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Photos: Tracking people with VoIP and RFID

IBM has opened an RFID facility in Dublin specialising in asset management. Some of the applications on show include a VoIP-enabled RFID device that could supersede the pager, so we went to take a look

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Topic: Innovation
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1 of 13 Andrew Donoghue/ZDNet

IBM opened an RFID centre in Ireland late last month. This week, ZDNet UK toured the facility, which IBM claims will give local businesses hands-on access to technology to help them track assets from goods to employees.

The centre, in IBM's Dublin campus in Mulhuddart, is IBM's largest dedicated RFID facility worldwide. The company has another European facility in La Guade Centre in France and a total of ten similar sites worldwide.

IBM has around 1,400 people working on RFID worldwide and invested $250m (£140m) in the technology in 2005.

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2 of 13 Andrew Donoghue/ZDNet

Colm Shorten, IBM's RFID centre of excellence manager, said that RFID technology, which is actually 40 to 50 years old, will not replace existing systems such as barcodes for some time. "Some people refer to it as a disruptive technology, but we believe it will coexist alongside barcodes for at least the next five to ten years."

You can find all the latest information on RFID in ZDNet UK's RFID Toolkit.

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3 of 13 Andrew Donoghue/ZDNet

The size and shape of the RFID tags vary depending on their application. IBM has developed some tags (such as the white one, third from the left) to be worn around the wrists of hospital patients. Other tag (such as the black one that is fourth from the left, have been designed specifically to be embedded in car tyres

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4 of 13 Andrew Donoghue/ZDNet

IBM has trialed RFID Portal technology in the Dublin centre to track the movement of devices such as laptops in and out of the office. Devices carrying an RFID tag are tracked as they pass through the portal and an alarm sounds if the action has not been authorised.

According to IBM, similar portals are used in Hong Kong Airport to track luggage.

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5 of 13 Andrew Donoghue/ZDNet

For smaller companies that cannot afford to invest in a full RFID implementation, IBM has developed the Express RFID Slap and Ship system. This cuts the cost of tagging devices.

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6 of 13 Andrew Donoghue/ZDNet

The Express product allows customers to print off a bar-code label with an RFID chip on the back, which can then be stuck to cargo by hand.

Operators can scan the barcodes using a handheld reader, manually key them into an Intel-based PC or select them from a preloaded file.

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7 of 13 Andrew Donoghue/ZDNet

The cargo with the RFID tag and barcode attached can be then be tracked by passing through devices such as the 'RFID conveyer solution'. This technology could be deployed in airports and warehouses.

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8 of 13 Andrew Donoghue/ZDNet

IBM's Stephen Boden shows off a personal tracking device built around RFID and Ultrawideband technology. Codeveloped by partner Ubisense, which describes itself as a smart-space company, the device allows multiple individuals to be tracked around a room or complex.

The tag also supports two-way communication using a standard radio channel. Buttons on the tag can be used to send information or unlock doors, and the tag's programmable LED and buzzer could be used to remind a patient to take medication.

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9 of 13 Andrew Donoghue/ZDNet

The UWB/RFID tracking device works by working out the time taken to contact each of four servers in the corner of the room — the information can then be used to triangulate the exact position of each person carrying the device.

The system uses UWB as conventional radio frequency technology works poorly indoors, because the signals reflect off walls, desks, people and equipment. Infrared-based location is also not as effective as it requires line of sight from the tag to the reader, which increases the amount of infrastructure required. UWB uses short duration pulses that are easier to filter in order to work out which signals are correct and which are distorted.

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10 of 13 Andrew Donoghue/ZDNet

IBM has also developed another personal RFID device, this time utilising VoIP technology. Essentially a Wi-Fi-enabled tag with built in VoIP capability, the device can be worn around the neck and allows individuals to be tracked and contacted.

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11 of 13 Andrew Donoghue/ZDNet

One application for the device would be in hospitals, where the doctor, nurse or surgeon who is nearest to an incident could be alerted by a message transmitted to that individual's tag. The request could be in the form of a short voice-alert or a text message.

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12 of 13 Andrew Donoghue/ZDNet

Together with Magicomm and Nokia, IBM has created a digital pen and paper system to allow users to transmit written documents via a mobile phone or upload the information into a laptop. The pen has a unique ID in a similar fashion to an RFID tag. Data is time-stamped so updates of forms can be detected.

The digital pen has a built-in digital camera, an image-processing unit and a Bluetooth radio receiver. By writing over the special patterned paper, which consists of millions of tiny dots, it is possible to identify the exact location of the pen and deduce the words being written. The image processor then uploads all the resulting information into the pen's memory which can store several fully written pages.

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13 of 13 Andrew Donoghue/ZDNet

The magic pen is already being used by organisations such as the Dorset Police force to reduce the amount of time spent filling in forms manually. Previously a paper-based form was filled out at the scene and then the information was entered into a PC back at the station. Now the information can be uploaded into the network automatically.

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