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UT Arlington Engineers Provide Practical RFID Devices and Advice

August 24, 2007

A crib-mounted monitor to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. A system to identify the locations of firefighters inside a burning building. A wireless acid reflux monitor. A “smart” hospital blanket that monitors a patient’s life signs. These are some of the innovative uses for radio frequency identification (RFID) devices created by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington’s College of Engineering.

Practical applications and solutions – that’s what College of Engineering researchers are creating. And they’re doing it out of personal curiosity – the “What if there was a way to do X.” factor – and at the request of commercial developers and users of RFID devices, services and systems.

What makes UT Arlington a dynamic center for RFID product development, testing and implementation? The resourceful and imaginative mix of talents from universities and colleges in the Dallas-Fort Worth area forming a consortium called the Texas Center for Radio Frequency Innovation and Technology. Members of the consortium are UT Arlington, UT Dallas, the University of North Texas and North Lake College. Together, they possess and provide the myriad talents required to effectively study a problem or situation, devise and develop a device or application, and create and implement a process that efficiently utilizes the defined RFID system solution.

Here are a few examples.  A SIDS-prevention system using carbon dioxide sensors to detect an infant’s exhaled air. Sensors are mounted on the sides of the crib and in colorful mobiles; the wireless RF module is away from the infant to avoid concerns of wireless signals. If the sensors detect a reduction of carbon dioxide, the device transmits an alert containing the unique ID number from the baby's crib RFID tag and could also display the infant's health record on a computer screen for the nursing staff.

 UT Arlington researchers are developing an inexpensive wireless mesh sensor network to track the location of small, battery-powered active tags to be worn by firefighters and other first responders. Tracking of the tags is made possible through a combination of inertial navigation systems inside the tags and by measuring signal strength received at various access points (antennas). These will accurately locate the tag, and the person wearing it, within a one-meter area.

 Current tests for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) require a wired sensor that runs through the patient's nostril and into the esophagus. A team of faculty and students has created a RFID-enabled, two-centimeter-square sensor enclosed in a flexible plastic film that is not felt in the esophagus. The sensor is attached to the esophagus wall, where it transmits to an RFID reader worn around the patient's neck.

UT Arlington’s RFID team consists of faculty and graduate students in electrical, computer science and industrial engineering. The strengths of the UT Arlington team are in their wide-ranging knowledge and abilities as independent advisors, providing workable, productive solutions to industry without preferences to a particular technology.

The crucial test of any RFID system is its effectiveness, both in quality and efficiency, in its deployment. Does it perform reliably? Does it solve the problem(s) it was designed to overcome? Is it worth the money expended to create and implement it? UT Arlington researchers are currently conducting five pilot studies to test and evaluate existing products and systems and develop new ones. Industry sponsors of the projects include a variety of local and international RFID firms and organizations. These businesses include those located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, such as SAVR Communications in Irving and RF SAW in Richardson, and out-of-state companies such as Honeywell Batteries. There are others, but they cannot be identified because of security or product development issues.

UT Arlington’s RFID team is seeking partners in its efforts to develop, deploy and implement innovative RFID hardware, software and applications. Industries and organizations wanting to explore opportunities to utilize the knowledge and talents of UT Arlington College of Engineering faculty members should contact Associate Dean of Engineering - Research Dr. Richard Billo, 817-272-2708 or richard.billo@uta.edu.

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