New Research Papers from the University of Arkansas

The RFID Research Center has released a report on the feasibility of item-level tagging in the apparel sector, and another on the politics of RFID.
Published: May 26, 2009

One big issue with any new technology is understanding what’s real and what’s not. Radio frequency identification is no exception. There has been a lot of talk about RFID not being reliable—I saw a headline just today, in fact, that said it’s “error-prone”—and that has scared off a lot of potential users, or at least kept them on the sidelines. But the truth is out there if you look for it.

The University of Arkansas’ RFID Research Center has been working to clarify the facts. To that end, the center has put out an excellent paper entitled “RFID Item-Level Tagging for Apparel/Footwear: Feasibility Study.” Written by David B. Cromhout and Bill C. Hardgrave of the University of Arkansas, and Deborah J. Armstrong of Florida State University, the paper describes a feasibility study conducted by the RFID Research Center, with participation from the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP), the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions Association (VICS), Dillard’s and Procter & Gamble. You can download the paper from the university’s Web site.

Researchers applied passive UHF Gen 2 EPC tags to a variety of clothing and footwear items that would typically be offered for sale by retailers. They then tested the ability to read the tags in various test scenarios that emulated—as practically as possible in a laboratory environment—normal store operations within the apparel and footwear sector.

The project team first identified use cases where RFID could deliver the most benefits to apparel and footwear providers, then set up prototypes in a lab environment to investigate the feasibility of RFID for each use case. The major use cases investigated included product lifecycle management, inventory management, loss prevention, dressing room management and point of sale.

For most scenarios, the team was able to read each tag every time. In certain cases, the read rate was only 99 percent. For instance, when reading clothes on a shelf, the researchers were only able to achieve a 99.72 percent accuracy rate. I would bet my house that if you employed a team of twenty-somethings to manually take inventory in your store with paper and pencil or bar codes, you would not achieve that level of accuracy.

The second paper released by the RFID Research Center is called “The Politics of RFID: The Issues,” written by Donald R. Kelly, director of the Fullbright Institute of International Relations at the University of Arkansas. The paper is not designed to be a practical guide for business people, but it is an extremely clear and well-thought-out description of some of the forces that drove 17 states to consider RFID-related legislation in 2006, and that influenced the European Union to create a commission to make recommendations on possible future regulation.

Those looking to understand the political issues and their ramifications would do well to begin with this paper, which takes no sides and makes no arguments, but which instead states the issues clearly to help companies understand the political forces at play. You can download the paper from the university’s Web site.