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Irish Business and Scientific Leaders Attend GT Ireland RFID Workshop
Inaugural event included presentations by RFID users and developers
Athlone, Ireland (May 18, 2009) — Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology combined with sensors will be the “killer app” of the future, Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) professor Manos M. Tentzeris told 52 Irish business and scientific leaders during a May 2009 workshop organized by Georgia Tech Ireland (GTI) at its headquarters in Athlone, Ireland.
RFID is a system of identification that enables an item marked by an electronic “tag” to wirelessly exchange data related to that item with another device, called a reader. GTI selected RFID as a key area of its applied research focus because of its enormous potential for industry - a world market estimated at $5.6 billion this year alone.
GTI’s new facility in Athlone, Ireland includes a unique RFID testbed that enables partners to test their technology rigorously before it is implemented on a broad scale. Much of the testbed’s equipment was provided under a research contract by General Motors, whose Manufacturing Systems Research Lab director, Susan Smyth, traveled from Detroit to participate.
Tentzeris, a School of Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty member who will spend the summer working with GTI, emphasized that sensors can be integrated with RFID to monitor chemical changes, temperature and pressure. Gas sensors can also be created through the use of carbon nanotubes in combination with RFID.
He said the ATHENA Research Group he heads within the Georgia Electronic Design Center at Georgia Tech has developed a unique capability to inkjet-print carbon nanotubes on paper for use in ultrasensitive gas sensors and the non-invasive detection of structural integrity in aircraft, bridges and other structures. Integrating nanotechnology with RFID could reduce the costs of RFID-enabled sensors to fractions of a penny, Tentzeris said.
However, RFID is not a “plug and play” technology, cautioned Gisele Bennett, director of the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s (GTRI) Electro-Optical Systems Laboratory and a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Each situation requires an individual solution depending on the radio frequency used, the type of material being tagged, and other factors. For these reasons, Bennett stressed the value of testbed trials before implementing a full RFID roll-out.
Security issues, including the threat of spoofing or counterfeiting RFID tags, also have to be factored in, Bennett said. Another problem is a lack of common standards - something a global organization called GS1 is working to address, as Jim Bracken, CEO of GS1 Ireland explained.
The technology’s potential has been recognized by the European Union, which aims to become a world leader in RFID. The EU has set aside funding to promote clusters of research in the technology, said Pat Doody, executive director of the Centre for Innovation in Distributed Systems at Tralee Institute of Technology.
Several small Irish companies described the innovative approaches they are taking to harness RFID.
• Hothouse Technologies Ltd., a Belfast start-up, has contracted with GTI to explore opportunities to improve thermal feedback and controls in heating systems through RFID. Director Nick Beckett said the collaboration grew out of a chance meeting with GTI Director Krish Ahuja at a conference and a follow-up meeting with RFID lead Joe Dowling, who proposed the use of chipless RFID technology to overcome technical challenges that other experts saw as roadblocks.
• Sensor Technology + Devices Ltd. in Belfast, co-founded by Jim McLaughlin, director of the Nanotechnology and Integrated Bioengineering Centre at the University of Ulster, is developing RFID sensors linked with DNA to detect genetic material and improve patient care, and other applications.
• RFID tags that allow trash containers to communicate with waste pick-up trucks are being evaluated as part of an overall waste management solution, said Eamon Hynes, technology development manager of AMCS, a Limerick company.
• Dublin-based semiconductor company DecaWave has developed the ScenSor chip that uses ultra wideband technology in real-time location systems and ultra-low power wireless transceivers.
Representatives of several multinational companies, including Nortel and IBM, also attended.
GM’s Smyth outlined the company’s strategy for “the factory of the future,” with RFID as an important component. The strategy envisions real-time optimization of production through continuous monitoring, enabled by machines that “talk” to each other, not only within a single plant but on an enterprise-wide basis. Smyth said this can contribute to revenue creation and cost reduction, while permitting infinite flexibility.
In an interview, Smyth noted that GM has a long history of working with Georgia Tech. She said locating the equipment at GTI is consistent with GM’s new model of “distributed research” and with Ireland’s position as a gateway to Europe.
“One of the things we gain here is the ability to test the technology,” Smyth added. She said GTI’s ability to attract other industries that don’t compete with GM enables it to test on a smaller scale how this technology works in different industries and different environments. “There are also different standards in Europe. This is an essential aspect because Europe is such an important part of GM’s business.”
Smyth praised the workshop for its mix of presentations by users and developers. Her opinion was shared by many, including Frank Davenport, the Ireland Industrial Development Agency (IDA) project manager for Georgia Tech. Davenport said RFID will be helpful to companies based in Ireland that are part of the European supply chain.
The workshop was organized by GTI’s Kevin McGuinness. It was chaired by GTI Associate Director Barry Dolan. GTRI Deputy Director Tom McDermott also attended.
Georgia Tech Ireland (GTI) is the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s first applied major research facility outside the United States. Established in December 2006 as an Irish non-profit organization, GTI partners and collaborates with Irish corporations, universities and research centers; the Georgia Tech research community; and U.S. companies.
Georgia Tech Ireland
Georgia Tech Research Institute
The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the nation's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities, Georgia Tech's more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.