I'm RFID, Fly Me

Boeing aims to convince the Federal Aviation Administration that RFID systems that broadcast while the plane is in flight are safe to use through a new 120-day in-flight trial run in conjunction with FedEx.

The companies are flying a FedEx MD-10 Freighter over the continental U.S. for up to 18 hours a day for the next four months to test the safety of UHF active RFID systems. Some 40 installed tags will transmit a signal every three seconds for the first 90 days. This is to test the "worst case scenario" of what could happen if all the 915-MHz tags were broadcasting at once.

Following the 90 days, 10 additional tags with 8 Kbytes of read/write memory will be read and encoded with data for 30 days. In the last month of the test, FedEx mechanics will use a portable data terminal to read and write inspection data to the tags during scheduled visits to its Memphis, Tenn., base.

"We're laying the foundation so that I can get the FAA to certify the safe use of active RFID on planes," explains Kenneth Porad, program manager for RFID at Boeing.

Should the FAA certify use of active tags, it will pave the way for Boeing to develop the "future architecture" of wireless sensor networks for planes. The aircraft manufacturer has already been working on hardwiring such networks on planes. Porad claims wireless systems will be cheaper and easier to install. These networks allow air and ground crews to do things like read the temperature of the plane when in flight or check the stress on the structure of the aircraft after a hard landing.

According to Porad, Boeing has a good business relationship with the RFID technology supplier, Identec Solutions, and is using the firm's "equipment and expertise at no charge" for the trial.

But by no means is this the only RFID trial Boeing has on the boil. "We've been testing AeroScout 's products in our factory in St. Louis," touts Porad.

Boeing and FedEx will finish the test by the middle of September and submit their findings later that month. Porad hopes to have an answer from the FAA on the matter of active RFID tags by the end of the year.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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