Ford embeds RFID tech into new trucks and vans

"Where's that darn circular saw?" Ford helps workers keep track of their tools

For all those construction workers, plumbers and engineers who are tired of arriving at job sites without the tools they need, Ford Motor Co. has come up with a way to keep track of them -- radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.

Ford announced this week that it has teamed up with ThingMagic LLC, a developer of RFID technology, and industrial power-tool manufacturer DeWalt to embed RFID technology in its pickup trucks and vans. The technology is set to tag and track tools, construction equipment and materials, as well as to make sure everything that needs to be in a vehicle is there.

"We talked to contractors and skilled tradespeople, who told us how often they get to a job site and realize they don't have the tool they need for the job, or they leave the site and don't have the tool with them," said Bill Frykman, product and business development manager at Ford. "It's about making sure you have the right tool at the right time."

The automobile manufacturer showed off the technology at this week's 2008 Chicago Auto Show.

RFID, an automatic technology consisting of a small chip and an antenna, will be an option in Ford F-150 trucks, F-Series Super Duty trucks and E-Series vans starting this September. Along with being a factory option, Frykman noted that the technology also will be a dealer option, so people can buy it and have it installed in their current vehicles.

Pricing is slated to be disclosed this spring when Ford announces the price for its new F-150 pickup trucks.

Ford has been using RFID technology in its automotive manufacturing plants, but Frykman said this is the first time a company has used it in light vehicles. Ford is working on patenting the technology displayed at the auto show, he added.

Frykman explained that users can tag their tools and equipment with thin passive embedded RFID tags and then program into an in-dash computer their various jobs and the tools needed for each of them. "Think of it as a play list on your MP3 player or iPod," he added. "If he's framing a building, doing the plumbing or pulling wire, we'll have lists of tools needed for that job. It's user-defined. When you leave in the morning, you make sure you have the correct tools, and at the end of the day, you make sure you have the tools packed up and back in the truck or van."

The in-dash computer has a 6.5-in. touch screen and is set up for a wireless keyboard and mouse. There also are two antennas in the truck that will scan for the tagged tools and match them against the job program that the user picks that day.

Chris Allen, vice president of DeWalt's Security Business Group, noted that the RFID application will scan for tagged equipment every time the vehicle is started up or upon the user's request.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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