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RFID: Context Aware and Location – a Brief History & Introduction

March 15, 2011 - 0 Comments

My distant relative - Flight Lieutenant KJP Granger (Royal Air Force) and his DH82A Gipsy Moth - did the forerunner of RFID save him from being shot down?

Some of the best technological advances are made during times of conflict. Sad that it should be so, but the silver lining is that many of the advances are focused on defending, protecting and shielding people. Active RFID, the kind of solution provided by Cisco and AeroScout, in many ways started out that way.

Looking back decades to WWII, radar was already being developed in ernest by the British in the run-up to the second world war. Many countries were developing radar at that time, but most folks agree that Robert Watson Watt, later Sir Robert, was the prime mover-and-shaker.  It took US marketing (in the form of the US Navy) to coin the term RADAR, for radio detection and ranging.

So where does Context Aware Location RFID come in? Well, whilst radar itself was useful, the  British needed to know whether those planes coming over the English Channel were returning Spitfires and allied bombers, or attacking Luftwaffe aircraft. It was the same Watson-Watt that helped produce the ‘Identification friend or foe’ (IFF) system that  used a transponder on the allied aircraft that was ‘excited’ by the radar system and actively sent back a signal to the base saying friend. My own cousin, Flight Lieutenant KJP Granger, Officer Trainer RAF, was grateful for that!

Now fast forward decades to today. The technology for today’s RFID is a little different, but the concept is the same. So let’s keep the aeronautical theme going and talk about Boeing and its use of RFID.     

Boeing is a hugely successful aircraft manufacturer. But as a manufacturer, they face the same operational and competitive pressures that many global discrete manufacturing companies do:  

  • Boeing were finding that WIP parts (sub-assemblies) were misplaced on the staging floor, forcing assembly to stop until they are found. 
  • Misplaced parts/tools result in low productivity for a highly-paid labor force.
  • Billing and productivity were being slowed due to a manual progress-logging system.

Added to this was the fact that Government aircraft assembly involves periodic tool audits, which carry heavy fines for missing tools. Boeing needed a solution. The solution came from Cisco and AeroScout along with Cisco Integrator World Wide Technologies (WWT) to enable tracking of  high-value WIP parts and highly mobile tooling using AeroScout tags and a Cisco WLAN. The joint solution has been joint interoperability tested, and has been installed at several other Cisco customers in recent years.

The benefits are profound. Cisco Access Points and AeroScout Location Receivers determine accurate location and movement of assets. Production progress is automatically logged based on location, reducing manual logging time. Audit fines are reduced, as all tools can be found in a timely fashion. Automated alerts warn if a part is removed prematurely, reducing the threat of assembly stoppage. All-in-all a strong payback for Boeing.

You can find out more about the solution by clicking here. There’s also an AeroScout Partner Solution Profile that tells you more about Aeroscout.

Many different technologies are supported with RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indication) the most prevalent, then TDOA (Time Difference of Arrival), along with others.  More about them next time when I answer some more questions.

Well, I’ve got to fly now, but next time I’ll be telling you about a new use case – a tire manufacturer and their use of RFID.

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