Looking For A Gusher With RFID

Oil ID Systems will begin tests to see whether the technology can be used to track oil as it's stored, shipped, and sold.
A newly formed company is looking into whether radio-frequency identification technology can be used to track oil as it's stored, shipped, and sold. The company, Oil ID Systems Inc., will start testing the technology in about a month on wells it purchased last week.

Oil ID Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of X-Change Corp., plans to test motes, or tiny wireless devices, that communicate over radio frequency. Each mote, which is about the size of a grain of sand, includes a small amount of memory, a bidirectional radio transmitter, a sensor, and a tiny computational device, according to Mike Sheriff, CEO of AirGate Technologies Inc., also a wholly owned subsidiary of X-Change that's working closely with Oil ID Systems and that designs and develops applications used in RFID deployments. The motes can organize themselves into a mesh network that collects information, such as temperature.

Oil ID Systems wants to find out whether these RFID-based motes can be used to track oil to prevent theft. "Oil is stolen, and we'd like to see if we can use the technology to physically trace oil," Sheriff says. "It'll be like branding your oil."

Sheriff says there are big questions about whether the technology will work. "Theoretically, we think we can. But will the motes float? Will they sink? Will the oil kill the RF capability?"

The engineering lab at the University of California at Berkeley pioneered mote technology, also known as pervasive-sensor networking, or dust technology. Oil ID Systems will purchase motes to test the technology and determine whether it can develop applications specifically for the oil industry.

"The various pilots, such as the Department of Defense's and Wal-Mart's, are so far only marginally successful because of the standards, cost of tags, immaturity of technology, and some real issues in terms of the ability to read a full pallet," Sheriff says. "So we thought there might be some more ideal uses."

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