How Can I Track Expensive Guns?

By RFID Journal

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Ask The ExpertsHow Can I Track Expensive Guns?
RFID Journal Staff asked 10 years ago

Can I use RFID to track them, or is that technology no good for this purpose? And what would be the right solution to implement?

—Name withheld


You can use radio frequency identification technology, but the right solution depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you are a distributor or a retailer and you want to automatically record the receipt of individual firearms and manage inventory, then a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) system will likely work well for your needs.

Two gun distributors—American Tactical Imports (ATI) and AmChar Wholesale—are utilizing this type of solution from Annapolis, Md., logistics-management software firm AdvanTech Inc. to help them track firearms passing through their facility. The solution involves the attachment of EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to guns, and the use of fixed and handheld RFID readers to determine goods' locations as they are received at ATI's and AmChar's Rochester warehouse, as well as when they are shipped to gun shops or other customers. A retailer could employ a similar system to track the firearms' arrival and sale. In fact, AmChar is also marketing AdvanTech's RFID solution to its retailers (see Firearms Distributors to Track Guns Via RFID).

The challenge with using passive UHF RFID technology on guns is attaching a tag to the gun itself, which is composed of metal. There are tags designed to work on metal, but these typically have a piece of foam behind the tag to separate it from the metal, which prevents the antenna from being detuned. The tag can be damaged in normal operation or interfere with the use of the gun, which is obviously something you don't want. Additionally, if you are tracking guns in a gun rack, the amount of metal present can make it difficult to read tags consistently, since the radio waves would be reflected by the metal.

But passive UHF has been used in this application. In 2010, we reported that the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), had installed an RFID-based system at an armory within one of its facilities in the Washington, D.C, area. The system enables the department to store an electronic record of which personnel have taken and returned which weapons, while also automating the checkout process. The RFID system can also issue alerts if an unauthorized event occurs. The system, known as EasyArms, was provided by ODIN, an RFID solutions provider and systems integrator based in Ashburn, Va. (see U.S. State Dept.'s Security Bureau Checks Out Weapons-Tracking RFID App).

Several police departments and militaries have adopted RuBee technology. RuBee uses low-frequency (131 kHz) and long-wave magnetic signals, rather than short-wave radio signals. This enables RuBee-based systems to operate normally around metal, which makes it a good choice for weapons tracking.

Lockheed Martin's Information Systems and Global Solutions (IS&GS) division recently began marketing a solution for government agencies that can detect the movement and, in some cases, condition and operation of weapons and ammunition. Lockheed Martin provides installation, integration and enterprise-level management of the technology (see Lockheed Martin Offers RuBee Solution for Monitoring Munitions).

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal

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