Sun Opens RFID Test Center

Customers and integrators can use the model warehouse in Texas to test RFID configurations, and Sun will certify their compliance with the specifications laid out by Wal-Mart and other retailers as well as by the U.S. Department of Defense.

CARROLLTON, Texas—Sun Microsystems is looking to RFID expertise as an avenue to deepen customer relationships—and eventually to foster the need for more Sun servers.

The company cut the ribbon Wednesday on a 17,000-square-foot warehouse testbed facility here. Customers and integrators can use the site to test radio-frequency identification (RFID) configurations, and Sun Micrososystems Inc. will certify their compliance with the specifications laid out by Wal-Mart and other retailers as well as by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Those RFID mandates have caused a number of suppliers to scramble to meet them, necessitating expenses on equipment, software, expertise and testing. Using the facility to test RFID deployments can speed the process and save money, Sun officials said.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here for an in-depth look at Wal-Marts RFID push.

The facility is a model warehouse, complete with pallets, storage racks, forklifts and an endless loop conveyor belt capable of traveling 600 feet per minute. The warehouse is festooned with a variety of RFID wares from a number of vendors, including SensorID, ADT Security Services Inc., ProdexNet Inc., Venture Research Inc., Provia Software Inc. and Alien Technology Corp.

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. is using the facility in its RFID testing. "Weve just started. In a month, well know more," said Steve Lederer of Goodyear Vehicle Systems.

"The goal is to have a tire have a sense of itself that it can communicate," Lederer said. He said tires pose unique problems for affixing RFID tags. Putting the tag inside the tire wont work because the steel belts in tires create radio-frequency interference.

Tires are not packaged but are left out in the weather, necessitating the use of a plastic envelope to contain the tag on the outside of each tire. Eventually, Goodyear hopes to develop permanent tags that would last the life of the tire.

In another initiative, Lederer said Goodyear is in a partnership with Siemens AG to provide an RFID-based tire pressure sensor monitoring system for cars that is being called Tire IQ.

/zimages/5/28571.gifWal-Mart recently started an RFID trial run, also in Texas. Click here to read more.

Although Sun does not make RFID equipment, the company wants to foster the growth of data on networks, servers and storage subsystems.

"Everything of value is connected to the network," said Larry Singer, Suns senior vice president of global markets. He cited research that predicted that one trillion RFID tags will be deployed by the year 2012.

"Sun has a core competency in building communities around standards, like Java community process and Liberty Alliance," Singer said, adding that the same skills can be brought to bear on RFID. "Suns mission is to solve large-scale computing problems. We are selling infrastructure—storage, servers and middleware—to support executive decision-making. The more network computing that happens, the better it is for Sun Microsystems.

Vijay Sarathy, group marketing manager of Sun RFID Solutions, said Sun will soon announce a product that can sit at the edge of a warehouse network and process RFID data for the enterprise, although he did not provide further details.

He also noted that Sun is working on an internal RFID pilot known as "Project Sun Beam."

/zimages/5/28571.gifCheck out eWEEKs Mobile & Wireless Center at for the latest news, reviews and analysis. Be sure to add our mobile and wireless news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page: /zimages/5/19420.gif