Google India Uses RFID to Locate Shared Equipment

By Claire Swedberg

At its corporate offices, the search engine company's Indian division is using Google Maps and EPC Gen 2 RFID technology to track thousands of electronic devices.

Google India a division of search engine company Google, is using an RFID system to track up to 100,000 of its assets at its offices. ARIES Visualizer, provided by Cincinnati RFID middleware company Analytica USA, allows Google employees in Indian offices to locate their electronic assets on a Web-based platform that includes a Google Maps feature.

Google's staff members share the use of thousands of electronic devices, including laptop computers, projectors, monitors and external hard drives. To foster a company climate of open sharing of tools without bureaucracy, Google India wanted a wireless tracking system.

Analytica USA's Vikram Seshadri

The company had already affixed bar-coded labels and standard UHF EPC Gen 2 tags to many of its electronics for tracking purposes, and in either case it would conduct regular inventory audits that often required employees to spend several weeks going cubicle to cubicle scanning the bar codes and RFID tags of every piece of equipment. That data was then compared against inventory lists in the company's back-end system. But Google not only wanted the ability to learn an item's most recent known location, but also wanted to be able to easily see that location on a map-like format of the office. The company's requirements included the ability to not only capture the ID number of an item but also to locate it in the office specific to a room or cubicle.

Google approached several vendors for a solution, but what it liked about the Analytica USA's system, says Google India IT manager Chandrasekhar Varma, was its flexibility. "In our research, Analytica stood out with their solution based on ARIES and their flexibility to customize the solution to suit our requirements. This was the primary reason for us choosing Analytica."

"We are not tied to any specific hardware," says Analytica president Vikram Seshadri. "We have flexibility, and when we looked at their requirements we could say, 'You tell us what you want this system to do.'"

Analytica spent about one year developing a system that uses a Web-based platform to provide the location of assets with a Google Maps screen display. Google not only wanted the mapping technology, it also wanted the data to be available on the company's Intranet.

Analytica designed a system that uses the standard UHF EPC Gen 2 tags that Google India had already affixed to its assets, as well as additional tags that were subsequently attached to cubicle walls and other locations throughout the office. On an Aries-hosted Web-based server, each ID number is associated with data that describes the tagged asset and provides a location of the tagged cubicle. When an employee carries an ARIES handheld RFID interrogator through a site, the device reads all tag ID numbers. Each asset is then linked with the cubicle or room RFID tag, which allows the system to pinpoint the asset's location. When an authorized person uses a computer to log onto the Web-based server, the computer screen shows the asset's location on a floor plan of the facility, allowing that person to drill down to a very specific location when seeking a piece of equipment by simply pointing and clicking the mouse on an item or location.

The system uses Analytica USA's UHF passive RFID tags and handheld interrogators developed from off-the-shelf EPC Gen 2 hardware.

Google India installed the system at its Hyderabad campus in early 2008, and during the past six months, it has tested it in three buildings at that location with a total of eight floors. The company initially purchased 100,000 tags, of which it has thus far used about 50,000 for tagging locations as well as electronics that do not already have RFID tags attached to them.

Based on the success of that pilot, the company has begun deploying the system in Bangalore and eventually will expand it to all the Google India offices. "We have rolled out the solution in one office and are at an advanced stage of rolling out the same in all other offices in India," says Varma. In addition to Hyderabad and Bangalore, Google India has offices in Mumbai and Delhi. The system could be rolled out to Google offices in other countries, Vikram says, although no such installations has taken place yet.