google kicked off a Hotpot campaign in Las Vegas. In a post on Google's Hotpot Community Blog, blogger Lior Ron said the service is a "personalized pocket guide to Vegas." To promote the service, Google has teamed up with the Las Vegas Monorail to distribute 10,000 free tickets, while supplies last at all stations. Google also started distributing the NFC-enabled "Recommended on Google" window decals. Las Vegas-area businesses can order customized kits via the Google Places Catalog, with a variety of items and tips that might encourage customers to rate the businesses on Hotpot and help bring the right customers through their doors.

WinWare Intros New RFID-enabled Tooling, Materials-Management Solution
WinWare Inc., which manufactures a system that leverages EPC Gen 2 RFID tags and readers to help companies manage tooling, spare parts or any indirect material at the point of use, has announced its CribMaster Total Tool Control Solution. The new solution is specifically designed for tightly controlled environments, such as those pertaining to aerospace manufacturing and aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), and includes Accu-Drawer, an RFID-enabled modular cabinet for the automated tracking of inventory internally equipped with RFID antennas. Upon walking up to the Accu-Drawer, a user must identify himself or herself by using the touch-screen monitor located on the top of the cabinet, or with a bar-code or proximity RFID badge scan, before the drawer can be released. Whenever RFID-tagged inventory is removed, the cabinet's RFID antennas capture the tagged items' unique ID numbers, and inventory levels are automatically adjusted and properly accounted for in the CribMaster software. On the cabinet's touch screen, an "Items Out" icon appears to inform users that something is missing from the cabinet. By touching that icon, a user can then determine which items have been removed, who took them and where they are being used. The CribMaster Total Tool Control Solution can also include fixed RFID interrogators that can be mounted on a floor or on a pole, as well as an all-in-one handheld RFID scanner. The mounted interrogators, typically placed at a facility's chokepoints, indicate where a tool was last seen, while the all-in-one handheld locates a tool within a particular area. With Total Tool Control Solution, if a tool were accidentally tossed in a trash can, was not returned and was thus assumed lost, taken or misplaced, a company could check the CribMaster software to determine where the tool was last recorded, and then utilize the all-in-one handheld scanner to move about that area. The handheld beeps when it locates the tagged tool. Available now, the solution can be customized to meet a customer's specific needs; with cost dependent upon the configuration requested.

IATA, GSMA Publish Paper on Benefits of NFC RFID to Airlines, Travelers
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade group comprising airlines around the globe, and the GSM Association (GSMA), an organization composed of licensed GSM mobile network operators and the technology vendors that serve them, have teamed up to produce a white paper detailing the benefits that Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID technology incorporated in a Universal Integrated Circuit Card (UICC)—also known as a subscriber identity module (SIM) card—can bring to airlines, airport authorities and travelers. The paper marks the basis of future collaboration between the two organizations to develop the ideas and concepts presented in this document. The 12-page paper, titled "The Benefits of Mobile NFC for Air Travel", is available as a free download at IATA's Web site, and details six different use cases in which the two organizations believe NFC technology can bring benefits, including passenger check-in, baggage check-in, security checkpoints, lounge access, boarding and post-flight services. Both GSMA and IATA indicate they have been strong proponents of NFC. In November 2008, for example, GSMA announced that it had asked cellular-phone manufacturers to include an NFC chip with a single-wire protocol and a SIM chip in all handsets they produce (see GSM Association Calls for NFC-Enabled Cell Phones). At the time, GSMA noted that the announcement was intended to spur the global use of NFC phones. The new white paper reports that major NFC chip makers predict 40 million to 50 million NFC phones or more will be available on the market by the end of 2011, citing recent data from Juniper Research indicating that approximately 52 million consumers will adopt new mobile technologies this year, such as NFC and other physical mobile-payment methods, to pay for everyday goods and services. Many airports are investigating the use of NFC to improve services. France's Nice Côte d'Azur Airport, for instance, is testing the technology's use in eliminating the need for plastic customer-loyalty cards, and in speeding up and simplifying such processes as passenger identification, security checks and the awarding of airport loyalty points (see RFID Makes Check-in Faster for Air France Passengers).

Academic Researchers Develop Wireless Sensor Technology for Bridge Safety
A pair of university professors say they have developed a radio transmission protocol and diagnostic algorithm for wireless sensor networks that enables the real-time streaming of sensor data to measure the local structural deterioration of highway bridges. The protocol is described in a scientific paper titled "Wireless vibration sensors track condition of highway bridges," authored by Matthew J. Whelan, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and Kerop D. Janoyan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Clarkson University, in Potsdam, N.Y. The paper was submitted and posted on the Web site of SPIE, an international scientific society. The professors note in their report that the current practice of schedule-based visual inspections does not guarantee bridges are closed prior to failure. Their solution calls for leveraging practices of Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) currently used in the aerospace and industrial sectors, in which built-in sensors actively monitor operational safety and inform maintenance decisions. They also point out that, while in recent years, "the advent of low-cost radio-frequency transceivers and ultra-low-power microcontrollers has led to a reinvestment in the use of sensor networks to monitor the structural health of U.S. bridges," there are several logistical obstacles, such as network size, bandwidth limitations, packet loss and local computational capabilities. What's more, they add, while prototype wireless systems have been used on actual highway bridges, "there has been little success in furthering diagnostics capabilities or demonstrating indication of structural deterioration using wireless systems." The team says it has developed and demonstrated a radio transmission protocol for wireless sensor networks enabling the real-time streaming of sensor data from wireless sensor arrays—as many as 60 channels sampled at 128 samples per second—without data loss. The arrays include such sensors as strain transducers, accelerometers and temperature sensors. According to the researchers, the system has been validated and refined through a series of field deployments on five bridges of various structural design, material and span length. The group also conducted a diagnostic study on an end-of-service-life highway bridge span. In this study, ambient vibration response was recorded prior to and following a series of prescribed, progressive structural damages introduced to local elements of the bridge. For example, the study included simulated controlled damage events using a hydraulic jack and the removal of intermediate diagram connection bolts. Thirty dual-axis accelerometers were distributed uniformly across the girders and interfaced with the wireless sensor network for remote, real-time transmission of the bridge’s dynamic response to traffic. In their published paper, the professors reported that the "integration of SHM strategies allows the transition to a condition-based maintenance model that will substantially improve the safety and economy of highway bridges." The researchers say they will continue to develop new wireless sensing approaches, and that they plan to install wireless sensor networks in bridges with known structural susceptibility. The team is currently redeveloping prototype systems to take advantage of newer chip transceiver technology that they say will improve data rates, increase communication range and reduce power consumption.
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