Asset tracking — particularly radio-frequency identification technologies — has become a crucial component for protecting U.S. borders and helping public-safety officers apprehend criminals, according to Michael J. Liard, the research director for radio frequency identification issues at analyst firm ABI Research.

Based on his study of trends in the RFID market, Liard said the highest current priority for its use by the federal government is through the Department of Homeland Security's US-VISIT program. The program is a U.S. immigration and border-control management system that uses tracking technology combined with biometrics to verify that travelers are who they say they are and do not pose a threat to national security.

ID documents embedded with RFID tags are gaining traction globally, he said. Examples include driver's licenses, e-passports, national ID cards, and cargo-tracking manifests used in the aerospace and defense marketplaces to track multimillion-dollar equipment.

But adoption in the U.S. lags behind other countries. For example, China has spent billions of dollars on RFID for a national ID program. In comparison, Liard said the amount spent in the U.S. on RFID programs is in the several hundred millions.

And challenges still exist that could retard further adoption.

“Pilots that test RFID to secure our borders, like the US-VISIT program, have been at the forefront of the technology's adoption,” he said. “But some key problems were low-read ranges, cross reads — meaning you read multiple RFID-embedded documents simultaneously. So they've had some struggles there.”

RFID tags also are susceptible to tampering, according to the Smart Border Alliance, which published a feasibility report last year that examined use of the technology for U.S. passport and border security, including the US-VISIT program. Specifically, the report noted that electronic access to a tag's contents occurs through eavesdropping by attackers in possession of rogue handheld readers or by capturing data flowing between readers and middleware access points. In addition, tags only work in specific environments and read-rate accuracy often is an issue.

“You have to deal with the confines of the physics involved,” Liard said. “It's not like a barcode technology. Wireless technology and frequencies operate differently depending on the environments, like in the presence of water and metal. You also have to deal with the read-accuracy rate, and that becomes increasingly important in a non-line-of-sight technology.”

However, the technology's applications offer enhanced visibility, he said. For instance, RFID lets users track the exact location of assets, and provides security-enhancing capabilities, such as authentication, access control, intrusion detection and sensor monitoring.

“It continues to capture more of the U.S. marketplace, as we continue to move forward and the technology continues to prove itself,” Liard said.

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Louisiana professors develop Air Force, DoD tracking systems

Two Louisiana Tech faculty members, Dr. Sumeet Dua and Dr. Rastko Selmic, are developing wireless sensor networks and tracking technology to assist the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense, the university announced. The Automated Target Detection and Tracking project involves the development of computer algorithms for the automated recognition, identification, classification and tracking of targets that can be used in metropolitan areas to identify humans and log the suspicious movement of vehicles.

Asset-tracking vendors

Andrew Corp. ▪ Antenex ▪ Antenna Plus ▪ Carlson Wireless Technologies ▪ CES Wireless Technologies ▪ Cimarron Technologies ▪ Cook Communications ▪ Cromack Industries ▪ Data 911 ▪ Dataradio Corp. ▪ Digital Dispatch ▪ EXACOM ▪ Federal Signal ▪ GeoComm ▪ IDA ▪ InterAct Public Safety Systems ▪ Intrado ▪ IP Mobile Net ▪ Kenwood Communications ▪ Location Technologies ▪ Midian ▪ Mobile Satellite Ventures ▪ Modular Communications Systems ▪ Motorola ▪ Plant CML ▪ Positron Public Safety Systems ▪ Pyramid Communications ▪ Qualcomm ▪ RF Neulink ▪ Satel-West ▪ Tait North America ▪ Telepoint ▪ Thales Communications ▪ TriTech Software Systems ▪ For complete listings of asset-tracking vendors, visit the MRT 2007 Resource Guide at www.mrtmag.com.