Swarun baggage:

Swarun Kumar and teammates at Carnegie Mellon University have created a new baggage tracking system called PushID. (screen grab of YouTube/College of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University)

A Carnegie Mellon University lab led by Indian American Swarun Kumar has created a system that may prevent air travelers from losing their baggage ever again.

The university reports that Kumar’s lab created PushID, a tracking system that would trump the typical radio-frequency identification system used in most airports today.

The RFID systems are intended to track the movement of baggage throughout an airport. This system contains two parts: a mobile tag and a stationary reader.

That said, SITA, a leading specialist in air transport technology, estimates that mishandled baggage costs the industry an estimated $2.3 billion in 2017 alone.

While this frustrating experience affects millions of travelers each year, researchers, including Kumar, are searching for new ways to improve the tracking technology, CMU reports.

“From a deployment perspective, upgrading software on existing readers is much more inexpensive compared to purchasing and installing new readers that are often bulkier,” Kumar, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said in the report.

“Our solution, called PushID, uses a technique called beamforming that focuses energy from many different readers onto one tag. By carefully modifying the signals from each reader, we make sure their energy constructively adds up at the tag’s location,” the professor added. “Our key innovation is finding where the battery-free tags are to beam energy to, because they have absolutely no energy in the first place to advertise their location.”

To determine where tags are located throughout the environment, the readers give out various specialized signals that intelligently smear energy through the environment in search of a tag.

If a tag is within the range, it will transmit a signal in return. The reader will then receive this transmitted signal and once again sends out a signal of its own. By repeating this process every few milliseconds, the readers can quickly identify the tags in the environment and can converge on their precise locations, according to the university report.

This iterative process also allows PushID to account for any obstacles in the environments, such as furniture, signs and walls.

The presence of even a single obstacle can dramatically change how energy adds up or cancels out across tag locations. PushID allows the RFID system to account for the effect of these obstacles, thereby ensuring that the tag’s location is properly identified, it said.

The readers can also account for mobility, allowing the system to follow the tag as it moves through the environment.

Unlike current RFID tags, which have a range of 5-15 meters, PushID can expand that range to 64 meters, an improvement of 7.4 times that of the commercial RFID systems already in use, the university said.

And for a given environment, PushID can provide sufficient coverage for 97 percent of the area within four seconds; without PushId, only 33 percent of the total area is covered.

While PushID is ready for implementation as it stands, the team has already identified additional improvements. The range of the PushID system can be expanded if the team is allowed to choose where new readers should be installed. Additionally, the team hopes to incorporate their technology with other solutions currently on the market to further increase range, it said.

Currently, PushID works at a store-scale: 64 meters is enough to cover a warehouse or retail store, but it is inadequate for larger areas. In the future, the team aims to bring the technology to a city scale and broaden its applications, the report added.

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