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Automatic Vehicle Identification using RFID-

A first hand experience

* P.Butani, ** Dr. Joseph John & *** Major Akash Dhole

* P.Butani, Director Research (Mechanical), RDSO

** Dr Joseph John, Prof. Electrical Engg., IIT, Kanpur
*** Major Akash Dhole, M.Tech student, IIT, Kanpur

Development of several wayside detection systems such as Wheel Impact Load Detector,
Trackside Bogie Monitoring System and Hot Box, Hot Wheel Detector has been taken up with
IIT Kanpur. In all these systems, vehicles with defects are identified using axle count starting
from the locomotive. However, if there is a change in the direction of train or remarshalling of
vehicles, the axle count of the identified vehicle with defects no more remains valid.

Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) for identifying railway vehicles is being extensively used
world over. This system in combination with wayside detection systems help in identifying

vehicles with defects and sending advise to the maintenance depot /owning authority for taking
corrective action. This has helped in introducing the concept of Predictive Maintenance.

In view of above, it was decided to develop the capability of identifying vehicles using Radio

Frequency Identification (RFID) system along with the project of development of Trackside
Bogie Monitoring System.

Automatic identification, or auto ID for short, is the broad term given to a host of technologies
that are used to help machines identify objects. Auto identification is often coupled with

automatic data capture. That is, companies want to identify items, capture information about
them and somehow get the data into a computer without having employees type it in. The aim of

most auto-ID systems is to increase efficiency, reduce data entry errors, and free up staff to
perform more value-added functions. There are a host of technologies that fall under the auto-ID
umbrella. These include bar codes, smart cards, voice recognition, some biometric technologies

(retinal scans, for instance), optical character recognition, radio frequency identification (RFID)
and others.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a means of identifying an item based on radio

frequency transmission. This technology can be used to identify, track and detect a wide variety
of objects. Communication takes place between a reader and a transponder (derived from
TRANSmitter/resPONDER - Silicon Chip connected to an antenna), usually called “tag”. Tags
come in many forms, such as smart labels that are stuck on boxes, smart cards and a box that
you stick on your windshield to enable you to pay tolls without stopping. Tags can either be
passive (powered by the reader field), semi-passive or active (powered by battery). Active RFID
tags are powered by an onboard powering source and tend to be more expensive than passive
tags that harvest power from the RF energy of the reader. On board power allows the active
tags to have greater communication distance and faster response time. These tags are more
versatile and usually have larger memory capacity. Passive RFID tags have no internal power
source and use external power to operate. These tags are powered by the electromagnetic
signal received from a reader. The received electromagnetic signal charges an internal
capacitor on the tags, which in turn, acts as a power source and supplies the power to the chip.

RFID systems differentiation criteria depend on operating reader frequency, physical coupling
method and communication distance (read range). The communication frequency used ranges
from 135 KHz long wave to 5.8 GHz in the microwave range and are classified into four basic
Ranges: LF (low frequency, 30 - 300 kHz), HF (high frequency, 3 - 30 MHz), UHF (ultra high
frequency, 300 MHz – 2 GHz) and Microwave (> 2 GHz). The physical coupling uses magnetic
and electromagnetic fields. The communication distance varies from few millimeters to above 3-
5 meters (close coupling: 0 - 1 cm, remote coupling: 0 - 1 m, long range: > 1 m).

The following table shows an overview of RFID performances at various frequencies:

LF HF UHF Microwave
Frequency <135KHz 13.56 MHz 860-930 MHz 2.45GHz
Standards ISO/IEC 18000-2 ISO/IEC 18000-3 ISO/IEC 18000-6 ISO/IEC 18000-4
specifications Auto ID HF Class I Auto ID Class 0, Class 1
ISO 1693, ISO
Typical Read < 0.5m ~1m ~4 - 5m ~1m
Coupling Magnetic Magnetic Electromagnetic Electromagnetic
General Larger antennas Less expensive In volume UHF tags Similar
resulting in higher than LF tags. Best have the potential to be characteristics to

cost tags. Least suited for cheaper than LF of HF UHF but faster read
susceptible to applications that do due to recent advances rates. Drawback is

performance not require long- in IC design. Good for microwaves are
degradations from range reading of reading multiple tags at much more
metals and
high number of
tags. This
long range. More
affected than LF and HF
susceptible to
frequency has the by performance degradations from
widest application degradations from metals and liquids.
scope. metals and liquids.
Tag power Mainly passive Mainly passive Active and passive tags Active and passive
source using inductive using inductive using E-Field back tags using E-Field

coupling (near coupling (near scatter in the far field back scatter in the
field) field) far field.
Typical Access Control, Smart cards, Supply chain-pallet and Electronic toll

applications Animal tagging, Access Control, Box tagging, Baggage collection, Real
Vehicle Payment, ID, Item Handling, electronic toll Time Location of
immobilizers level tagging, collection. goods.

baggage control,

Transport, Apparel
Notes Largest installed Currently the most Different frequencies 5.8GHz more or
base due to widely available and power allocated by less abandoned for
mature high frequency different countries RFID
technology. worldwide due to US 4W(EIRP) 915MHz
However, will be the adoption of Europe 0.5W (ERP) 868
overtaken by smart cards in MHz
higher transport.
Multiple Tag Slower Faster
Read Rate
Ability to
read near Better Worse
metal or wet
Passive Tag Larger Smaller

In the typical configuration tags are placed on the objects to be identified. Each tag is provided
with an internal memory, which is partially “read-only” and, optionally, rewritable, where the
information (unique ID serial number, manufacture date, product composition etc.) about the
object is stored. When these tags pass through the field generated by a reader, they transmit
this information back to the reader, thus allowing the object identification.
The communication process between the reader and tag is managed and controlled by one of
several protocols, such as the ISO 15693 and ISO 18000-3 for HF or the ISO 18000-6, and
EPC for UHF. The identification process begins when the reader is switched on; it starts
emitting a signal at the selected frequency band (typically 860 – 915 MHz for UHF or 13.56 MHz
for HF); the tags reached by the reader’s field will “wake up” (supplied by the field itself, if
passive). Once the Tag has decoded the signal, it replies to the reader, by modulating the
reader field (backscattering modulation). If many tags are present then they will all reply at the
same time. If this occurs, the reader detects a signal collision and an indication of multiple tags.
In this case the reader uses an anti-collision algorithm designed to allow tags to be sorted and
individually selected. The number of tags that can be identified depends on the frequency and
protocol used, and typically ranges from 50 tags/s to 200 tags/s. Once one tag is selected, the
reader can perform all the allowed operations such as read the tags identifier number, or also
write data in it (in case of a read/write tag). After operations on the first tag are finished, the
reader starts processing the second one and so on until the last one.


In order to receive energy and communicate with a reader, passive tags use either one of the

two following methods. These are near field, which employs inductive coupling of the tag to the
magnetic field circulating around the reader antenna (like a transformer), and far field, which
uses similar techniques to radar (backscatter reflection) by coupling with the electric field. The
near field is generally used by RFID systems operating in the LF and HF frequency bands, and
the far field for longer read range UHF and microwave RFID systems. The reason is that in the
near field, the field energy decreases, as a first approximation, proportionally to 1/R3 (where R is
the distance from the antenna), while in the far field the energy decreases proportionally to 1/R;
the borderline between near and far field is at R = λ/2π; as a result, in the far field the energy of
lower frequencies waves will turn out to be much more reduced than that of higher ones, whose
use is thus mandatory in that zone.
Passive technology is most widely used for RFID applications. Passive technology operates in a
range of frequency bands, of which 860 – 956 MHz (ISM) band is most popular. Passive tags
operating at UHF communicate with the reader through Amplitude Modulation (AM), and receive
their power from the reader field, with energy transfer based on the far field properties.
Communication from tag to reader is achieved by altering the antenna input impedance in time
with the data stream to be transmitted: in this way the power reflected back to the reader is

modulated in time with the data. The use of far field backscatter modulation introduces problems
that are not present in HF and lower frequency systems. One of the most important of such
undesired effects is due to the fact that the field emitted by the reader is not only reflected by
the tag antenna, but also by any objects with dimensions in the order of the wavelength used:
these reflected fields could damp the reader’s and the back scattered field thus reducing the
system’s efficiency; for this reason it is better to use more than just one antenna per reader. ISO
defines the Air interface communication between Reader->Tag and Tag->Reader, and include
parameters like Communication protocol, Signal Modulation types, Data coding and frames,
Data Transmission rates and Anti-collision (detection and sorting of many tags in the Reader
field at the same time). The ISO standard list for Air Interface is as follows:

ISO 18000 RFID for Item Management: Air Interface

-1 Generic parameters
-2 below 135 kHz
-3 at 13.56 MHz
-4 at 2.45 GHz Electronic Product Code- 96 bits
-5 at 5.8 GHz
-6 at UHF frequency band


EPC Global has released their UHF standards, which include class 0 and class 1 tag. Class 0
EPC tags have a factory programmed 96 bit data that cannot be altered, whereas class 1 allows

user programmable data. EPC Global has proposed other classes of EPC tags that would
provide user memory beyond the ID code. It has also created detailed specifications for the

structure of the 96-bit code flexible enough to incorporate other coding standards currently in
use in the supply chain.

Operating Principle: Backscattering (UHF) Passive RFID: The major components, of a

backscattering Passive (UHF) RFID system, are readers, tags and an application host. An RFID
reader mainly comprises of a set of antennae, a radio interface, a control unit and a powering
unit. The antenna performs the function of transmitting and receiving the electromagnetic
energy used for communication and powering the tags, within its range. The radio interface
performs the job of detection, modulation and demodulation of the RF signal. The control unit
executes the communication protocol with the tags and interprets the data received from the
tags. In performing all the above-mentioned functionalities, the reader communicates with the
tags within range as directed by the application host and reports the results to the host.

A common tag implementation consists of an electronic microchip that stores data and executes
the tag’s functionality, an antenna that performs the function of receiving and transmitting RF
energy, a tag powering circuit that utilizes the RF power from the reader to power up the
microchip, and a substrate on which the entire tag is built. Passive RFID tags, that utilize the RF
energy from the reader for its operation, come cheapest and have the largest commercial
The tag Integrated Circuit (IC) controls the tag operations according to the reader’s commands

and the communication protocol. Tag antenna receives reader’s continuous wave during the
reader’s powering up phase. The tag powering up circuit rectifies this CW signal from the reader

and further delivers it to its IC circuitry.
Powering up phase of the reader transmission is followed by the command transmission phase

in which modulated RF is sent by the reader as command signal. The powered up tag IC
executes the reader’s command. After the reader has transmitted its command, it starts to
broadcast a continuous field again which the tag will modulate and backscatter again as its
response to the reader’s command. The modulation is produced by switching the tag’s antenna
matching. The schematic of this operation is depicted in figure:

Fig. Communication Principle

The response of the tag to the reader’s query ID command depends on whether reader is
operating in ‘global scroll’ or ‘inventory’ mode. The query ID command format from the reader
depends upon these modes and depending upon which format is used in the reader data field,
the tag response will take one of the two possible forms. The ‘global scroll’ command is
intended to identify one tag at a time and the tag response to this command is generated in the
form of tag's identification code in whole, which includes both the tag's EPC and CRC. In case
of ‘inventory’ mode of the reader, several tags in its identification range can be identified
simultaneously. The reader goes through all possible code combinations with the minimum
number of readings using an anti-collision algorithm. Each reply of the tags includes a 15-bit
part of its EPC defined in the reader's command code.
The complete identification procedure takes a certain amount of time. This time takes into
account the maximum and minimum time intervals of each modulation window that is defined in
the concerned specification. Besides this, the data processing also takes a certain amount of
time. The identification time required for identification of tags one at a time using the ‘Global
scroll’ technique is very less as it takes a single round trip of one command and its response.
On the other hand ‘Inventory’ command used for multiple tag identification consists of several
read cycles. The exact number of read cycles required depends on the number of tags present
with in the identification range of the reader and their closeness in EPC codes in the binary tree.
It indicates that the ‘inventory’ command should only be used with very low velocities to achieve
reliable identification accuracy, and for higher velocities, ‘Global scroll’ command and reading of
the tags one at a time is advisable.

Acquisition Modes: Acquisition Mode defines the method used to read tags in the field.
There are two distinct methods for reading tags, "Global Scroll" and "Inventory”. The choice of
one method over another depends on the application at hand.

Global Scroll: Global Scroll is the most primitive of tag ID reading operations. When a global
scroll command is issued, the RFID Reader sends a single command over the air to each and
every tag. This command is simply a request for any tag to immediately send back its ID to the
RFID Reader.

The simplicity of this command is both its advantage and its downfall. The command is very

quick to execute as it involves only one round trip between the reader and the tag. However,
because the command is so simple, problems may arise if there is more than one tag in the

field. At this point, multiple tags will all receive the same command, and will all send back their
IDs to the reader at virtually the same time. A situation such as this makes it difficult for the
reader to discern individual IDs among the general noise. Typically one or two of the closest
tags will be decoded, but the majority will not be discerned. There are many applications where
global scroll is the best tag reading method to use. These applications typically expect just one
or two tags in the field of view at any one time, such as conveyor belt or tollbooth applications.

For these systems, global scroll outperforms a full inventory by a factor of three as far as
individual read rates are concerned.

Inventory: Inventory command is a full-featured system for discerning the IDs of multiple tags in
the field at the same time. This single high-level command transforms itself into a complex
series of reader-tag interrogations that eventually resolve themselves into a single list of tag IDs

seen by the RFID Reader. This method of interrogation and evaluation of multiple tags is known
as an anti-collision search. These algorithms are far more complex than the global scroll

algorithm, requiring many more reader-tag instructions.

Class 1 Gen 1 Inventory uses ‘deterministic’ inventory algorithm which involves a rigorous
method of "walking the tree" through all possible bit combinations that make up Tag IDs. In
contrast, the Class 1 Gen 2 protocol is "probabilistic". In the Class 1 Gen 2 inventory, the reader
tells all the tags to roll a random number, and the population is subdivided into a number of
"bins" (determined by the "Q" parameter). Only those tags that chose a random number in bin
#1 get to talk. After the reader finishes with this first group of tags, it tells the rest of the tags to
move down a bin, and it then talks to the next group of tags. Picking the starting Q parameter
that is right for the expected tag population size is important in achieving good inventory

In case of railway application the tags will be placed far enough from each other to ensure that
no two tags will be in the RF field at any given time. In such a scenario use of ‘Global Scroll’
mode of acquisition is possible and it will enhance the performance of the system drastically.
However it has to be ensured that the tags are spaced apart adequately to avoid any collision.

Tag read mode: There are two methods of reading the tags, Interactive Mode and
Autonomous Mode. In Interactive Mode the controlling application issues commands to the
reader to read tags. This command will always immediately return with a list of tags in the
reader's field of view. On the other hand in case of Autonomous Mode, the reader constantly
reads tags, and may initiate a conversation with a network listener when certain events arise.
While both methods are equally useful, the choice will ultimately be determined by the needs of
the controlling application. Although it may be easier and require less coding to work in
Interactive Mode, a little investment in programming effort lets the user set up Auto Mode.
Readers that spend less time communicating with the host can spend more time looking for

Interactive Mode: Reading tags in Interactive Mode is as simple as issuing a single command
to the reader. This causes the reader to initiate a tag search, and report back the current Tag

Autonomous Mode: Autonomous Mode is a configuration and operation mode that enables
automated monitoring and handling of tag data. A series of configuration commands are issued
initially to the reader which specify how and when to read tags, and optionally what to do with
the tag data. Once configured in this mode, the reader can be left to operate on its own. An
application on a host computer can then be set up to listen for notification messages from the

reader containing any tag data that it has read.

Fundamentally, a reader operating in Auto Mode moves between several states: Waiting,
Working, Evaluation, and Notification. Movement from one state to the next may be initiated by

an expiration of a timer, a triggered event on the digital input lines, or changes to the Tag List.
Autonomous mode has a feature by which the Tag List delivered has time stamps indicating the
instants at which the tags were detected. These can then be used to correlate the Tag IDs with
the corresponding sensor data.

Antenna Sequence: The readers can invariably support the use of multiple antennas and
allow selecting which antenna port(s) to use and in what sequence. The reader cycles through

all the antennas, in the order specified in the Antenna Sequence. The Readers may be Mono-
Static Systems or Multi Static Systems. Mono-Static System Readers have the ability to transmit
and receive RF signals on the same antenna port. Multi Static System Readers, on the other

hand, transmit and receive RF signals on separate antennas, providing significantly better
sensitivity to weak tag backscatter signals. These readers may allow fixed antenna pairing

scheme or more flexible arbitrary combinations of transmit/receive antennas, giving better RF

coverage over a larger area in front of the reader, with fewer antennas.

Initial Hurdles in Implementation:

RFID is a relatively new technology and is yet to find widespread application in India. Earlier
there was no frequency allotted by Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing for this purpose.
However vide its notification G.S.R 168(E), dated 11th March, 2005, 865-867 MHz was allotted
for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) with a maximum transmitter power of 1 Watt (4 Watts
Effective Radiated Power) with 200 KHz carrier band width. Also 2.4 GHz to 2.4835 GHz. band
was de-licensed vide notification no. G.S.R. 45 (E) dated 28th January 2005.

Although the frequency band was allotted for RFID application, no equipment working in this
band was available. For railway applications, the American railroads are using 902-928MHz
while in Europe 2.4GHz band is being used. In Europe, 869.4-869.65MHz band with 500mW
power was also being used for general RFID applications. Subsequently, in October 2004, with
gradual increase in use of RFID in Europe, ETSI 302208 was adopted with a frequency band of
865-868 MHz. As a result, RFID equipment working in this frequency range became available in
the later half of 2005.
It was decided to purchase a RFID system with a small quantity of tags for trials. The option was
to either go in for a proven system for Railway Vehicle Identification or to purchase a general-
purpose system and adapt it for railway application. Offers were received from M/s Transcore,
USA for their RFID system comprising of AI 1200 Reader, AR2200 RF module, Antenna
AA3110, AP4118 Tag Programmer & 100 nos. of AT5118 tag and M/s Tag Master, Sweden for
their Heavy Duty Reader S1566 and 100 nos. of Script tags S1450. Although they were offering
a proven system for Railway Vehicle Identification, they were offering their standard product
working on frequencies allotted for RFID in their countries, i.e, 902-928 MHz & 2.4 GHz
respectively. Also the systems were expensive (~ Rs 10 lakhs). The only company, which was
offering equipment in the desired frequency band of 865-867 MHz in 2005, was CAEN, Italy.
Although they were offering a general-purpose system not tried for railway applications, the
system was cheaper (~ Rs 2 lakhs).

It was decided to purchase a general-purpose system, which, besides being cheaper will give
ample scope for experimentation and learning. A development kit A948DKEU working on ISO
protocol was purchased from CAEN, Italy along with 100 nos of A918 tags for conducting trials.
Subsequently, in the later half of 2006, more such equipments working on the desired frequency
became available. Development kit ALR-8800 – Dev C working on a different protocol, EPC,
was purchased from Alien Technologies, USA. This system was also in the range of ~ Rs 2


Trials with the systems:
RFID tags may be placed on the rail vehicles, and the reader with antenna can be placed

suitably, along with other wayside detection systems. The antennae may be placed on the
trackside and the tags may be fixed on the sides of the rail vehicle, or alternatively, the tags may
be mounted on the undercarriage of the rail vehicle and the antennae may be placed between
the tracks looking up. The setup may take one of the forms shown in figure. However on IR, at
present, the toilet discharge from the passenger coaches is allowed to fall directly on the tracks.
As such, the tag placed on the side of the vehicles is the only option.




(a) Transponder attached to the (b) Transponder attached to the

undercarriage of vehicle side of vehicle

Trials with CAEN System: The CAEN development kit came with demo application software in
JAVA and Visual C++. As the equipment was to be used along with the Trackside Bogie
Monitoring System working on LabVIEW, fresh program in LabVIEW was developed. The
system works on ISO-18000-6b protocol. The tag can store 2k bits of data (256 bytes). The
equipment was tested on running trains. It could read tagID+10 characters of data (vehicle no.)
from tags fixed on the vehicles moving up to 75kmph. However at higher speeds it could read

only the tagID. The speed of the vehicle had to be reduced when no. of characters of data to be
read increased. The system first interrogates the tag for its ID and in the next interrogation
reads the data. The tag should be available in the reading range for sufficient time for the
Reader to read the tag ID + data. This double interrogation cycle limits the speed of the vehicle
for automatic identification.

For using this system for vehicle identification at higher speeds, the option is to read only tag ID
and link it to a computer database to find the vehicle no.

A948 Reader

A918 Tag

Tag IC Tag Antenna
A 948 Dev Kit


Field trials with CAEN System

Tag ID Tag Tag ID Tag

Data Data

Antenna-1 Antenna-2

Screenshot of LabVIEW program front panel used with the CAEN hardware

During the trials numbering of 111... , 222…, etc (10 alphanumeric characters) was used as Tag
data instead of actual vehicle no. for ease to find out which tag data was missed.

Speed: 50 kmph
S No. Tag ID Tag Data Time Delay (ms)
1 E004C9BD2C010000 1111111111 12:59:25 PM 129
2 E004C9BD2C010000 Ê 12:59:25 PM 148
3 E004C4B52C010000 2222222222 12:59:26 PM 126
4 E004C4B52C010000 2222222222 12:59:26 PM 124
5 E0043BAD2C010000 3333333333 12:59:27 PM 128
6 E0043BAD2C010000 3333333333 12:59:27 PM 124
7 E0043BAD2C010000 Ê 12:59:27 PM 145
8 E004A5CD2C010000 4444444444 12:59:29 PM 101
9 E004FEC82C010000 5555555555 12:59:30 PM 128
10 E004FEC82C010000 Ê 12:59:30 PM 130
11 E0042ACD2C010000 6666666666 12:59:31 PM 124
12 E0042ACD2C010000 6666666666 12:59:31 PM 127
13 E0043BF82C010000 7777777777 12:59:32 PM 129

14 E0043BF82C010000 Ê 12:59:32 PM 123
15 E00463C12C010000 8888888888 12:59:34 PM 127

16 E00463C12C010000 8888888888 12:59:34 PM 126

17 E00463C12C010000 8888888888 12:59:34 PM 127
18 E00463C12C010000 8888888888 12:59:34 PM 124
19 E00463C12C010000 Ê 12:59:34 PM 146
20 E00401D82D010000 9999999999 12:59:35 PM 126
21 E00401D82D010000 9999999999 12:59:35 PM 123
22 E00401D82D010000 9999999999 12:59:35 PM 123

23 E00401D82D010000 Ê 12:59:35 PM 135

24 E00458B12C010000 10101010101 12:59:36 PM 112
25 E00458B12C010000 10101010101 12:59:36 PM 117

26 E00458B12C010000 10101010101 12:59:36 PM 121

27 E00458B12C010000 10101010101 12:59:36 PM 115

28 E00458B12C010000 10101010101 12:59:36 PM 107


Data acquired during field trials of CAEN equipment at speed of 50 kmph

Speed: 75 kmph
S No. Tag ID Tag Data Time Delay (mS)
1 E004C9BD2C010000 Ê 01:29:12 PM 141
2 E004C4B52C010000 2222222222 01:29:12 PM 116
3 E004C4B52C010000 Ê 01:29:12 PM 125
4 E0043BAD2C010000 Ê 01:29:13 PM 125
5 E004A5CD2C010000 4444444444 01:29:13 PM 121
6 E004FEC82C010000 Ê 01:29:13 PM 120
7 E0042ACD2C010000 6666666666 01:29:14 PM 129
8 E0043BF82C010000 Ê 01:29:14 PM 113
9 E00463C12C010000 8888888888 01:29:14 PM 120
10 E00463C12C010000 8888888888 01:29:14 PM 121
11 E00463C12C010000 Ê 01:29:15 PM 123

12 E00401D82D010000 9999999999 01:29:15 PM 126
13 E00401D82D010000 9999999999 01:29:16 PM 113
14 E00401D82D010000 9999999999 01:29:16 PM 123
15 E00458B12C010000 10101010101 01:29:16 PM 112
16 E00458B12C010000 10101010101 01:29:17 PM 114
17 E00458B12C010000 10101010101 01:29:17 PM 112
18 E00458B12C010000 Ê 01:29:17 PM 122
Data acquired during field trials of CAEN equipment at speed of 75 kmph

Around 75kmph, although all TagIDs could be read, tag data of some of the tags highlighted
above was missed. These tags were fixed on wagons and the stiffeners surrounding the Tags
resulted in reflections, causing nulls in the RF field.

Trials with System supplied by Alien Technologies: The system works on EPC
protocol. The tags can store 96 bits of user programmable data. A separate program in
LabVIEW was developed for this system. The equipment was tested up to 150 kmph by moving
two vehicles, one with tags and the other with reader, in opposite direction. The system,
however, was not tested on a wagon, wherein the limitation of reading the tags due to stiffeners,
is experienced.


Field trials with Alien System


Tag ID -16 alphanumeric Date Time No. of Reading Tag Type

characters Reads Antenna

0000000000000000 2007/03/02 09:19:08. 677 1 1 Class 1 Gen 2

0000000000000000 2007/03/02 09:19:08. 852 1 0 Class 1 Gen 2

1111111111111111 2007/03/02 09:19:10.936 1 1 Class 1 Gen 2

1111111111111111 2007/03/02 09:19:11.251 1 0 Class 1 Gen 2
2222222222222222 2007/03/02 9:19:12.337 1 1 Class 1 Gen 2
2222222222222222 2007/03/02 9:19:12.471 3 0 Class 1 Gen 2
3333333333333333 2007/03/02 09:19:14.257 1 1 Class 1 Gen 2
3333333333333333 2007/03/02 9:19:14.352 3 0 Class 1 Gen 2
4444444444444444 2007/03/02 9:19:16.077 1 1 Class 1 Gen 2
4444444444444444 2007/03/02 09:19:16.192 3 0 Class 1 Gen 2
5555555555555555 2007/03/02 9:19:18.297 1 1 Class 1 Gen 2
6666666666666666 2007/03/02 9:19:19.897 3 1 Class 1 Gen 2
6666666666666666 2007/03/02 9:19:20.052 3 0 Class 1 Gen 2
7777777777777777 2007/03/02 9:19:21.817 1 1 Class 1 Gen 2
7777777777777777 2007/03/02 9:19:21.992 3 0 Class 1 Gen 2
8888888888888888 2007/03/02 9:19:23.657 1 1 Class 1 Gen 2
9999999999999999 2007/03/02 9:19:26.013 3 0 Class 1 Gen 2
Data acquired at speed of 60 kmph with Alien System

Screenshot of LabVIEW program front panel used with the ALIEN Hardware

MEMORY: Gen 2 tags

240 bits NVM

EPC size 96 bits
Protocol Control bits 16

MINIMUM Lock Bits 10 bits
PROGRAMMING Kill Bit 1 bit

CYCLES: Access Code 32 bits
Gen 2 tags 10,000 Kill Code 32 bits
write/erase cycles
Reserved 53 bits
ALR 8800 Dev kit

Setup for trials at 150 kmph for ALIEN system

(Two vehicles moving in opposite direction to get a relative speed of 150 kmph)

Tag ID Date Time No. of Reading Tag Type
Reads Antenna
TAG 1 2007/05/03 11:12:45.459 1 0 Class 1 Gen 2
TAG 2 2007/05/03 11:12:45.735 3 0 Class 1 Gen 2
Data acquired during trials of ALIEN system at speed of 150 kmph

Comparison of the two systems

A comparison of the two systems is shown below:
System CAEN, Italy Alien Technologies, USA
Reader Model A948 EU long range reader ALR 8800 Gen2
Tag Universal tag A918- encapsulated - ALL-9460 Omni squiggle tags-
@ € 7.00. The cost may reduce if label tags-free samples
the quantity of tags increases. Encapsulated tags cost the
same as A918 tag of CAEN
Cost of Dev kit € 2970 US $ 3400
Protocol ISO-18000-6b EPC
Interrogation cycle Double interrogation - first for tag ID Single interrogation
and then for tag data.
Mono-static: transmits and receives Multi-static: has different

Type of System
RF signals on the same antenna transmission and reception
port. antennae

No. of Antenna Each antenna works independently. Work in pairs- each antenna
alternately transmits & receives;

ni the first antenna transmits and

the other receives; then the
second antenna transmits and
the first one receives.
Method of Tag data Does not give the option for Tag Global scroll & Inventory search-
acquisition- acquisition using global scroll Global scroll is approximately

Global Scroll / three times faster than inventory

Inventory search which uses anti-collision

Mode of Operation Does not have a provision for Provision for autonomous mode
Autonomous/ autonomous mode of operation of operation using external

Interactive using external trigger. However with trigger. Interactive mode of

little modification in firmware this reading spends too much time in

option can be made available in the the communication between

system. reader and the host PC.
Autonomous mode saves the
time spent in communication
between the host and reader
while the acquisition is on.
Power ERP 3.2 W@ 8dbi antenna - Can be 2 W - Can be varied
Tag ID TagID is unique and is given at the Tag ID itself is user defined in
time of manufacture of tags- to the EPC C1G2 tags.
provide a user defined ID to the tags
it is necessary to use some amount
of tag data. Reading 10
alphanumeric characters of tag data
along with tag ID doubles the read
time, making the application
drastically slower

Tag Memory 2048 bits (256 bytes out of which96 bits is user programmable. -
216 bytes are user defined) – in 16 alphanumeric characters can
be stored – can be used only for
view of larger memory, maintenance
vehicle identification
schedule dates may also be stored.
Reading speed ~75kmph - limitation is on account
~150kmph – not tried on
(for 12 characters of wagons due to effect of stiffeners.
wagons. However the system is
of vehicle ID data) faster than CAEN as it is multi-
static and can work in Global
Scroll mode.
Reading range ~ 6 meters ~ 6 meters
Performance is affected by metallic Performance is affected by
surroundings metallic surroundings
Trans./ Rec. Rates 40/160 kbps 80/80 kbps

General Observations:
The operating environment plays a very important role while designing and implementing an
RFID application. Metal objects and electrical noise in the vicinity of tags, extreme operating
temperatures, presence of liquids and physical obstructions can seriously affect the

performance of the system. To have a reliable RFID system it is very important to do a detailed
site survey and carry out extensive trials. The following observations were made during the

trials: -
As the performance of the system is affected by metallic surroundings, it was easier to read

the tags on a coaching vehicle than on a wagon with stiffeners.
‘AAR Manual of Standards and Recommended Practices Railway Electronics’ specifies a
“Clear Zone” surrounding the tags and towards the wayside. This clear zone must not be
obstructed by any metallic objects or protrusions. To allow for unobstructed transmission of
data, tags must be afforded horizontal and vertical “clearance windows” of 2.5 cm on each

side. These windows radiate out at 45° from the ends of the tags, and at 60° from the sides
of the tags as shown in the figure. No part of the rail vehicle structure or attachments may
extend into the clear zones as depicted, to include 2.5 cm from the periphery of the tag.

Tag mounting clearance zone

It was observed that the Reader had difficulty in reading some of the tags as compared to
others. These were the tags fixed on the goods wagon and for speeds around 75 kmph
reader failed to detect some of these tags. The stiffeners surrounding the Tags resulted in
reflections, causing nulls in the RF field. Nulls are created due to interaction of incident RF
waves with those reflected from obstructions in the vicinity of the tag. These null are very
prominent when the tag, on the moving rail vehicle, enters the RF field of the reader, as the
reflections from the obstruction preceding the tag in the RF field are very strong. However
the effect diminishes as the tag moves towards the point where it is directly in front of the
Reader antenna. The net result is that the reading zone is reduced causing the reader to
miss the tags at high speeds.

Planar antennas have a higher reading range than circularly polarized antennas for the
same power level although orientation of tags with respect to the antenna assumes

Power Cut Off Distances Identification Ranges (cm) Identification Distances (cm)
(mW) (cm) ‘La’ ‘Ra’ ‘Wa’
Linear Circular Linear Circular Linear Circular
Antenna Antenna Antenna Antenna Antenna Antenna
200 252 194 91.65 93.06 305.08 192.73
300 286 226 104.02 108.41 346.25 224.52
400 399 251 145.12 120.40 483.05 249.36
500 414 277 150.57 132.87 501.21 275.19
600 488 308 177.49 147.74 590.80 305.98
700 533 332 193.86 159.25 645.28 329.83
800 555 387 201.86 185.64 671.91 384.47
900 582 417 211.68 200.03 704.60 414.27
1000 627 434 228.05 208.18 759.08 431.16

Variation of identification distance as a function of radiated power
for CAEN System under ideal conditions

La is the max. distance at which the Reader was barely able to read the tag

Wa is the max. width of the reading zone along the direction of movement of vehicle
Ra is the distance from the Antenna at which the width of reading zone is maximum.
Power Cut Off Distances Identification Ranges Identification Distances
Attenuation (dB) (cm) ‘La’ (cm) ‘Ra’ (cm) ‘Wa’

Linear Circular Linear Circular Linear Circular

Antenna Antenna Antenna Antenna Antenna Antenna
15 202 115 64.04 52.48 240.88 120.74

14 246 127 78.99 57.96 293.35 133.35

13 289 165 91.62 75.30 344.63 173.24

12 334 187 105.89 85.34 398.29 196.35

11 388 202 123.00 92.18 462.68 212.09

10 403 226 127.76 103.14 480.58 237.29

9 455 254 144.24 115.92 542.58 266.69
8 512 287 162.32 130.98 610.55 301.34
7 563 319 178.48 145.58 671.37 334.94
6 585 360 185.46 164.29 697.61 377.99
5 625 417 198.14 190.30 745.31 437.84
4 673 461 213.36 210.38 802.55 484.04
3 707 478 224.13 218.14 843.10 508.88
2 741 505 234.91 230.46 883.64 530.24
1 796 530 252.35 241.87 949.22 556.49
0 823 580 267.25 264.69 981.42 608.98

Variation of Identification distance as a function of radiated power

for Alien Technology System under ideal conditions

Linear Antenna - Radiation Pattern Circular Antenna - Radiation Pattern
Plot of equi-power points

Increasing power always does not result in increase in Reading range of the tags. Reflection

from rails & other metallic surroundings come into play.

The reading zone of antennas is around 70-75 degrees.


In CAEN RFID system, using more no. of antennas increases the zone for reading the tags.

However, the system takes more time to read the tags. Also the reading time increases as
the size of data increases.

For One Antenna ID Only

Reading Time Required 62 ms

For Two Antenna ID Only

Reading Time Required 119 ms

Note: The readings are taken by

allowing only one tag in front of an
antenna. If more tags are present,
delay will further increase

Delay When Data Is Also Read With IDs

For railway vehicle identification, anti-collision algorithm is not required as more than one
tag is never expected to be in the RF field of the reader.

Global scroll is approximately three times faster than inventory search, which uses anti-
collision algorithm. For the system that we are trying to implement, more than one tag is
never expected to be in the RF field of the reader. In such a scenario sacrificing precious
time working with full inventory search is not advisable.

The tags will have to be placed on the metal surface of the rail vehicle and hence must be
encapsulated with proper shielding.

A918 universal tags supplied by CAEN have an air gap of about 10-12mm between the tag
circuitry and the metal surface of the vehicle on which the tag is fixed. They are
encapsulated using ABS (Acrylonitrile, Butadiene, Styrene). As the tags on Rail vehicles will
be subjected to heavy vibrations, an insulating material instead of air may be used which
may also act as a support for the tag circuitry.

To improve the reliability in detection of tags, it is essential to build in redundancies in the

system. Multiple antennas may be used to increase the zone of reading of tags, although it

may slow down the system.

Probable applications for Railways:
The RFID system can be used for the following applications on Railways:
• Automatic Vehicle Identification

• Parcel Tracking

• Inventory Monitoring
• Tracking of wheel sets

• Schedule dates of Locomotives/Coaches can be stored - using larger memory tags


Monitoring of critical subassemblies in locomotives- using larger memory tags

As an alternative to storing all the information in the tag, a computer database linked to tag ID

may be used.