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Western Kentucky University Builds Its Own RFID System for Parking Management

The in-house project includes a UHF RFID-enabled van that drives through open lots to collect tag reads, as well as RFID-enabled gates at closed lots to provide access control with a long read range.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 25, 2018

Western Kentucky University has built a radio frequency identification system to manage its parking enforcement that employs a university-owned van, equipped with an RFID reader and antennas, to capture the tag ID number of each car permitted to park within a lot, thereby saving the amount of time required to confirm permitted vehicles. In fact, the solution has reduced the time workers spend examining car stickers at one of the school's largest lots from six hours down to only four using a handheld RFID reader, and to approximately 15 minutes with the van. The RFID solution, which includes software, a van reader and gates, was built in-house, says Kevin Werner, WKU's IT consultant for parking and transportation.

WKU is a public university located in Bowling Green, Ky., which sits on a hill that overlooks the Barren River valley. Its main and satellite campuses accommodate around 20,000 students. The school provides on-campus parking within about 76 lots, for a total of approximately 7,300 spaces, paid for via annual permits purchased by students and faculty members. Five of those lots feature gates to physically prevent those without passes from entering.

Werner joined the university in 2007 with a background in technology (he had been a network administrator for the automotive division of Johnson Controls), so he began seeking technological improvements that could be made to the parking system. When he arrived, the school was using AWID proximity tags that commuters tapped against a receiver to unlock gates to the restricted lots. This proved to be time-consuming, he says. The delays were causing traffic jams at one of the garages, Werner recalls, and the tags themselves were costly (about $3 each). Therefore, throughout the years, Werner began looking into better options.

In 2012, Werner swapped out the proximity card version for a UHF RFID system with Nedap uPass Reach readers installed at lot entrances. The company purchased a Printronix SL4M printer and began printing its own standard adhesive Alien Technology UHF RFID tags attached to hangtag permits. "With the tag cost so low," Werner states, "we were able to afford applying the tags to all 11,500 permits per year."

Each time a driver purchased a permit, he or she was then linked to the unique ID number in the university's software system. As the driver arrived at the lot, the reader captured that person's tag ID from a distance of several meters. The software confirmed the ID number was authorized, and the gate then opened, without requiring the driver to come to a full stop. The software also provides the university with analytics regarding when the lot is full, how often drivers park there and for how long, enabling it to better manage future permit sales.

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