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RFID Solution Tries to Put the Brakes on Warehouse Accidents

Several consumer goods manufacturers are testing technology from Transmon Engineering to alert forklift drivers when they come within range of a pedestrian.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 01, 2012A half dozen global consumer goods manufacturers are trialing an RFID-enabled solution to reduce the risk of warehouse or yard vehicles colliding with pedestrians. The Pedestrian Alert System (PAS) is being used for this trial, provided by British materials-handling technology firm Transmon Engineering, which has sold warehouse-safety solutions utilizing RFID technology for the past five years.

Lift trucks and other vehicles typically operate at speeds of 5 to 7 miles per hour, and can be accident risks for pedestrians inadvertently walking into their paths. The noise levels within such environments, as well as insufficient safety training of either vehicle operators or pedestrians, can lead to accidents. Despite continued efforts by companies to improve safety, however, the rate of deaths from accidents involving vehicles in the workplace, such as forklifts, is approximately 11 annually, while the injury rate can be as high as 9,400 each year, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Many companies have attempted to segregate trucks and personnel by setting up specific traffic routes for those on foot, OSHA reports, but it is often impossible to separate them entirely. Therefore, Transmon's solution was designed to create an "electronic perimeter" around a vehicle, in order to give its driver sufficient time to apply brakes before a collision can occur.

Workers wear battery-powered RFID tags that alert drivers to their presence.
With the PAS system in place, a Transmon RFID reader is mounted on a lift truck or other vehicle. Each staff member is provided with a 2.4 GHz RFID active tag, in the form of a key fob. A Transmon AC-50 reader, mounted on a vehicle, can be set to interrogate tag IDs at a specific distance, based on signal strength. That distance can typically be adjusted from 0.5 meter (1.6 feet) to 6.5 meters (21 feet) in the front or back of the vehicle, and up to 4 meters (13 feet) on its sides, thereby providing 360-degree coverage. In that way, enough space is provided to allow the lift truck to be stopped safely before it can reach a pedestrian. The interrogator is attached to the vehicle's battery supply for power, while the key-fob tags use their own lithium batteries.

Each T-10 key fob transmits a unique ID number several times a second. That ID is not linked to the individual carrying the fob, since the system is intended only to detect collision risks and then prevent such accidents, not to store any records of events. In the event that a forklift's reader detects a tag within the specified distance, it can either sound a buzzer, illuminate a light on that vehicle, or automatically decelerate or apply the truck's brakes.

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