The advent of new wireless and mobile technologies has produced a massive wave of innovative communication systems, but experts still say this is only the beginning. Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a new and ingenious method for automatically monitoring all manner of objects. It involves storing and retrieving data using devices called RFID tags, small transponders that can be attached to or incorporated into products, animals or even people.
“RFID has great potential for use in a wide variety of applications,” explains project coordinator Lucas Aahlstroem of Plefo Ab in Sweden. “Tags can be used to monitor the location and movements of high-value objects, but they can also monitor the workings of machinery, helping operators to plan more efficient and economical maintenance schedules.”
Based in Stockholm, Plefo Ab specialises in personal and material security alarm systems, and in localising protected objects using the worldwide Global Positioning System (GPS). Its UK partner, the Mannings group, supply RFID and barcode technologies, including hardware and computer systems. Together, they have developed the low-cost ARTSAFE system, comprising wireless RFID tags, a wireless tag reader, the system control computer and an alarm communication system.
No limit to possible exploitation
“These components work together in several different configurations to offer different levels of security and monitoring capacity for virtually all valuable objects,” explains Aahlstroem, “from a motorcycle helmet to the Mona Lisa to a 747 aeroplane.”
The system is suitable for virtually any indoor or outdoor environment, even places such as mines where radio signals do not propagate well and there may not be electrical power. “Multiple communication pathways, anti-jamming techniques, sophisticated encryption and multiple power sources all make it very difficult to fool our system,” says Aahlstroem.
One application now receiving particular attention is the monitoring of diesel driven pumps. “These pumps are portable and are supplied to hire companies for end user operations at building sites,” Aahlstroem explains. “Operation of hire equipment fitted with our RFID devices can be monitored in detail, providing information on overall run time, for example. This means better awareness of potential problems and better diagnostics in case of failure.”
Effective services for preventing loss and improving maintenance operations represent a great potential benefit for European businesses and citizens. The possibilities, it would seem, are limited only by the imagination, from the retail industry to museums and exhibitions, to airports and the nuclear power sector, and in corporate security and utilities.
“EUREKA is a great platform for co-operation between development teams,” says Aahlstroem. “Thanks to this project, we have had the chance to develop a product that we think is going to be a great commercial success. We have already entered into business agreements with several organisations and we see an even greater potential market to cover.”
Sally Horspool | alfa
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