Thursday, November 30, 2006


Safety without wires

Applying the latest wireless technologies to a range of BP operations is helping to enhance safety for people, process plants and pipelines around the world. Michelle Brown reports 

Should an emergency situation arise at an industrial site your natural reaction would be to get out swiftly. Swiping your ID badge as you leave might be the last thing on your mind. But what happens if the rescue services think you’re still in the affected area? An entire team could put themselves at risk trying to save someone who is not even there.

Locating all personnel quickly in such circumstances is just one aspect of operational safety that BP’s Digital Communications Technology (DCT) team has been looking at as part of the company’s commitment to enhancing safety.

While technology is no substitute for personal responsibility, DCT’s Chief Technology Office (CTO) has been working with a number of BP’s business units to explore technologies that promise to support the company’s workforce in making their environment more secure.

‘Safety ultimately is about people, their behaviours and their attitude to working safely. But technology can augment their efforts to create a safer working environment,’ says Ken Douglas, CTO director of mobile and wireless applications.

In common with a number of CTO projects in the area of safety and security, the solution to finding everyone after an incident falls under BP’s ‘sensory networks’ and ‘clipboard to computer’ initiatives (Frontiers, April 2004). These projects use a range of wireless sensor technologies to keep managers informed – on site and remotely – about what’s going on.

In the case of personnel tracking, BP has developed a Location Aware Safety System (LASS) that uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to enable safety managers to see at a glance where everyone is on a computer-based map of the site. RFID ‘smart tags’ have a chip and antenna that enable them to be located using radio signals.

Personnel wear RFID-equipped badges that broadcast their whereabouts each second to a network of wireless transmitters located around the plant. The transmitter network tracks the badges and sends the information to a central computer, which displays their location on a map of the site.

CTO applications director Curt Smith stresses that location awareness is about safety, not snooping on employees. ‘You can set it up to black out certain areas where monitoring is not appropriate. The employees see LASS as a key to improving their safety.’

The system was trialled successfully in the USA last August at BP’s Cherry Point refinery in Washington state, in the reformer process area. A project is now under way to implement LASS throughout the 250 hectare site by the end of 2006.

The technique of using RFID tags with a wireless network also lies at the heart of a separate project to tackle lifting-related accidents within BP’s exploration and production business. Historically, lifting accidents have proved to be a hazard throughout the industry on offshore installations and drilling rigs, and in pipe-laying operations.
‘Many of the people struck by heavy crane loads or lengths of pipe wouldn’t be at risk if the driver had complete awareness of everyone in the vicinity,’ Douglas points out.

But applying location awareness to lifting operations is a different challenge from personnel tracking over a large area. Fast-moving loads call for real-time information and predictive algorithms that can tell the driver if the load is on a collision course with someone. The rapidly changing environment is another issue. Most location tracking systems are pre-programmed with the plant layout but the topology of a deck changes each time a container moves. Two field trials took place last year in Aberdeen, with the next exploratory phase of the project due to begin later this year. DCT expects to have a usable system in place within two or three years.

Source : British Petroleum

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Get Better Accuracy With a Handheld GPS

Inexpensive, handheld GPS receivers such as those produced by Garmin and Magellan are a great aid for anybody who enjoys outdoor activities. There are many factors that affect the accuracy of the positions reported by a GPS receiver. Following these steps should allow you to get better accuracy with an inexpensive, handheld GPS receiver.


  1. Determine the type of internal antenna in your GPS. This information will likely be listed in a table of "specifications" in the back of your owner's manual. There are two main types:

    • Patch antenna, and
    • Quadrifilar helix antenna

  2. Hold your GPS properly to receive a stronger signal from the GPS satellites:
    • If you have a patch antenna hold your GPS flat
      How to hold a GPS with a patch antenna
      How to hold a GPS with a patch antenna

    • If you have a quadrifilar helix antenna hold your GPS erect
      How to hold a GPS with a quadrifilar helix antenna
      How to hold a GPS with a quadrifilar helix antenna

  3. Stand where you have a clear view of the sky. Buildings, hills, trees, etc., will block the signals from the GPS satellites. The goal is to receive the signal from as many GPS satellites as possible.

  4. Hold your GPS at shoulder height. Even your body can block the signal from the GPS satellites.

  5. Use "position averaging". This is a feature that allows your GPS to take many measurements and then calculate an average position before saving it in the GPS receiver's memory.

  6. Turn on the WAAS capability. The WAAS signal is broadcast from several geo-stationary communications satellites. The WAAS signal provides corrections for your GPS measurements and enhances the accuracy of your GPS receiver.



Things You'll Need

Thursday, November 23, 2006


How to Purchase the Right GPS Receiver

The hobby of global positioning has become more popular than it ever has been. With the ubiquitous electronics store offering so many choices of GPS receivers, it's hard to know which unit is right for you. This article from wikiHow will deal with how to make the right choice.


  1. Determine what you will be using the GPS receiver for. Believe it or not, GPS units are designed for a variety of uses, and the feature-set of each unit caters to different usage patterns. Some possible uses are:

    • Vehicle Navigation - Driving on the road
    • Off-Road Activities - Hiking, hunting, skiing, etc.
    • Water Activities - Boating, fishing, etc.
    • Aviation - Flying a plane
    • Geocaching - Navigating to waypoints for fun treasure-hunting

  2. Decide on the form-factor of your GPS receiver. This essentially describes the shape & size of the technology, or how small of a space you want to use GPS functions in. Some possibilities are:

    • Handheld - A stand-alone unit that generally fits in one hand, with its own screen and buttons

    • Laptop sensor - A small, plain "box" that connects to your laptop, and lets software on your laptop do the rest of the work

    • PDA integrated - If you have a Palm or Windows Mobile PDA, you can get add-on sensors and software for them to do the same job as a laptop, but have it fit in the palm of your hand.

    • Marine/Vehicle mount - Something which will stay in your vehicle or boat at all times, and only provide vehicle/craft navigation

    • Wrist mount - Tiny GPSs have been integrated into wrist-watch form, ideal for jogging and other outdoor exercise purposes. Some of these units come with built-in fitness sensors, like heart rate monitors.

  3. If you prefer the laptop sensor or PDA integrated types, your choices are limited only to compatibility with your operating system (Palm or Windows), and whether or not you want it to connect wirelessly. Ensure that both your laptop/PDA as well as the GPS unit are Bluetooth enabled if you expect wireless operation between the two. The rest of your functions will be determined by the software you use, which you can acquire independant of your hardware purchase. Despite this, all GPS units of this type will come with a packaged software bundle of some sort.

  4. If you prefer a vehicle/boat mount unit, examine sizes, possible mount locations, antenna configurations etc. that are right for you. Consult your retailer for options. Some marine GPSs come with built-in fish finder features as well.

  5. If you prefer a handheld unit, consider the following additional features and how important they are to you:

    • Colour screen - More expensive, but some people find them easier to read

    • Battery requirement & consumption rate - how many batteries does it take, which type, and how long does it take to drain them? Would you prefer a rechargable unit?

    • Electronic compass - telling what direction you are facing while you are standing still. GPS units without this can only report your direction when you are moving.

    • Barometric altimeter - calculating altitude based on air pressure

    • Mapping - Displaying your current position on a map, uploading extra/custom maps into your unit

    • Data entry - Some GPS units only allow you to upload waypoints from a PC, while others allow you to enter them while in the fiel

    • Communications - Some GPS receivers have built-in two-way radios (ie: walkie talkies) to allow for communications as well as navigation. These units may provide position-sending functions so that you can locate others in your party

    • Removable memory cards for maps - Some people prefer to be able to swap maps while in the field, rather than connecting their GPS unit to a laptop. You may purchase a GPS that provides a CompactFlash (CF) or SecureDigital (SD) slot for map cards if this is important to you.

  6. While there are countless GPS brands on the market, both Garmin and Magellan brands have proven to be mainstays in the GPS arena. Each brand provides an online interactive tool to ask questions and recommend a product to you:

  7. After you find the product that is right for you, check eBay to get an idea of what the market value is. This can often be well below the manufacturers suggested retail price found on the manufacturers website. Don't forget to factor eBay shipping into the price.

  8. Armed with the knowledge of your ideal unit and how much you should expect to pay on eBay for it, visit the following stores in your local area to see if they carry the model you're looking for at a better price than eBay sells it for:

    • Outdoor/trail shop - Anywhere that sells hiking or camping requipment

    • Hardware store - Many hardware store chains sell GPS units in their hunting/outdoor departments.

    • Department store - Stores such as WalMart carry GPS units in their hunting/outdoor departments.

    • Marine equipment store - Even handheld units can be often be found at boat equipment shops.

  9. The most important thing to remember about any handheld GPS unit is that the tiniest detail can ruin the experience for you. Buttons that are too small, or located in awkward places, or units that are *just* too big to fit in a certain carrier, etc. can all be deal breakers. The best way to deal with these challenges is to be sure that there is a money-back gaurantee or return policy if you find that the unit doesn't work for you in a practical environment. To this end, be sure to set aside time as soon as possible to test your new unit out as much as you can before your return policy runs out.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Gaming Company Takes RFID to the Casino

Casino owners may become the newest members of the RFID bandwagon. They show a keen interest in the technology as a way to track customers from the moment they hit the gaming tables. And the purchase of two patents by a large manufacturer shows they will not miss out on the 21st century technology.

Shuffle Master, a gaming supply company headquartered, in Las Vegas, Nevada, recently purchased two RFID-related patents for $12.5 million. Like its name indicates, the company specializes in providing utility products to casinos, such as automatic card shufflers. But it also carries its own proprietary table games for casinos. The patents’ seller was Enpat, a licensing agent for the inventors, explained Paul Meyer, Shuffle Master's president and chief operating officer. "We did a lot of due diligence. We looked at over 400 patents to make sure we identified the correct ones," he added.

Source: RFID News

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Nokia Unveils RFID Phone Reader

The world's largest provider of cell phones is offering a kit that will enable workers to scan tags remotely and transmit data via their cell phones

March 17, 2004—Nokia, the Finnish cell phone maker, today unveiled the world's first RFID-enabled GSM cell phone at the CeBIT2004 trade show in Germany. The Nokia Mobile RFID Kit features two RFID reader shells—plastic housings that fit over a cell phone—20 13.56 MHz tags and software to enable mobile workers to scan tags and access information remotely.

Nokia expects the kit to appeal to companies such as Halliburton and Schlumberger, which provide field services for the oil and gas industry, as well to utilities and companies providing security for buildings.

"About two and a half years ago, we started looking at RFID as a way of empowering people to do things," says Gerhard Romen, head of global market development at Nokia New Growth Business, the product development unit that created the RFID kit. "Today, RFID tags tend to be mobile and readers are stationary, but things get really interesting when you turn that around and make the tags stationary and the readers mobile."

The RFID phone might be used by a engineer in the field checking a meter on a gas pipeline or other industrial equipment. The engineer would scan the tag attached to a meter to identify which meter was being read. The phone-reader would record the time of the read, and then the engineer could key in the meter reading into the phone using the buttons on the phone. The data could be stored in the phone and downloaded to a PC via an infrared connection.

Data can also be transferred via the GSM system. For example, a security guard walking a building could read a tag at each door whenever the guard checks the door to confirm it is locked. That information could be sent to a control center via the cell phone, and someone in the control center could monitor the guard's progress in real time.

In another application, a telecommunications repair technician could read a tag on a malfunctioning switching station or other remote asset. The phone would be programmed to go to a specific Web site to download a service history and a schematic diagram of that switching station to the cell phone. The engineer could then learn what previous problems that site had and which cables are carrying electric current.

Another feature triggers the phone to call a predefined number when a particular tag is read. So for instance, a security guard might scan a tag on his belt when in trouble and the cell phone would automatically call for help.

The software for the reader is written in the Java programming language. Nokia has a community of developers who create software for the phones, and Romen says he expects these developers to create new applications for customers.

The new RFID reader works with the Nokia 5140, a GSM phone that is water resistant and more rugged than a typical cell phone. Users simply slide off their existing Xpress-on cover and slide on the RFID reader. The software needed to run the reader is automatically loaded into the phone and the reader becomes operational.

The readers, which are made by third-party manufacturers that Nokia is not identifying, use the ISO 14443A communication protocol, so companies that purchase the kit can buy additional tags from Philips Semiconductor and other vendors. The read range is typically 2 to 3 centimeters (0.8 to 1.2 inches).

Nokia has been working with several companies over the past year to test how convenient and easy to use the device is. This is an important issue, according to Romen. "We've been testing it in the energy, gas supply and security industries," he says. "One of the key things with a new technology is understanding the requirements of end users who are not IT experts. Can they read the screen without glasses? What happens if I drop it? How long does the battery last?"

Romen says that the battery in the cell phone will last several days when reading 50 to 80 tags per day. The company believes there is a significant business market for the device, but also expects consumers will eventually discover the benefits of using their cell phone to control RFID applications. While it will be several years before consumer applications are common, he envisions consumers one day scanning items in stores and automatically downloading information on the product from the Web, or scanning the tag on a product to register it with the manufacturer.

Pricing for the RFID kit, which will be available at midyear, will be set by Nokia resellers. Several companies, including Minec and Magnatec Technologie, sell a handheld, GSM-enabled computer that can be equipped with an RFID reader. These sell typically sell for $1,200 to $1,500. The Nokia kit should be significantly less than that, since the GSM-enabled phone is sold separately and it doesn't have all the capabilities of a handheld computer.

Source : RFID Journal

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Introduction to How a BlackBerry works


When the BlackBerry debuted in 1999, carrying one was a hallmark of powerful executives and savvy technophiles. People who purchased one either needed or wanted constant access to e-mail, a calendar and a phone. The BlackBerry's manufacturer, Research in Motion (RIM), reported only 25,000 subscribers in that first year. But since then, its popularity has skyrocketed.

Image courtesy RIM

In September 2005, RIM reported 3.65 million subscribers, and users describe being addicted to the devices. The BlackBerry has even brought new slang to the English language. There are words for flirting via BlackBerry (blirting), repetitive motion injuries from too much BlackBerry use (BlackBerry thumb) and unwisely using one's BlackBerry while intoxicated (drunk-Berrying). While some people credit the BlackBerry with letting them get out of the office and spend time with friends and family, others accuse them of allowing work to infiltrate every moment of free time.

In this article, we'll examine the "push" technology at the center of the device's popularity, RIM's former dispute with patent holder NTP Incorporated and its current dispute with Visto Corporation. We'll also explore BlackBerry hardware and software.

"Push" Technology

RIM Revenue

A PDA does a lot of the same things a BlackBerry does, and the PDA made its debut several years before the BlackBerry. But until recently, the only way to make the information on most PDAs match the information on a person's computer was to automatically or manually sync the PDA. This could be time-consuming and inconvenient. It could also lead to exactly the conflicts that having a PDA is supposed to prevent. For example, a manager might schedule a meeting on the PDA, not knowing that an assistant had just scheduled a meeting for the same time on a networked calendar.

A BlackBerry, on the other hand, does everything a PDA can do, and it syncs itself continually through push technology. BlackBerry Enterprise Server or Desktop Redirector software "pushes," or redirects, new e-mail, calendar updates, documents and other data straight to the user over the Internet and the cell phone network.

First, the software senses that a new message has arrived or the data has changed. Then, it compresses, packages and redirects the information to the handheld unit. The server uses hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) and transmission control protocol (TCP) to communicate with the handhelds. It also encrypts the data with triple data encryption standard (DES) or advanced encryption standard (AES).

Image courtesy RIM

A person can send and receive messages and phone calls on a BlackBerry from virtually any location.

The software determines the capabilities of the BlackBerry and lets people establish criteria for the information they want to have delivered. The criteria can include message type and size, specific senders and updates to specific programs or databases.

Once all of the parameters have been set, the software waits for updated content. When a new message or other data arrives, the software formats the information for transmission to and display on the BlackBerry. It packages e-mail messages into a kind of electronic envelope so the user can decide whether to open or retrieve the rest of the message.

BlackBerrys in the United States

70 percent of BlackBerry subscribers live in the United States.

Source: Washington Post

The BlackBerry listens for new information and notifies the user when it arrives by vibrating, changing an icon on the screen or turning on a light. The BlackBerry does not poll the server to look for updates. It simply waits for the update to arrive and notifies the user when it does. With e-mail, a copy of each message also goes to the user's inbox on the computer, but the e-mail client can mark the message as read once the user reads it on the BlackBerry.

People describe BlackBerry use as an addiction, and this is why. Not only do they give people constant access to their phones, they also provide continual updates to e-mail, calendars and other tools.

Lately, RIM had been dealing with issues of patent infringement. We'll look at that next.

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