RFID is a small "chip" which, in this application, can be embedded into a standard baggage tag attached to a bag. These chips carry data that can be used to uniquely identify the bag and thus its destination during sortation and tracking. The data on the tag can be electronically set up during the checkin process, and then that data can be interrogated by sensors placed within reasonable proximity (up to several meters) of the bag without needing to make contact with the bag, the tag or the chip - i.e. by sensors above or at the side of baggage belts, etc. This means that bags can be sorted or tracked very quickly and efficiently as they pass by sensors.
Las Vegas McCarran is one of the leading users of RFID tags for baggage sortation.
A major problem until now has been the tags cost - OK
, current costs of $0.05-$0.10 each don't sound much, but it adds up! The cost is ever decreasing to the point where it is now making the technology more viable to be used on the millions of bags handled by airlines globally every day.
Whilst trials and live use of RFID at individual airports have been very successful (in terms of efficiency and loss/misdirection rates), the real challenge is that until EVERY airport is equipped with RFID sensor technology in its baggage sortation and management systems, baggage cannot be tracked throughout its journey using this technology - its all very well, for example, for LAS
to be able to track a bag from checkin desk to airplane, but what happens when the bag arrives in [say] LAX
? This means that whilst the technology is very beneficial, it cannot be exploited fully at present, and that the baggage tags also have to have standard bar coding etc so that the can be sorted at non-RFID equipped airports. And until IATA define a standard for RFID tagging of bags, there is a risk that various airports (including LHR
) might implement differing RFID standards that would make their respective systems incompatible.