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RFID reader can now identify velocity, position of tags

New software developed by Alien Technology enables a reader to distinguish between two tagged objects, which could mean better baggage handling at the airport.

RFID-manufacturer Alien Technology announced this week it has created new software for its tag readers. The software provides information on the velocity and position of tags, and can thereby distinguish between adjacent tagged objects such as luggage.

Not being able to distinguish between two tagged objects has been a big headache for the airline business. On one hand, RFID readers save labor because the tags don't need to be aligned with the reader. On the other hand, a device might read several tags at the same time, without knowing which specific piece of luggage the tags are tied to.

"Today people use shielding materials. Sometimes they even have to separate the distance between the bags," said Scot Stelter, director of product marketing at Alien. "By these measures, the capital cost of the whole system goes up."

The new software will be able to discriminate between different bags, and provide such information as where the bag is going and whether a certain piece of luggage is supposed to be searched by Customs.

Alien's new software, a free update available for the models ALR-9900, ALR-9800, and ALR-8800, also has a flexible reader distance, ranging from just millimeters to 100 feet.

"You can also use it in the military," Stelter said. Helicopters picking up cargo can use a reader to locate the load, an often arduous task when visibility is poor. The reader distances have increased fivefold during the last five years, according to the company.

The spread of RFID technology has raised concerns about privacy. But Alien Technology says such fears are baseless. "The information on an RFID tag is tied to a database associated to an inventory," said Ronny Haraldsvik, vice president of marketing. He draws the parallel to license plates on cars.

"As you drive on the road every day, you see a license plate on every car. But you can't know the info tied to that plate unless you call up a register," he said. The register in the case of RFID technology is a database often tied to a business, such as a retailer for example, and not publicly available. All the information a random reader can tell you is whether there are RFID tags in the vicinity. The information stored in the tags, however, is concealed, according to the company.

Alien will demonstrate its new software, along with its novel Alien Technology H3 integrated circuit for tags, at the RFID Journal Live conference in Las Vegas next week.