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University of Arkansas Opens RFID Research Laboratory

Fifty-year-old technologies rarely have the potential to transform the business landscape. The University of Arkansas and 24 industry-leading companies believe one technology — Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) –can do just that; they have joined forces to create a multidisciplinary neutral, third-party research and testing facility, the RFID Research Center, a subunit of the Information Technology Research Institute in the Sam M. Walton College of Business.

The laboratory will conduct research into efficient use of RFID and other wireless and sensor technologies throughout the supply chain, emphasizing the retail supply chain. At its simplest, RFID consists of a read/write device called a “reader” that is networked to a computer system and one or more tags.

A reader can identify more than one tagged object at one time. Tags contain a computer chip and an antenna embedded into a substrate material. At present, manufacturers and retailers plan to use RFID to track pallets and cases of products from the manufacturing facility, on trucks and in the retail distribution centers and store rooms to increase efficiencies and minimize costs in the supply chain from manufacturer to the store shelf.

“The mission of the RFID Research Center is to create and extend knowledge in the use of RFID and its impacts on business and society, said Bill Hardgrave, holder of the Edwin and Karlee Bradberry Chair and director of the RFID Research Center. “It’s hard to believe that a tiny chip, about twice the width of a human hair, can help companies know what lies in each case, where that case is and where it’s going — at all times. That’s significant in terms of supply chain efficiencies.”

In June 2003, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. asked its top 100 suppliers to begin tagging products at the pallet and case level by January 2005. By August of that year, it expanded the request to include all suppliers by 2006. This initiative, along with a similar move by the Department of Defense, jump-started an entire industry centered on the production and optimal application of RFID technology.

The RFID Research laboratory examines not only technical issues, but also questions of public policy.

“Privacy advocates worry about the potential for companies or others to misuse the data collected from RFID-enabled products,” Hardgrave said. “Through our work at the center, we hope to allay these concerns by dispelling popular myths about RFID and better educating the public about RFID.”

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