NEW TRACKING technology could spell the end of lost luggage due to RFID radio frequency identification, which uses tiny microchips that broadcast a unique identification number. They are already being tested at several airports to keep better track of luggage and will be rolled out at dozens more soon.
Unlike traditional bar codes, RFID chips don’t have to be in direct view of a scanner to be read, but within a broadcast range of around 15 feet. Currently, around 15 per cent of bar codes printed onto the labels placed on checked-in luggage are not properly read automatically, meaning either an expensive manual check or a suitcase heading down the wrong chute and onto the wrong plane.
According to estimates from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the global aviation industry body that is co-ordinating the introduction of the new technology, around 99 per cent of RFID tags are read correctly by scanner. “There are several trials underway around the world at the moment,” said Andrew Price, who is managing RFID technology for the IATA. “The trial results that we have so far indicate an excellent performance for RFID, reading baggage moving along conveyors without any problems.”
Several airports are already using the tags, including Hong Kong’s Chep Lak Kok airport and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, but some consumer groups have raised concerns about privacy and misuse of information. However, the RFID chips planned for use in airports will be among the most basic, capable of transmitting only a 12-digit identification number, unique to that date and journey, and of no use afterwards.