UHF system keeps tags on logistical problems

A UK/Canadian joint venture was formed this week to develop a new generation of radio-based electronic labelling and tracking systems.

BTG, the London-based technology commercialisation group, and SAMSys, a specialist in radio frequency identification (RFID) systems, will work together on products operating in the UHF segment of the spectrum.

The partners hope the result will be electronic tagging systems with a longer range and greater data-processing power than any currently available, with uses in warehouses, airports and other complex logistical environments.

RFID uses radio signals to identify and count tagged items automatically without the need for a reading device to be pointed at each one. The tags carry information about the item and its movements which can be downloaded by the system’s users.UHF (the 86MHz to 92MHz section of the spectrum) has pluses and minuses, said BTG senior vice-president David Armstrong. ‘UHF is the sweet-spot of the spectrum.

It gives you significant range and data-processing opportunities, but also raises some fairly interesting technical issues. Those are the issues we will address with SAMSys.’Armstrong said RFID systems operating further down the radio spectrum typically run out of steam at ranges of much more than 1m. ‘With UHF that could rise to several metres, and you would also get pretty good penetration through obstacles.’

BTG and Toronto-based SAMSys hope to develop products that can be used for a range of logistics applications. Armstrong said as well as numerous opportunities in warehouses and factories, UHF systems could have significant potential for mass-transportation companies.

‘One of the biggest headaches for airlines is keeping track of items of baggage,’ he said. ‘For example, if an item is loaded into a plane’s cargo hold but then needs to be removed, finding it is a highly laborious process.’ Armstrong said an RFID system with sufficient range and penetration could locate the rogue bag instantly.

Alongside the development agreement, BTG has pumped £4m into SAMSys in return for a quarter stake in the Canadian firm.

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