The prototype readers are expected to be complete "in the near future," according to officials. Software-defined radio technology, made possible by the digitization of analog RF signals, will enable the reader to change frequencies to read active or passive tags.
The reader also ultimately will become available for commercial use, says Paul Ewing, the leader of the RF and microwave systems group at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "The Oak Ridge National Laboratory won't take the readers to market," he says. "We will develop the technology and license it to a private company. It's done all the time." The company in the commercial sector would license the technology and brand the finished product under its name.
Scientists and engineers at the lab conduct basic and applied research to develop applications and devices for energy usage, restore and protect the environment, and contribute technology to national security. In the past the Energy Department has used RFID to track vehicles and nuclear materials, although the reason for the deployment this time around is not clear. The Defense Department has been instrumental in demonstrating RFID tags and readers for tracking and tracing goods through its supply chain and into combat, and expect its suppliers to affix RFID tags on cases and pallets by January 1, 2005. The Defense Department is expected to publish its RFID guidelines for suppliers by the end of this month.