RFID Goes to School

By Andrew Price

Over the past 18 months, many universities have jumped on the RFID bandwagon and opened RFID labs.


University labs typically have two functions: to educate students about an important emerging technology and do applied research, in conjunction with commercial enterprises, to develop new technology or business processes. A lot of money is being put into the labs, but is anything coming out?

Though university labs are still in their infancy, it’s already clear that they will play a significant role in the development of the RFID industry. Some are doing work that could lead to better-performing products. For example, researchers with the University of Kansas’ Information and Telecommunication Technology Center, which runs the RFID Alliance Lab, have developed an RFID tag they claim offers superior performance when applied directly to objects containing metal or liquid. (Full disclosure: RFID Journal put up funding to help launch the RFID Alliance Lab.)

Many universities are jumping on the RFID bandwagon.

Some labs are undertaking major research initiatives with private companies. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich has launched a project dubbed PROMISE (for product life-cycle management and information tracking using smart embedded systems) with a budget of 15 million euros ($18.6 million), including 7 million from companies and 8 million from the European Union. The goal is to use RFID and other technologies to track the life cycle of car and airplane parts and other assets (see “Smarter Products Is Smart Business,” January/February 2006).

Cambridge University in the United Kingdom has launched the Aerospace ID Technologies Program, a partnership between the Auto-ID Labs and industrial organizations, including Airbus, Boeing, BAE Systems, BT and T Systems, and standards organizations, including ATA, EPCglobal and SITA. The group is researching a number of issues specific to the aerospace sector, including how to use RFID and other technologies to reduce the counterfeiting of airplane parts.

And some university labs are producing graduates who will deploy or oversee the deployment of RFID systems at companies, alleviating the current shortage of people with RFID skills. A number of students in the School of Packaging at Michigan State University interned at Kimberly-Clark‘s internal RFID lab in Neenah, Wis., and wound up being hired after graduation.