RFID News Roundup

By Andrew Price

SATO smart labels 14.9 cents each in low quantities—Gen1 now, Gen 2 next year; EU guidelines for tagging aircraft parts expected in early 2006; IBM offering RFID development tools; VeriFone provides Meijer Stores thousands of RFID readers for payments; schools adding auto-ID curriculum; new Alien resellers in Australia and Europe.

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The following are news announcements made during the week of Oct. 24.

SATO Smart Labels 14.9 Cents Each in Low Quantities—Gen1 Now, Gen 2 Next Year

SATO America, an RFID smart label converter based in Charlotte, N.C., is offering its 2,000-count rolls of 4- by 2-inch printable EPC Class 1 Gen 1 smart labels with inlays from Avery Dennison for 14.9 cents apiece. When SATO's EPC Class 1 Gen 2 smart labels with Avery Dennison inlays become available, likely in the first quarter of 2006, they will also cost 14.9 cents each, in 2,000-count rolls of of 4- by 2-inch printable labels. SATO America is timing the release of its Gen 2 labels to match that of the Gen 2 firmware upgrade of its CL408e printer-encoder. Last month, RFID systems provider RSI ID Technologies said the pricing of its 4- by 6-inch printable smart labels, with embedded EPC Class 1 Gen 2 inlays, is also 14.9 cents each, but for a minimum quantity of 1 million labels (see Avery Dennison, RSI ID Lower Price Bar).

EU Guidelines for Tagging Aircraft Parts Due in 2006

Early next year, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) expects to issue guidelines for tagging airplane parts. The agency says it will be closely in line with guidelines the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) published in June (see FAA to Publish Passive RFID Policy). Formed by the European Union, the EASA oversees civil aviation safety in Europe. In developing its RFID tagging guidelines, the agency is working with the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA), which will develop operating guidelines for using RFID in planes. Both Boeing and Airbus want to use passive RFID tags to track and maintain aircraft parts in their supply chain, and both have been working with aviation authorities to allow parts with passive RFID tags to be used on planes. After a series of tests on the potential effects of onboard HF and UHF tags, the FAA determined that passive-only RFID technology poses no risk to airplanes in flight as long as tags are read only when a plane is on the ground and not in operation. A spokesman for the EASA stressed that the only issue under consideration at the agency is the tagging of mechanical parts onboard an aircraft, and that no work is underway related to tagging passenger tickets or luggage, as incorrectly reported elsewhere.

IBM Offering RFID Development Tools

IBM's alphaWorks is offering two software tools designed to give early RFID adopters access to emerging technologies. The tools enable RFID applications developers to test IBM software that processes RFID tag data before making software and hardware investments in the technology. One offering includes the application level events (ALE) protocol, the EPCglobal standard application that filters, collects and processes EPC data collected by RFID readers. The preview is offered along with a 90-day trial of WebSphere and an RFID reader simulator, enabling developers to evaluate the ALE tool without needing RFID hardware. This free download package is available at alphaWorks' Web site. The other offering, the RFID Device Development Kit (DDK), is a collection of wizards, code generators and templates that, when used with IBM's Workplace Client Technology/Micro Edition software, allows programmers to develop and test new RFID applications. A free 90-day trial of the Workplace Client Technology/Micro Edition is also available, along with the DDK, at the alphaWorks Web site.

VeriFone Provides Meijer Stores Thousands of Readers

San Jose, Calif.-based VeriFone says it has added thousands of RFID payment terminals to the VeriFone Omni 7000MPD customer-facing point-of-sale terminals in Meijer Stores, a chain of grocery and general merchandise stores. As a result, the retailer can now accept payments using RFID-enabled credit cards. In August, Meijer announced it would begin accepting MasterCard's RFID-enabled PayPass cards at its 171 locations in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. Credit card issuer GE Consumer Finance is offering a Meijer Platinum MasterCard with PayPass, as well. Customers who use the card at Meijer earn points toward Meijer Bucks, which can be redeemed for merchandise. Cardholders accrue two points for each dollar spent at a Meijer store, one point for every dollar spent elsewhere. Cardholders can earn additional points through special seasonal offers and fuel purchases. According to VeriFone, Meijer was able to update its installed base of Omni 7000MPD systems over a three-month period without disruption of service to its customers.

Schools Adding Auto-ID Curriculum

In concert with the Stony Brook campus of the State University of New York, AIDC 100 has announced the creation of a new automatic identification technology curriculum at the college. AIDC 100 is a not-for-profit, professional organization that promotes the expansion of automatic-identification and data collection technologies, including RFID. The announcement was made during AIDC 100's annual meeting, held at SUNY Stony Brook on Oct. 27. The program is being developed with a $100,000 endowment in the form of a gift annuity. Intermec Technologies, Zebra Technologies, Hand Held Products, Metrologic and Lowry Computer Products are contributing to the program by donating hardware and scholarship funding. The donated hardware will be used in a working laboratory at the university, and students will be offered internship positions at automatic-ID companies. Students participating in the program will be eligible for an engineering degree with a minor in automatic identification, according to the university. In addition, Middlesex Community College in Lowell, Mass., will utilize a federal grant of more than $850,000 from the U.S. Department of Labor to establish an RFID program. The school will use the funds, awarded under a job-training program introduced by President George W. Bush in 2004, to equip a laboratory in Lowell, hire a new faculty member and provide administrative support. Students in the RFID program will learn to install and maintain RFID systems. The RFID program is expected to be in place by next fall.

New Alien Resellers in Australia and Europe

Sunshine Technologies, a provider of auto-ID technologies in Brisbane, Australia, has made a nonexclusive agreement with Alien Technology to resell Alien RFID reader and tag products to the Queensland market. As a value-added solutions provider, Sunshine Technologies will help its customers integrate Alien products with asset control and management solutions, focusing on such application areas as warehouse and logistics management, theft prevent, access control and pathology. ICT GmbH, a European distributor and integrator of industrial automation solutions, also announced a reseller agreement with Alien. The company, based in Münich, Germany, will sell Alien RFID interrogator and tag products in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. ICT says it will also expand its RFID business from the manufacturing industry into the logistics, supply chain and retail markets. It also plans to sell Alien-based RFID solutions for increased supply chain visibility, operating efficiency, and product safety and integrity.