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Photos: Heathrow bags RFID tech to end lost luggage

Chipper future for your luggage
By Nick Heath, Contributor on
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Chipper future for your luggage

Heathrow Terminal 3 and Emirates airlines are running a six-month trial of tagging luggage with RFID chips on flights to and from Dubai. About 300,000 pieces of luggage are expected to be scanned during the course of the trial which will cost £150,000.

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A RFID chip the size of a grain of sugar is embedded in the tag like the one shown. The chip contains information about the passenger - including their name and route they are taking. RFID tags will still carry a barcode containing passenger information to be read by laser scanners at airports without the reader technology.

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Baggage is loaded on and off flights in 'tins'. The system is designed to greatly reduce the amount of luggage that ends up in a general tin due to the tag being unreadable, usually because the barcode has become smudged or crumpled.

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The RFID reader and laser scanner log every piece of luggage as it travels along a maze of conveyor belts. Information on the barcode or chip guides the luggage to its correct destination, making sure it ends up on the right flight or belt in the arrivals lounge.

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The laser scanner, seen here, reads the barcode details off luggage tags as they pass down the conveyor. This scanner is positioned next to the RFID reader and the trial will examine which technology can read the information on the tags most effectively. Heathrow expects to keep running both systems side-by-side to allow processing of both barcodes and RFID chips.

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Motorola has supplied the RFID tag readers, seen here, and tag labels for the trial. Readers are also being trialled and used in several airports around the world, including Hong Kong, Las Vegas, Paris Charles De Gaulle and Milan Malpensa Airport.

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At the luggage control centre two screens displaying green pipes show any blockages or problems on the conveyor belt system, while the screen on the right updates every few seconds with the details of another bag as it passes through the laser scanner or RFID reader.

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RFID readers, the white boxes seen here, have been fitted to two carousels in the arrivals lounge in Terminal 3. They can detect the moment that a passenger's bag emerges.



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Passengers can choose to link the details on their luggage's RFID chip to their mobile phone number. These details will be wiped as soon as the flight has been dealt with.

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Terminal 3 is undergoing gradual refurbishment and the Virgin Atlantic check-in area, seen here, has been recently completed. Other technology at the terminal includes barcode scanning for internet check-in, self service check-in kiosks and self service gates at arrivals for frequent travellers willing to undergo iris scans.

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