Launched in November, Zebra Technologies’ third generation real-time location system, WhereLAN III, significantly boosts the technology’s appeal to the automotive supply chain.

It improves on previous generations in three important regards–each of which has relevance in automotive applications, including the finished vehicle supply chain, inbound logistics and assembly plant operations.

First, noted Stephen Logue, vice-president of sales and services at Zebra Technologies, active RFID technology has traditionally required network cabling between the RFID reader that interrogates a tag, and the server and the broader IT infrastructure to which that reader is ultimately connected.

A location in the middle of a compound, for instance, would require cable lengths of potentially several hundred metres, either underground or strung along lighting posts where practicable.

No longer, said Logue. WhereLAN III readers can now communicate wirelessly over distances meaningful enough to make cable-independent operation a practical proposition. “It’s a significant development, because as much as one-third of the cost of a typical deployment is cabling–cable which is now no longer required,” he says.

Second, he added, WhereLAN III readers have lower power requirements than their predecessors, making solarpowered operation a possibility. The result is to eliminate the need for electrical cabling and the associated earthworks.

Finally, the devices–which formerly employed a hardwarebased radio receiver–now use software-based location technology, which allows them to be smarter in terms of decoding and establishing a precise position.

“There’s been a threefold increase in accuracy, from an accuracy of 2.5-3 meters, down to just one meter, making it a practical proposition for racks and containers,” said Logue.

Beta tested during 2011 at the Long Beach Container Terminal in California to assess its capability in tracking container movement across the terminal, WhereLAN III won plaudits from terminal management. “We are very pleased with the initial results we have seen,” said Anthony Otto, president of Long Beach Container Terminal.

Engineered to be fully compatible with Zebra’s previous generation of location sensors, WhereLAN III allows customers to use both generations of location technology together.