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Like the Car Industry, RFID Has Matured

Recent improvements in the technology have been substantial.
By Greg Stewart
Jun 27, 2010This month, my company, Orbiter, began installing an RFID asset-tracking system at the LeMay Family Collection Foundation, located in Tacoma, Wash., and home to the nation's largest automobile collection. A volunteer at the foundation, Bruce Fields, talked with me about the history of the major developments and improvements in the auto industry, from the beginning of the 20th century until the late 1960s. That history was an iterative process of various technologies, he explained, such as tires, transmissions, suspensions and roads, all developed together. It took until the late 1960s to complete most of the major technology advancements—more than 60 years of development.

This brought to mind the development of radio frequency identification over the years. In my 16-year history with RFID, changes in the technology have been substantial. I recall the early years, when software tools, processing power and integrated circuits were all rudimentary. Over the past two years, improvements in hardware and software have finally made dreamed solutions a reality.

The LeMay collection is a good example of this, as it would have been impossible five years ago to perform the integration easily. This is because the solution requires a robust handheld RFID reader from Motorola Solutions, and UPM RFID's new long-range DogBone tag. For the first time, a person standing at ground level can read passive RFID tags attached to the farthest vehicles, stacked three high.

Here are some other examples of new, advanced RFID improvements that made LeMay's deployment a reality:

Smart Readers: The industry took a long time to realize that smart readers (which operate with user-defined embedded code, providing increased functionality) were superior to the slave readers (which pass data directly to a server) that have been used in the past for many applications. With new mobile units, large amp-hour batteries allow eight hours of continued use. These readers, which we call sweepers, work similarly to a commercial vacuum cleaner, except they sweep data from RFID tags rather than warehouse dirt and dust. A user can simply walk down an aisle of tagged inventory and quickly sweep the device to detect tags on both sides of the aisle simultaneously, or use a handheld for detailed queries of individual items.

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