Sandtracker RFID forced to backtrack

Auckland-based Sandtracker has run into reliability problems with its RFID technology and has had to rethink it

New Zealand RFID developer Sandtracker has been forced to rethink of its manufacturing procedures, after a rigorous trial using facilities at the University of Adelaide earlier this year.

The Sandtracker RFID tags gave an unacceptably low accuracy reading in the Adelaide trial, says Sandtracker head Jan Hilder. “The technology is right, but the way the tags are constructed does not give reliable results,” she says.

The Sandtracker tags are designed with a simpler technology than overseas RFID markers, about this lowers their price considerably.

The university was simply renting out its facilities for the trial and was not directly involved.

Hilder declined to discuss the detailed technical reasons for the shortcomings, because “we’re concerned to protect our intellectual property”.

The redesigned tag is now at prototype stage, and works well, Hilder says. But the amount of information that can be held on the tag at this stage is limited to three digits.

Sandtracker is conducting tests on five-digit tags in the next few weeks and hopes to be up to ten digits working reliably by mid-year, Hilder says.

One application where Sandtracker is forging ahead is with the anti-theft version of the tag. This is designed to work particularly with goods like stereo systems, which have a metal casing. Large amounts of metal interfere with the functioning of traditional RFID tags, but the Sandtracker ones work well. The information limit is not a constraint since an anti-theft label has only one bit of information, showing whether the item has been legitimately paid for as it goes out of the store.

CodeNZ, which writes software to run sports events on the basis of RFID tags worn by competitors, also has plans for the Sandtracker technology, says the company’s managing director, Murray Anderson. “We’re just waiting for the new tags.”

The Warehouse has recently begun trialling RFID in conjunction with IBM, while in the US retail giant Wal-Mart is pushing the new technology.

US-based research firm Frost & Sullivan puts the RFID market in retail alone at US$11 billion (NZ$15.8 billion) by 2011.

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