RFID Technology Being Tested
With LCS Mission Module
The Office of Naval Research’s
Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department is teamed with Naval Surface
Warfare Center Panama City
Division’s (NSWC PCD’s) Automation, Dynamics and Special
Programs branch, Panama City,
Fla., to employ the same Radio
Frequency Identification (RFID)
technology used to speed up
grocery store inventories and
cash-register lines to reduce the
workload aboard the Navy’s minimally manned Littoral Combat
The LCS Mission Module Automation team is demonstrating the
technology using passive RFID
technology to inventory the support container for the ship’s Remote
Minehunting System (RMS) mission module. Unlike active RFID
tags — which cost about $10 to
$20 apiece and transmit constantly, something that for ship drivers
can be like thousands of tiny
radios transmitting all over their
ship that they cannot control —
the passive tags for the LCS project
have a customized antenna, no batteries, cost just pennies and speak
only when spoken to.
U.S. NAVY/DAVE SUSSMAN
Typical commercial, off-the-shelf Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags
and applications are being used by Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama
City, Fla., Division and Office of Naval Research scientists and engineers to
further implement the use of RFID technologies in the fleet.
The proposal for applying this
RFID technology was submitted in
2009, and the research team is on
track to demonstrate efficient
RFID inventory capability by June.
Dale Rhinehart is the NSWC PCD
The whole key is figuring out how to use COTS- [commercial, off-the-shelf-] type equipment for this particular application. The concept of RFID tags and RFID inventory is not new, it’s been around for many
years. As a matter of fact, when we first started it we thought this was an
easy thing to get on the scoreboard quickly, because everybody knows that
Wal-Mart uses RFID tags.
But what we found out is that they are using it more in a warehouse
concept, where it’s an open environment. What we wanted to do was
inventory tools and parts that are stored inside metal toolboxes. That was
the challenge. Much to our surprise, nobody knew how to do that. So
that’s what started us down this road of trying to figure this out.
Initially, we recognized that because of the environment inside a toolbox — it’s basically a big Faraday cage, a lot of reverberations, a very nasty
environment for radio frequency waves — we had to design a new type of
antenna that would operate in that environment. So that’s where a lot of
our research is focused, developing that new antenna.
There’s a second part to it. Even though there are lots of standard COTS-type RFID tags out there, they’re not all created equal. Some of them worked
in some situations, some worked better in others. We spent a lot of time and
effort experimenting with how to actually physically place these tags on the
tools and parts so that, one, they could be read, and two, they would not
interfere with the operation, so Sailors could actually use the tool while the
tag is attached. That may not have been rocket science, necessarily, but it
took a lot of experimentation to figure that out.
Each mission the LCS is going to do is dependent on the mission package that goes onboard. The mission package has these support containers