Friday, October 30, 2009

MIT Auto ID & Sensing Expo

The RFID Special Interest Group ran this event for the local RFID community at MIT in Cambrige, MA. The Expo provided a chance to educate, network and collaborate among the RFID community of the MIT Enterprise Forum so I could not resist attending this nice event in our own backyard.

There were 2 keynote speakers, Sam Madden (Assoc. Prof at MIT) and Carlo Ratti (Dir, Senseable City Lab). Prof. Madden discussed the CarTel Mobile Sensor Network where they had built applications on top of a system of wireless car sensors riding on taxis and volunteer cars around the city. They collect position, speed, etc. from the car's electrical system and GPS plus have an accelerometer and transmitter unit to send the data to the network. They even can detect and map potholes. They have mapped the size and position of all of the potholes in Cambridge and even verified the data with cameras. They collect the data via open WiFi networks and have a web interface where you can track the vehicles in real time, see trip history and even calculate the best routes via real time traffic information.

I was not able to stay for Carlo Ratti's presentation but it focused on the Trash Tracking project that MIT has been doing which I remember seeing in the news recently. TrashTrack uses hundreds of small, smart, location aware tags and tracks the trash through the waste management system. The system hopes to understand the removal chain to achieve 100% recycling in the future.

There were table top exhibits from market research companies, universities, industry organizations, RFID suppliers and RFID integrators. Some of the well known names attending were Zebra, Alien, ThingMagic, EPCglobal, Nokia, and NXP. There were over 40 organizations participating which is great for a local event.

I made the rounds from table to table and found the following interesting tidbits:
  • Conair, the small appliance manufacturer/importer, has a RFID division that supplies smart cargo tags, RFID labels and GPS tags. They have negotiated a RFID tag price under 10 cents as manufacturers continue the quest for the 1 cent tag
  • Alien and ThingMagic have Gen 2 reader units now with integrated antennas on top of them which I had not seen. The ThingMagic unit uses a custom Laird antenna mounted directly on their reader and the Alien unit has the antenna integrated into the reader top.
  • NXP was showing off ICs for LF, HF and UHF smart tags - I was not really aware they had such a broad offering of ICs for RFID. They have various options for memory, authentication, power, data rate, etc.
  • I still love the Ford RFID tool tracking system available on F-series trucks and E-series vans. It uses a ThingMagic system and is done in association with DeWalt tools. When the vehicle is started or the system initiated, the antennas in the truck bed scan for the tagged tools and take an inventory to let the user know if anything is missing from their list of tools that is stored in the system.
  • It has always been difficult to tag metal products with RFID tags that will be accurately read but Emerson & Cuming has developed specialized standard and custom designed tags that solve this problem. The have several versions from thin to flexible types for most any application.

What interesting RFID products or applications have you come across lately???

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