IBM, Delta Airlines add more buzz to RFID tagging

IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

Adding to the growing buzz surrounding RFID (radio frequency identification) tagging technology, IBM Corp. on Thursday officially opened its RFID Testing and Solution Center in La Gaude, France, while in a separate move, Delta Air Lines Inc. said it is planning to invest US$15 million to $25 million on the technology.

The new IBM center is the first of its kind in Europe, according to Faye Holland, worldwide RFID leader at IBM Global Services, and is part of the Armonk, New York, company's ongoing efforts to make users out of those who have shown interest in the wireless tracking technology.

"There has been a complete shift in the RFID arena since January and there is a massive interest in it in many more markets and industries then there was six months ago," Holland said.

The RFID testing center in La Gaude is intended to complement existing IBM development centers in the U.S. (in Gaithersburg, Maryland) and in Japan (in Tokyo). "All of our labs around the world have some RFID capability, but the RFID testing center in France allows for detailed physics testing of RFID," Holland said.

Additionally, customers interested in RFID can see how it works as part of an end-to-end application, and can inspect the middleware needed to integrate the technology to back-end systems, she said.

IBM is targeting the wireless technology at a number of industries, including pharmaceuticals, retail, logistics, manufacturing, electronics, government and transportation, and the center will provide prototypes for potential customers in their specific industries, Holland said.

One industry seemingly already on board with RFID is the airline industry. Delta, The Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS have all announced they are testing RFID technology and are working to develop standards for the aviation industry. Delta spokesman Reid Davis said on Thursday that while the Atlanta-based airline was not making a formal announcement about its investment plans in RFID, it did want to set out its vision regarding the tracking technology.

"There is a lot of stuff that is kind of fuzzy right now in terms of our RFID plans, but within the next 24 months we do envision having some RFID tagging up and running," Davis said, "that would definitely include bags and cargo, though all sorts of other things could piggy-back on those initial implementations."

Delta, as well as The Boeing Co, both announced earlier this month that they have been testing RFID tags to track airplane engine parts.

Davis warned that because the airline industry in general is struggling financially, the costs associated with implementing RFID do come into play. "This technology is brand new for us -- RFID isn't replacing some other system -- so implementation is a daunting task," he said. But Davis added that Delta does see incentives for investing up to $25 million on RFID.

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