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AVI: The Next Generation

John Van Horn

It's called Supply Chain Management and it's taking automatic vehicle identification (AVI) in a new direction. You thought that the transponder the size of a pack of French cigarettes was the way to go. Guess again. The new information will be embedded in your car.
According to Sirit VP of Business Development Fred Veinot, a technology shift is taking place in the AVI industry. Companies such as Sirit, Transcore, Tagmaster, Mark IV and Nedap are feeling the impact of the "supply chain management" side of the industry.
That refers to the ability of large retailers -- read that Wal-Mart -- to track inventories from the time they leave the factory until they leave the store in the hands of their customers. This is becoming an extremely important bottom-line function for these retail companies. It is so important that Wal-Mart is driving the process to require that tracking tags -- and the related antennas, hardware and software -- be developed to make the system work. No tracking tags, no sale. It's that simple.
The problem is twofold. First, the tags. Most in the parking industry understand that the tags cost a lot more than Wal-Mart is willing to pay. The unit cost of existing tags, even in the millions, would be, in some cases, more than the cost of the item to which it was attached. Although the tagging of individual items is five to six years out, volume has done its job.
Integrated circuit manufacturers such as Texas Instruments and Philips have developed low-cost tags that have no battery and can be read from 25 to 30 feet away. These chips, each the size of a pinhead, are becoming readily available.
Which leads to the second problem.
What about the fact that without a battery the tag has limited power to return its unique identification code to the reader? Veinot points out that it's the lack of power on the tag that's the heart of the issue. "There are a number of different tag technologies," he says. "The trick is to develop a reader that can read them all and that has sufficient receiver sensitivity to pick up that tag despite its lack of power, and in the relatively unkind environment of a warehouse."
In a vehicle situation -- say, on a toll road -- he points out, you know exactly where the car will be and the location of the tag within a few feet, and you can compute the probable speed of the vehicle. In a warehouse, there are many more variables, including distance, speed and the location of the tags inside packing materials. The idea is to develop a reader/antenna system that will read the tags in all these variable situations.
And it's happening. To meet Wal-Mart's requirements, industry engineers have redesigned the reader/antenna technology to fit the company's needs. "Think about it," said Veinot. "Wal-Mart alone will order hundreds of thousands of tags." And there will be others right behind them. This technology shift would not have been possible without the market pull of a Wal-Mart.
The concerns about the vehicle chip technology are being discussed by the automobile industry. The US Department of Transportation will begin requiring that transponders of some kind be in every vehicle manufactured after a certain date. The automakers want to ensure that they settle on a technology standard that fits their needs. AVI manufacturers are meeting with the automobile companies to determine a standard for the technology to be used in vehicles.
This all brings further information as to what the use for the embedded AVI in vehicles would be. Veinot says that one area is safety. Reader/antenna arrays along the roadside could provide vehicles with collision-avoidance information. In addition, these systems could allow vehicles to communicate with one another, and they could allow vehicles to make certain decisions such as the order of air bag deployment based on information from other vehicles already in an accident.
Of course, embedded tags could be used to find stolen vehicles, and such tags could be read by parking operations and toll road operators -- assuming they have the reader/antenna technology on hand to do so.
The technology is on its way.

John Van Horn is editor of Parking Today.
He can be reached at editor@parkingtoday.com.

Article Abstract from April, 2005




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