9/27/2004

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Contact: Michelle Ward, ITTC, (785) 864-4776

KU lab to test radio frequency identification tags that track inventory

LAWRENCE -- Researchers from the Information and Telecommunication Technology Center at the University of Kansas have established an independent laboratory to test radio frequency identification (RFID) tags used to track retail inventory.

KU has teamed with Rush Tracking Systems, a private RFID systems integrator in Lenexa, and RFID Journal, a leading media company in Hauppauge, N.Y., to create the RFID Alliance Lab.

The tags are microchips containing tiny antennae that allow products to be tracked in their supply chain, said Daniel Deavours, assistant research professor and the technology center's principal investigator on the project. The lab will assess how well RFID tags perform in ideal conditions and when placed on various products.

RFID tags "listen" for a radio query and respond by transmitting a unique identification code. Most tags are passive, with no internal power source. They are far less expensive and smaller than active tags, which have batteries, and use the power from the initial radio signal to transmit a response.

The tags are emerging as an important supply chain technology, said Toby Rush, president of Rush Tracking Systems. The U.S. Defense Department and such businesses as Albertsons, Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart have said that they will require their suppliers to use RFID tags for inventory tracking.

Such suppliers need objective information about the performance of tags in real-world conditions. The RFID Alliance Lab is the first non-profit research lab established to provide this critical data.

The vast majority of product information available today is from the manufacturers, Rush said. His customers kept coming to him with the same question: Which tag and reader work best? Rush said he realized an unbiased third party was needed for performance testing.

Rush contacted the RFID Journal about helping support a laboratory. The journal saw the need for objective data on tags and readers, said Mark Roberti, its founder and editor.

"Right now, hundreds of companies are purchasing tags and readers and performing the same tests to determine which will work with their products," Roberti said. "This is time-consuming and wastes resources,"

Researchers at the KU center are evaluating a variety of tags from different manufacturers. They will test the speed and the distance at which tags can be read. It also will examine how different types of products, such as metal cans, affect the tags˙ performance.

Tests will be done through the fall, and the technical performance and benchmarking reports will be available for purchase.

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