RFID Keeps Track of What’s on the Tracks
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is used for logistics and planning in modern transport systems.
Transmitting data from a chip embedded in a device or in a tag on an object is a commonplace way to relay information. Data stored on the chip or tag can be activated by radio waves enabled by a reader and wirelessly transmitted to a reader, which creates digital data like that used for location information.
“It is estimated that by 2020, more than 60 per cent of payment transactions will use contactless technologies such as NFC.”
Many cities around the world use RFID and Near Field Communication (NFC) devices for public transport services. In the UK, Transport for London has used the Oyster Card contactless system since 2003. By 2012 over 43 million Oyster Cards had been issued for travel all across London’s travel zones. The data can be used for payment for travel, calculating peak times and entry and exit points, but can also be used to assess busy periods for particular stations. Oyster Cards have been used to help track the journeys of missing people as well as, controversially, to track people of interest to the police.
Columbus, Ohio, is celebrating winning the 2016 Smart City Challenge. The US Department of Transportation’s project encourages cities to use technology to ease the urban commute, with RFID tags in vehicle windows for payment of parking spaces and tolls without slowing down the flow of traffic. The city will receive $40 million from the federal government and $10 million from Vulcan, a company owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to invest in Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) as well as smartcards for bus payments. (Columbus does not have a commuter train network). The city will deploy NXP’s V2V and V2I communications system and smart cards to add intelligence to the transportation system. Wireless technology to create ‘smart corridors’ along bus routes will enable V2V and V2I communications for efficiency and is hoped to improve safety as well as usability.
It is estimated that by 2020, more than 60 percent of payment transactions will use contactless technologies such as NFC. Companies are finding more inventive ways to make the payment transaction as easy as possible and on devices that cannot be left at home by mistake. Last year, Infineon announced that an NFC-enabled ring was based on its contactless security chip (Figure 1). At the UITP Global Public Transport Summit in Montreal, Canada, the company focused on security. Its chips are interoperable and compatible to international standards such as Common Criteria for computer security and EMVCo for card payment. All components are also CIPURSE-ready or enable CIPURSE Mobile transactions. CIPURSE is an open standard defined by the OSPT Alliance for transit fare collection. It is built on standards such as ISO 7816, AES-128, ISO/IEC 14443-4. A cryptographic protocol protects against Differential Power Analysis (DPA) and Differential Fault Analysis (DFA) to guard against hackers attacking the main or side channels to access passenger data.
“Companies are finding more inventive ways to make the payment transaction as easy as possible and on devices that cannot be left at home by mistake.”
Long Range Travel
For city use, cards must be placed on a reader as the range is short for RFID, typically around one meter (three feet). This range is overshadowed by RFID sensor tags introduced by Powercast. The company introduced the PCT100 and PCT200 multi-sensor RFID tags (Figure 2) with a range of 10m, or 32 feet. They are not intended for passenger use but for shipping goods. In addition to what is claimed to be the longest read range available today, the tags can withstand extremes of temperature from -40 to +85 degrees C, for the transportation of pharmaceuticals or perishable items, which have to be refrigerated or chilled throughout the journey.
Initially, the tags include temperature, humidity, and light sensors, with other sensor types planned for later release. Tags that can sense the RFID reader and those with an on-board Light Emitting Diode (LED), which can be used to show the strength of the RFID field, and to ‘find’ a particular tag, are also available.
The two versions have different battery uses. The PCT100 is a battery-free design, while the PCT200 has a battery but can be recharged using an RFID reader, using the company’s patented RF Harvesting technology. An embedded Powerharvester receiver generates power from a standard RFID reader so that the sensor tag’s battery does not have to be changed or plugged in for a recharge. Battery life is around one month and data read times can be set from one minute to one hour for data logging outside the RF field over long periods of time.
The tags have more than 10 times the operational power of standard passive RFID tags, says the company. The RFID reader generates an electromagnetic signal, forwarded by an antenna to the NXP UCODE RFID chip in the tag. The UCODE chip has a reduced conditional read range to help deter theft and a digital switch that controls activation or deactivation of the switch for protection against theft.
Still with transport, Harting has developed an Ultra High Frequency (UHF) RFID antenna to identify trains on the railway track. The WR24-r is part of the Ha-VIS RF-ANT-WR24 range of antennae (Figure 3).
It is robust enough to be fitted under a train and operates in extreme temperatures. The WR24-t version operates at up to 150 degrees C. The antenna has a 70-degree opening angle and can be used to create gates for container tracking identification. It can recognize the train on the track for logistics as well as business data gathering. There are three antenna models in the range; the third, WR24-i model is for general industrial use.
As cityscapes change, and as transport needs increase, the role of RFID and NFC is becoming more vital in contributing intelligence to smart transport systems.
Caroline Hayes has been a journalist covering the electronics sector for more than 20 years. She has worked on several European titles, reporting on a variety of industries, including communications, broadcast and automotive.