Today I learned a lesson that I hope never to learn again. When you have an idea that you believe in go for it!
Today I read on the Slashdot website that ZDNet did a review of the Qantas airlines RFID baggage tracking system (Q Bag Tag). The post was not a favorable review of this system but non the less I was disappointed in my lack of follow through on a previous idea. Several years ago while I was at the Las Vegas RFID conference I heard from the team that
implemented the baggage handling system for the Las Vegas airport system. The system was one of the first to come online for the major airports and was the only one to publicly talk about it. The system was deployed to be completely internal airport focused. The baggage tag they wrapped on the luggage handle included an embedded RFID tag. Once scanned it would be tracked through the system until it was loaded on the plane. None of this was advertised to the traveler.
After leaving the conference I was sitting in that same airport thinking about the system that was handling my bag and a thought came to me. The airport could open the system up to its customers and reduce cost at the same time. If the customer could purchase a RFID brick to place inside their luggage that would be scanned on arrival. Prior to this the customer would have registered the id number on a secure web portal and paid either a per trip fee or if a frequent flyer a monthly fee for that id number. The customer would provide all the contact information for trip along with the final destination.
Now what does the customer get for this fee? The customer would be provided with a smartphone application that would tell them were their bag was in the process. So while you are sitting on the plane you could see that your bag was just loaded into the compartment below. When you have to change planes you won’t have to worry the entire flight that your bag did not make the flight with you. If your bag was pulled to the side and physically inspected you would also know so that you can take a closer look before you leave the airport. This will allow you time to recover before you get to the hotel only to find out that your bag was inspected and the inspector confiscated your shampoo.
What does the airport get? They would be able to outsource the tracking software and hardware support to an airport contracted company. The entire infrastructure would be paid for by fees collected from the customer. For the customers that did not purchase the service an RFID tag would still be embedded on the baggage tag but the customer would not be able to track the bag. The cost of this tag would be covered by the paying customers.
I feel confident that Qantas will fix their problems and the system will be successful if done right. It’s a great use of the technology and shows promise and cost savings for this industry. What I’m curious about is how open will this system be to the customer? After talking with several people about the idea of tracking our bags through the airport system the main problem found was the TSA allowing it. We all know how tight security has been for the airlines and this process would undergo scrutiny to the level of craziness and could be shutdown the day after the capital expense was put out. This is too risky of a proposal considering this would cost hundreds of millions of dollars just to get the infrastructure in place.
**** UPDATE ****
Here is a photo of the RFID tag placed on my wife’s luggage when she left the Las Vegas Airport.