Venice Tracks Vehicles with RFID

By Ed Sutherland

March 02, 2005

Italy's historic city of canals has to keep track of thousands of tourists' cars ever year while they are parked in the port. Wi-Fi is making it easier.

Combine historic Venice, Italy with millions of automobiles and you have the perfect test of Wi-Fi-based RFID. San Mateo, Calif-based AeroScout accepted the challenge to bring a confusing vehicle tracking system into the wireless future.

While vehicles for locals are banned from Venice in favor of gondoliers moving along watery canals, the ancient city still receives a crush of automobiles from the many visiting tourists. Located closest to the city, the Port Authority of Venice parking facility must keep track of vehicles. In hope of spreading the use of RFID along the Adriatic coast, AeroScout's Italian partner Teleporto Adriatico (TPA) sees Venice as an ideal testbed.

"The Port of Venice is proof positive of the established demand and business case for this technology," according to Andris Berzins, vice president of marketing and business development at AeroScout.

Advantages of Wi-Fi-based RFID for the port include increased efficiency, quick response to customers and reduced theft, according to a statement.

"This is a vehicle-specific application" of Active RFID, says Berzins. The company's RFID tags, which are usually mounted flat on other types of assets, have been adapted for tracking vehicles.

"We have tag accessories called 'tag hangers' that are plastic plates with a hook specially designed for easily hanging them on the rear view mirror of a car," says Berzins.

Although unable to give a specific figure for the amount of traffic flowing through the Venice port, between 13 million and 15 million tourists visit the scenic Italian city each year.

The port "serves all the vehicles that need to have access to the port area," says Berzins. "This is the yard that is closest to the port itself, which is in the city of Venice."

Visitors must register with the port in order to park. The port, in turn, closely monitors the vehicles. Before RFID was introduced, the Venice port used a very low-tech method of keeping track of tourist vehicles.

"The previous solution was a manual, paper-based system of tickets in vehicles," says Berzins.

"In the port environment, continuous movement of high-value items such as vehicles results in confusion, efficiency loss and ultimately lower profits for port operators and their customers," according to Berzins.

Simple, or passive, RFID would not gather enough information for such an ever-changing environment.

The Venice port needed to "be able to easily locate a specific vehicle," says Berzins. "Passive RFID would only have given them entry and exit information, no more."

Unlike passive RFID, which is limited in range and ability due to the low power from the RFID reader, active Wi-Fi-based RFID tags have their own power source, allowing for longer range and continuous operation.

Using AeroScout's Visibility System, the Venice port "can now assign an AeroScout tag to each vehicle, and track that vehicle's accurate location on the lot at all times," according to a company statement.

With the AeroScout system, active RFID tags transmit brief messages about a vehicle's location via an 802.11b Wi-Fi network. The software-driven AeroScout Engine collects and processes the information.

Also in use at the Savannah, Ga.-based American Port Services (APS), the Aeroscout RFID system monitors the mileage of transportation vehicles as well as the location of trailers and cargo as it is moved around the 60-acre yard.

The cross-docking facility is "operated by APS on behalf of the world's largest retailer." While not naming names, the retailer in question likely is Wal-Mart, a leading proponent of passive RFID. The big-box retailer has mandated suppliers use RFID technology throughout its stores and shipping areas. Wal-Mart reads RFID tags attached to goods as they arrive at stores and then again when items are moved to the sales floor.

More RFID

The United States Postal Service hopes RFID will help speed delivery of the nation's mail. The USPS is working with Unisys to use RFID to track postal service vehicles.

In Bangkok, Thailand, the city intends to use RFID as part of a plan to reduce snarled traffic. Parking garages will employ radio frequency identification to automatically locate an empty spot.

In 2004, WhereNet announced a vehicle tracking system for auto manufacturers that keeps tags on an auto's location from the moment it rolls off the assembly line.

WhereNet's WhereTag RFID device is linked to a vehicle's VIN number. The tag remains with the vehicle as it makes its way through assembly and final delivery, either to a showroom or a rental company. The process reduces by up to three days the time it takes for customers to take possession of a vehicle, according to WhereNet.

In the UK, RFID is being used in conjunction with auto license plates. The same size as ordinary license plates, the so-called e-plates transmit an encrypted code which matches a vehicle's registration information, color—even whether your car insurance is paid up. The RFID readers can read multiple e-plates, receiving data even at 200 mph and 300 feet away.

While RFID is being used to track cars and containers, employing RFID tags to track people has drawn the ire of civil libertarians. Parents of Brittan, California elementary and middle school students bristled at the recent news the school district will begin requiring children wear badges with embedded RFID tags.

The badges, from area-based InCom Corp. will track attendance and reduce trespassing, according to the school and company.

Along with AeroScout, PanGo Networks and Ekahau are also using Wi-Fi-based active RFID for real-time tracking of assets.



Comment and Contribute
(Maximum characters: 1200). You have
characters left.