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TRANSPONDER NEWS

An independent news service reporting on developments regarding the use of radio based transponder systems for commerce and scientific applications. Covering the RFID technologies, EAS technologies and magnetic coupled techniques.

Current trends in transponder systems

Major successes using RFID technologies in use today are:

Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS)
Market penetration of this technology is already reportedly reaching 6 000 million units per year and growing strongly. However there is still lack of standardisation between the different manufacturers, which causes confusion with the end users.
Shipping Container and railcar tracking
One of the early success of transponder technology and fast becoming a global system. Based around electric coupled transponders that are attached to each container and railcar, being read at speed by readers alongside the rail track. One manufacturer claims to have already labelled 4 million rolling stock items using this technology.
Animal tracking
Originally a series of magnetic implantable transponders were developed for tracking slaughter animals. Unfortunately success in this application has been poor mainly due to lack of acceptance by the relevant authorities.
The labelling of pets so that they can be identified and returned to the owners has become a major consumer of RFID systems. Some municipalites require all pet dogs withing their jurisdiction to be identifyable via an embedded transponder that is injected under the skin. Small RFID transponders, 8mm long and less than 1 mm in diameter, have been developed that are suitable for injecting under the skin of the pet. The data within the transponder can be read using a scanner a couple of inches from the animal.
Implantable and external transponders are being successfully applied in the research of the habits of wildlife, both fish and animals.
Prior to 1997, cows had usually been labelled by ear tags that combined a visual reference with an RFID transponder. A new series of RFID tags have recently been developed called Ruminary tags, tags that are encased in a tough plastic case which can be fed to the cow with its food, and will reside in the stomach of the cow for the life of the animal. These tags are resistant to attack by the acids in the stomach and operate using magnetic coupling techniques with readers outside the animal.
Vehicle access and control
Electric field coupled transponders have been used for many years to allow vehicle access to garages in buildings. Generally these transponders are relatively expensive but as they are reuseable, and are attached to expensive cars, their use is cost effective.
Personnel access
Personnel access has long been facilitated by RF transponder technologies. This solution has not been widely accepted, mainly due to the limited reading range, relatively expensive technology, and the success of the magswipe cards as a viable alternative.
Production control
Most probably led by the automobile industry, many factories use transponders to identify and trace their goods during the manufacture process. These transponders are generally sophisticated, including read write features, and are reused once the manufacturing process has been completed.
Ski passes
For many years magnetic based transponder technology has been used in ski passes, allowing its identity to be read through ski clothing at access points to ski lifts, etc
Sports Timing
Particularly for long distance racing and for marathon racing, the use of transpoinders for timing is becoming more common place. Currently the preferred technology is to use a small 125kHz transponder attached to the shoe of the athlete which is read by the athlete tramping on one or more sensor mats across the timing line. The technology records the presence of the athlete but is not suitable for accurate timing as it can only sense the time when the athletes foot touches one of a number of mats. 900 Mhz technology has been recently used in South Africa and this might be very promising in such applications, as besides having 4 to 6 meter reading ranges allowing overhead antennas to sense the athletes, timing accuracies better than 2 tenths of a second seem possible
Document authentication
A system of providing a radio frequency "signature" for documents is becoming commercially available. The system comprises printed radio frequency antennas attached to precut crystal resonators. The interrogating frequency of the reader sweeps through the reading frequency band, causing the crystal resonators to resonate when excited at the correct frequency. By choosing frequencies to indicate specific data, documents can be given a radio signature that can be used for verification of documents. Novel applications include the enabling or preventing of photocopying of certain documents depending on their signature.
The matrix comprising the antenna and crystals can have a footprint as small as a postage stamp and is available even in a thin layered paste. Currently the developers claim 400 million such radio frequency signature transponders are now in circulation.
Dairy tagging
This technology is widely accepted throughoutthe world, particularly for identifying cows in a dairy. By using eartags a computer system is able to identify the cow when close to the reader. This identification allows a computer to record the milk output of the cow and also allows it to provide the correct feed mixture to the particular cow while it is being milked. These feature allows a few staff to manage a large herd and also to change the diet of the cow through different phases of its milking cycle. Recently an Australian State has called for a marking system to be applied to all herd animals in the region.
Petrol and chemical dispensing
Companies conveying different chemicals in road and rail tankers are seeking technologies to allow computer verification that the tanker is only filled from the correct nozzle in order to prevent contamination of product. This has resulted in developments of transponder systems suitable for attaching to the filling nozzles and computer compatible reading equipment to verify the identification of the nozzle and the tanker before allowing loading.
A recent patent proposes extending this principle to petrol stations. By placing a small transponder alongside the filler cap of motor vehicle's fuel tank, whereby the pump can sense the users requirements automatically to dispense the correct fuel grade as well as authenticate the accounting systems.
For identifying customers and debiting their credit cards with the appropriate charges, two major petrol companies are trying out transponder systems. Mobil is using Speedpass and Shell is calling its system EasyPay. Transponders are either windscreen mounted, operating at the 900 or 2.45GHz band which communicate with reading equipment situated in the pump alongside which the motorist pulls up, or they are 125Khz magnetic coupled versions in a key ring holder, where the motorist swipes the transponder over a reader at the pump to provide identity details. TIRIS have aligned with a pump manufacturer to provide systems complete with pumps.
Enviromental monitoring of transport environment
A company in Canada has recently developed an active tag with a large memory, programmable microprocessor, sensors and RFID communications interfaces that allow the tag to monitor at regular intervals the enviromental conditions experienced by the tag and its labelled cargo while in transit. This could have application in the shipping of for example frozen goods allowing the recipient to verify that their shipping requirements were adhered to.

In addition there are many different successful applications of the technology, but most probably not yet at the level of being a "trend".

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