The Permanent Electronic Luggage Tag

2 August 2008 at 2:00 | Posted in Airlines, Airport Security, Aviation Security, Budget Airlines, Electronic Luggage Tag, gps, Innovations, RFID Tag, Security, Travel | Leave a comment
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[Category: Innovations. If you are new to my blog please read the “About itimes3” page first]

A long time ago I changed the plastic luggage tag attached to the handle of my suitcase to only read my name, my mobile number and my email address – destination address, originating address, and any other cumbersome information henceforth ommitted, I don’t waste time anymore updating the tag for each flight.

However there is still the time consuming and messy process of attaching paper (or paper-like plastic) destination tags to the luggage at check-in. I don’t have to do that, but I have to wait for it, and it is an old-fashioned solution with more cons than pros.

The problem with the paper tags is that they are in most cases still based on optical technology (large human readable airport code, and machine-readable barcode), which makes them more prone to be the cause of handling errors. And even when they have an embedded RFID tag (which was experimented with at some airports and may still be ongoing, I am not sure), they are still fragile as they depend on the sticky surface being applied correctly, plus this type of label sticks out so can catch on objects and be torn off, with as a result lost luggage.

Another problem is that printing and attaching the destination tags is a cumbersome process that takes too much time at check-in. If printing and attaching the label(s) for an average passenger takes 30 seconds, it will take 150 minutes for a flight with 300 people. That’s more than two hours of staff time! And even at an unrealistically low average of 10 seconds, it would still take 50 minutes per flight, nearly an hour of staff time.

And finally, it is a waste of resources (tons of plastic and paper thrown away worldwide every day), and a messy business removing the tags at the other end.

To fix this issue permanently, I propose the creation of a permanent electronic tag.

This tag can be built into the suitcase at manufacture, or attached to a handle if the suitcase does not have one built in, or the built-in one is broken (or perhaps it can be glued like a sticker to the suitcase, inside or out, if it is flat enough). These attachable tags would be for sale at the airport, and should be reasonable in cost (a few dollars each max; perhaps a durable and a cheaper non-durable version could be offered).

This tag would have (at least) two items of information: The first item being the owner’s details, with email address and phone number, and including perhaps a passport number or other means of identification (however not home address or similar, to avoid risk of “burglary in absence” should someone unauthorised read the tag at the airport).
The second item would be the flight details, including destination, flight number, etc.

These two items are in a sense independent from each other: the owner of the luggage should be able to change the personal details, however the flight details should only be changeable at check-in, and show up on a screen there so both the check-in attendant and the suitcase owner can verify the details are correct.

During processing, the flight details are read off the tag by proximity scanners located along the conveyer belts etc. and also when entering the aircraft, as well as when leaving it and during arrivals processing.

The personal details in the tag can be used as proof of ownership should this be disputed in any way at destination, or to locate the owner should the luggage be lost somehow.

The technology should be based on current RFID technology, with the difference that the tags will be built to have a near-permanent durability. The system could be built and marketed globally by the big airport luggage handling manufacturers, for example, in association with airlines, the luggage manufacturing industry and likely at least some otherĀ global players in the travel world, particularly to handle the IT and data processing side of the project.

Additional features of this type of tagging would include the ability to “read” all tags of all luggage in the hold of an aircraft in one hit (provided the right active technology us used), so that a list of luggage can quickly be matched to passenger lists.

The system, once implemented, could then also be used for cargo, which probably would be equipped with less permanent RFID tags.

Note: here is the link to the Wikipedia entry on RFID tags, which provides a lot of information about the technology: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RFID

In the more distant future, a tag or beacon based on GPS-technology could be used, so that each piece of luggage could be tracked anywhere in the world by satellite. The technology exists, but is perhaps somewhat expensive still…

If you like this idea and you work in a type of industry where this is relevant, I would be happy to discuss in more detail, answer questions or assist in other ways. For details and contact information please see the “About itimes3” page.

George Spark

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