The U.S. Defense Department is migrating from its own technical standards for radio-frequency identification (RFID) tracking systems and adopting an international standard — a major change to a long-standing means of item tracking.
Among other things, the change will create new levels of competition, said Andrew Monday, chief of the in-transit visibility integration division within U.S. Transportation Command.
Right now, Savi Technology of Alexandria, Va., is the sole provider of tags under the U.S. standard. “Now this opens it up to other vendors that are in the international RFID business, so cost savings are being passed onto the taxpayer,” Monday said.
The switch to the international standard also comes with a technological improvement, in that it will greatly expand the availability of identifying serial numbers. Despite the vast number of numerical combinations that can denote a serial number, Monday said that with the pool limited to a sole supplier, he can see a day when the potential identifiers begin to run thin.
Under the international standard, with multiple vendors in the field, the number of available serial numbers would skyrocket, he said.
The U.S. military has used RFID for two decades as a means to track and catalog a variety of goods in transit. RFID tags already identify some 8,000 items a week, while roughly 100,000 tags are read weekly to assess the location of diverse materials.
Full implementation of the international standard is expected by 2014. Many systems are operating in dual mode right now as updates are made to allow data from either standard to be entered into automated information systems, Monday said. Engineers are putting an emphasis on user transparency. “That’s the ultimate goal: To go from the old system to the new in a way that there is no impact on the end user,” he said.
Planners also are moving to integrate “active” and “passive” RFID technologies. The first emits a signal alerting readers to its presence, making it easy to enter RFID data into automated systems. The second is activated when in the presence of a reader, making for a smaller battery and less expensive unit.
Initiatives under way would draw from both technologies, taking advantage of the best features either has to offer, Monday said.
“In a perfect world, we will have a complete picture from the time items come into our distribution centers from vendors to the time they are consolidated,” Monday said. “That’s the journey we are on.”