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Technology / AI and automation

Boats and planes, but still no take-off for RFID

Currently the hot topic in the US is RFID for shipping containers. This has gained prominence with the news that Dubai Ports World is acquiring P&O, which runs six major US ports: New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami, and New Orleans. This takeover has caused concerns for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about the number of unauthorized containers that enter the US. To combat this, the DHS is investigating the use of RFID tags incorporated into a security seal on containers, with ports having the ability to identify any untagged containers before they leave the port.

Meanwhile, in Europe and the US, the aviation industry is leading the way in RFID projects, with baggage handling being the focus. According to Mr Schrama, the cost to the industry of every misplaced item of baggage (their term for lost luggage) is $100, and the industry has a 97% success rate.

When you consider that passenger numbers at Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted are expected to rise from 121 million a year now to 162 million a year by 2015 (according to airport operator BAA), the cost per year for these three airports alone is currently $36.3 million, rising to $48.6 million by 2015. If the RFID technology only reduces the number of misplaced items by 20%, the annual saving will still be approximately $8 million.

With benefits in this order of magnitude, why is RFID still being talked about in terms of becoming ‘the next big thing’? The answer most widely touted is that RFID tags and readers have been waiting for the generation 2 (gen 2) technology to be approved by the various standards organizations. While gen 2 waits for the ISO 18000-6 type C approval, Symbol Technologies has announced the release of Symbol XR480, an industrial-class RFID reader that supports today’s European RFID standard (ETSI 302-208). According to Mr Schrama, Symbol has successfully tested the interoperability with US, European, and Chinese tags as part of a major European project.

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However, waiting for a standard seems a poor excuse as to why projects with a clear return on investment (ROI) have not been taking place. On further investigation, it appears that there are still a few things left causing the problem, with one of them being the number of channels allocated.

In Europe, only 10 channels have been allocated to RFID (compared to 25 in the US), which means that in deployments where more than 10 docking portals are needed, there is a risk of duplicate tag reading. This appears to be a key reason why RFID in Europe has been restricted to a handful of projects. The industry is waiting for proposals about how to maximize the use of these allocated channels, and the current favored approach is some form of channel sharing. However, whatever the final solution, vendors will have to modify existing systems, or bring out upgraded products. Therefore, until this issue has been resolved, RFID projects will be restricted by the channel limitations.

Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (

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CBR Staff Writer

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