Friday, May 8, 2009

RFID solutions for tracking collections

I have long been a fan of the application of new technologies to the museum sector. The fact remains that the sector is too small in most instances to invest in developing its own, so must rely on other large industry sectors to undertake the R&D and then see if there is application to our own world.

RFID or Radio Frequency Identification has been around for some years now primarily in the warehouse and freight tracking sectors. The original concept was that RFID use would take over from bar codes, as it offered not only the opportunity of storing increased data but also no requirement for line of sight reading, i.e. RFIDs can be read through packaging material. Supermarket shopping could dispense with the check out person, and rely on a portal scanner.

The stumbling block however has been the cost of the RFID tag, which as it contains both a microchip and a small antenna costs in the region of US20c as against a bar code which cost US.01 c.

The reality therefore is that we are unlikely to see rollout into the supermarket shelves until the price can be reduced to a viable level, but to give some idea of how fast this technology is taking off, UPM, once of the largest tag providers in the US is printing 400 million tags this year and expects this figure to be over 1 billion by the end of 2010.

The library sector is already using RFID technology extensively, though mostly using the older High Frequency (HF) technology. The museum sector is only just beginning to see its benefits, which are considerable, and can be summed up as follows:
  • line of sight not required, so objects/artworks can have their accession number read whilst in crates or on the wall
  • tags can be read up to 5 m away
  • multiple tags can be read at one time, when groups of objects are being moved
    the data, and the personnel moving the objects, can be directly integrated into most collection management systems
  • misplaced objects can be found
  • audits and stocktakes can be fast tracked
  • collection preservation is improved through reduced handling

Frustrated by lack of any RFID providers who are seriously looking to work with museums and galleries, we have set up a company to provide this service, Smarttrack RFID . We are using the more advanced technology of Ultra High Frequency (UHF) tags, which now have a global standard. We are already running pilot projects in Australia and the US, and finding considerable enthusiasm for the accuracy and cost benefits of the technology.
Come and see us at the Museums Australia National Conference in Newcastle from May 17th to 20th, where we have a stand.

1 comment:

  1. What museums in the United States are using RFID in pilot programs?