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A living lab for radio tag efficiency

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by Journal Of Commerce last update:Sep 29, 2009

A German research institute has erected a three-storey commercial building that will house institute offices and labs and will be a test-bed for RFIDs (Radio-Frequency Identification tags) used in concrete forms, façades and insulation, both during and after construction.
A living lab for radio tag efficiency

A German research institute has erected a three-storey commercial building that houses no commercial activity. The building will house institute offices and labs, and will be a test-bed for RFIDs (Radio-Frequency Identification tags) used in concrete forms, façades and insulation, both during and after construction.

Other technologies related to energy efficiency will also be tested.

It’s called InHaus 2, and, besides RFIDs, its construction involved lasers to create three-dimensional models of the construction site, as well as webcams to compare the electronic models with the actual site.

RFIDs hold a lot of promise for a construction industry that is more and more concerned with developing better ways to design, build and monitor better buildings.

One of the organizations leading research in the area is the Fraunhofer Institute for Circuits and Systems, referred to by its German acronym, IMS.

That’s the organization leading the InHaus project.

InHaus 1 is a home built on the IMS grounds in the industrial city of Duisburg, in Germany’s Ruhr valley, to test energy-conservation and in-home networking technology. As a result, it may be of more interest to homebuilders than ICI builders.

Visitors can see, for example, how an RFID-based medicine cabinet functions. Visitors wishing to see a television program can utilize an RFID card to log in with preferences, and instruct the home’s systems to do such things as close a window shade, dim the lights and switch on the TV.

Visitors can generate a shopping list by using a touch screen in the kitchen to instruct an RFID reader to take an inventory of the kitchen’s individually tagged food items.

InHaus 2 is an extension of some of those technological tricks, with emphasis on material tracking, construction documentation and energy efficiency.

For example, RFIDs are being used to monitor the air pressure in insulation panels, since changes in pressure affect a panel’s insulating efficiency.

The RFIDs initially showed whether the panels had been correctly installed and without damage. Now, facility managers can read the tags to determine whether the panels are functioning properly or need repair.

Tags containing temperature sensors were also installed, as ceilings were built, and help monitor temperatures at various locations in the building.

Metal frames used to build forms were tagged at a subcontractor’s site so their shipment could be traced.

A gate with RFID readers located in an overhead framework was built at the construction site.

When a truck containing the frames arrived, the driver simply drove slowly through the gate and the reader recorded the arrival of each section. Tags were also installed in elements of the building façade as well as the crates they arrived in.

That way, shipping could be traced, arrival confirmed and after installation, the performance of the individual façade elements can be monitored.

This is no small research project, but it has been supported by nine separate institutes within the IMS.

There are more than four dozen industrial partners and several universities are taking part.

Now that the building is complete, it houses offices and laboratories for testing technologies meant for the health-care and hotel industries. But, the building will also continue to function as a lab to evaluate the performance of RFIDs by the construction industry.

Hochtief, the German construction giant, was a partner in the project from the outset and did the actual construction. Its people also co-operated closely with IMS personnel in the research aspects of the building.

The whole project cost €26.2 million, or about $41.5 million Canadian, with the government part of the funding coming locally and from the EU.

Korky Koroluk is a regular freelance contributor to the Journal of Commerce. Send comments to editor@journalofcommerce.com.

last update:Sep 29, 2009

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