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Every Bag in Place PUBLIC ACCESS

The Las Vegas Airport Bets on Radio Waves.

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Mechanical Engineering 126(04), 43 (Apr 01, 2004) (1 page) doi:10.1115/1.2004-APR-6

Abstract

This article focuses on the use of radio-frequency (RF) technology in Las Vegas airport. The RF technology is provided by Matrics Inc. of Columbia, Md., which has a five-year contract to supply the airport with 100 million tags. The tags, which hold 96 bits of information, require no separate power source and are activated by a signal from the RF reader in the ultra-high frequency band between 902 and 928 MHz. The Federal Aviation Administration requires that passengers’ names pass through the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System. Those profiled as suspicious by the system are known as ‘selectees.’ At Jacksonville, their bags are tracked by an ultra-high frequency UHF system. According to a case study published by FKI Logistex, the selectees’ bags are separated from the main stream of luggage and sent to a machine set for more intense screening. However, at Las Vegas airport, everybody will be tagged.

Article

Passengers check more than 60,000 pieces of luggage at McCarran International, the Las Vegas airport, on an average day. Each airline is responsible for its passengers’ baggage, and there are optical systems that read the bar codes on luggage tags to keep track of as many bags as possible. According to Samuel Ingalls, McCarran’s information systems manager, an optical system is accurate about 90 percent of the time. Tags out of sight—say, under a suitcase—can’t be read.

That leaves to chance more than 6,000 bags, many of which can wind up in the wrong place. Each misdirected bag has to be tracked down and delivered to the rightful owner. It’s a necessary and costly service.

McCarran hopes to reduce the cost to airlines and ease the frustration of passengers by using an airport-wide bag-handling system that will track bags by radio.

The airport’s general construction contractor, Flagship Construction Co., has hired a subcontractor, FKI Logistex, to put in an automated system that will include equipment to screen bags for explosives, as required by federal law, and a radio-frequency identification system to keep bags from going astray. According to Ingalls, it is McCarran’s first airport-wide luggage-handling system.

FKI, based in Danville, Ky., is installing the system. It will integrate screening devices from L-3 Communications of New York. These devices, called Examiner 3DX 6000, can detect small traces of explosives in packed bags.

According to L-3, the machine is a multi-slice computer tomography system that can distinguish materials. A machine can handle 500 bags an hour and will set off an alarm when it encounters suspect materials.

L-3’s and similar screening machines distinguish materials based on atomic density, and because the consistencies are similar to those of some explosives, the Transportation Security Administration asks passengers not to pack chocolate or cheese, to avoid false alarms.

Bag tracking at McCarran will be done automatically by radio-frequency identification. Each bag when it is checked will receive a standard luggage tag, and enclosed within it and out of sight will be an RF identifier with a unique code. At every crossroads of the conveyor system, an RF reader will confirm the passing of each piece of luggage. That includes the exit point from explosives detection screening.

Ingalls said he expects the accuracy of the RF tracking system to exceed 99 percent.

The radio-frequency technology is provided by Matrics Inc. of Columbia, Md., which has a five-year contract to supply the airport with 100 million tags. The tags, which hold 96 bits of information, require no separate power source and are activated by a signal from the RF reader in the ultra-high frequency band between 902 and 928 MHz. According to Matrics’ vice president of corporate development, John Shoemaker, the tags can have a capacity of 256 bits and can be read from 20 to 25 feet away. In the volume of the McCarran contract, the tags cost about 25 cents each, he said.

FKI Logistex has a contract worth $8 million for an initial phase of the project. It will introduce the system to one of McCarran’s terminals and to a former cargo area converted to receive bags checked at Las Vegas hotels.

FKI and Matrics worked on a project with the Transportation Security Administration and Delta Airlines, which tested the baggage ID system for one month at Jacksonville International Airport in Florida.

According to Reid Davis, a spokesman for Delta, the bags were read four times: initially at the printer, in the bag room, at planeside as they were being loaded, and then in the bag room at the destination, in Atlanta. He said that read rates were “upwards of 97 percent.”

There’s a permanent radio-frequency ID system at Jacksonville, too, but at least for now, it’s not used to track all the bags. It uses RF equipment from SCS Corp. of San Diego.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires that passengers’ names pass through the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System. Those profiled as suspicious by the system are known as “selectees.” At Jacksonville, their bags are tracked by a UHF system. According to a case study published by FKI Logistex, the selectees’ bags are separated from the main stream of luggage and sent to a machine set for more intense screening.

At Las Vegas, everybody will be tagged.

Copyright © 2004 by ASME.
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