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Oracle helps airport track baggage

Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport is testing a baggage tracking system that uses a tiny chip to track luggage.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Travelers flying out of Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport will soon have their luggage tracked using radio frequency identification technology (RFID). The data will be sorted and analyzed using an Oracle data hub.

One airline I talked to spends $100 million every year just reuniting bags with customers.
Sam Ingalls
CEOMcCarran International Airport

A tiny chip, about the size of a single grain of rice, will be embedded inside the typical baggage destination stickers that are placed on checked-in luggage. The first phase of the project is expected to be in use early next year, said McCarran CIO Sam Ingalls, who spoke during this week's Oracle OpenWorld conference.

Airlines have been struggling to get control over the amount of lost luggage and the high costs of reconnecting each piece of luggage with its owner. Baggage handlers often have trouble sorting the 65,000 bags that pass through McCarran each day, Ingalls said.

"One airline I talked to spends $100 million every year just reuniting bags with customers," Ingalls said. "This project will greatly reduce the number of bags that get separated from our customers each year and result in a huge cost savings."

McCarran has built the first of six new baggage handling facilities in a multimillion dollar five-year project funded by the airline industry. The new facilities will house four miles of conveyer systems and 70 RFID readers that scan the tiny chips and identify each bag with a traveler.

Additionally, airport officials took special care to reduce privacy concerns. Opponents to the technology have raised objections to item tracking, worried that a person's civil liberties could be violated.

Customer information will not be contained in the chip. Instead, each embedded chip will contain a three-letter header identifying the airport, followed by a unique 10-digit number that can be used to identify a customer in a database used only by airport personnel.

Ingalls is one of several Oracle RFID customers attending OpenWorld this week. Oracle is highlighting its efforts to create software supported by its 10g database and application server that help customers sort and analyze the massive amounts of data generated by RFID technologies.

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Oracle is developing a sensor data hub to capture and analyze the data generated by RFID technology, said Allyson Fryhoff, vice president of global strategic business development for Oracle. The data integrator, part of an expansion of Oracle's data hub project rolled out last year, brings together data from multiple vendors and legacy systems into a single repository that can be shared across applications.

"RFID, bar codes and other data capture technologies are going to be around for a long time," Fryhoff said. "All of this information needs to be brought in and correlated to make sense of it and then take action on it."

Some companies still feel intimidated by the upfront costs of developing RFID technology, said Rick Bishop, a principal consultant with New York City-based Deloitte Consulting. Bishop is working to help Delta Air Lines build an RFID baggage tracking program.

"Companies are intimidated because of all the physical aspects of tagging, such as what to tag, when to track it and then how to link up the information to your systems," Bishop said. "The reality is that all of these applications require a certain amount of systems development activity."

But systems development activity is beginning to be reduced as software vendors introduce RFID support into applications, Bishop said.

Oracle has been investing heavily in several new warehouse management applications that can more effectively handle data generated by RFID tags. In March, the company introduced sensor-based services, a set of applications that capture, manage and analyze data from RFID readers.

A compliance assistance package consists of prebuilt applications for RFID deployment. A pilot kit is also available and integrates RFID data into Oracle's database and its application server.

While software vendors are investing millions of dollars into research and development of RFID technologies, many companies are hesitant to begin a project, said Sharyn Leaver, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

"Given the cost, it doesn't make sense to move forward right away," Leaver said. "In a lot of cases the companies jumping in are thinking outside the box and have the cash to invest."

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