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Real-World Experiments

Academic applied research is moving RFID in new directions.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Feb 01, 2007—Researchers in university labs have the freedom to think creatively about radio frequency identification technologies. They can tackle any business or societal problem without worrying about whether it leads to a commercially viable project. They also can tap their university's vast pool of talent in areas outside of RFID. As a result, companies are turning to professors and students to develop new solutions for their business problems.

BloodCenter of Wisconsin worked with the University of Wisconsin-Madison RFID Lab to assess whether RFID technology could be used to improve its bar-code track-and-trace system for securing a steady supply of blood, starting with the donation sites and ending with the recipients of the blood in a hospital.

Rodeina Davis, BloodCenter's vice president and chief information officer, chose to work with the lab because it would provide objective advice and present empirical evidence regarding which frequencies and protocols were best to address her company's business and safety needs. The results of the testing were so promising that Davis is now working to amend the International Society of Blood Transfusion standards for blood labeling. She organized a steering committee—consisting of representatives from the RFID industry, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, and EPCglobal—to develop frequency and application protocols for high-frequency RFID inlays in labels.

At California Polytechnic State University, students and professors in the school's RFID Research and Development Laboratory are collaborating with California produce growers to develop a system to track produce, from the field in which it is grown to the point of sale or consumption. Growers want a quicker and more accurate way to manage inventory in the event of a recall, such as those forced by recent widespread E. coli outbreaks.

To develop the produce-tracking application, the researchers are looking at existing RFID technology with a fresh eye. "When we talk to small companies, they are not always interested in a real-time locating system—they want something more simple and affordable," says Scott Swaaley, a Cal Poly graduate candidate in electrical engineering. The goal is to create a low-cost, simple system that growers—who already operate on very thin margins—can afford and easily deploy and maintain in remote areas without much supervision.
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