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Finding Fault With Qantas' RFID Baggage Tracking System

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the like-denver-but-warmer dept.

Australia 106

lukehopewell1 writes "Australian airline giant Qantas has implemented new baggage tags powered by RFID technology. The RFID tag is encoded with the information on a passenger's boarding pass when placed in a bag drop area, and is summarily sent to its destination. But is it any good? ZDNet Australia tested the new systems and found that the system sadly had no intention of sending our cargo."

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106 comments

TL;DL (1)

sco08y (615665) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259546)

The bloke at the airport couldn't get the RFID tag to work after three goes.

(Translation: The guy at the airport couldn't get the RFID tag to work after three tries.)

Re:TL;DL (2)

crusty_architect (642208) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259556)

Yes a bit of a non-story......

Re:TL;DL (1)

thej1nx (763573) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260746)

Especially since not many of us generally check in glasses of jars.

Perhaps they should have tried an actual normal bag? Not much of a test if you don't use real world example usage. Makes it easier to understand and trust the results. The only thing this tells me is that the Qantas system is not very effective when sending unpacked glass jars.

Re:TL;DL (1)

Askmum (1038780) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260904)

I'm even surprised that they would accept glass jars or containers as luggage. Seeing the way luggage is handles this breaks within 2 seconds. How is a jar a bag anyway? And maybe some pictures of your failed attempt?

And reading the announcement on the check-in method, I'm amazed that this gets approved by any regulatory body. Is a checkin without human interaction something that is in use generally? As I see it you can just chuck any old fart in that check-in system and be done with it. Up to and including everything you do not want on board of an airplane.

Re:TL;DL (2)

surgen (1145449) | more than 2 years ago | (#36261760)

Is a checkin without human interaction something that is in use generally?

I have not encountered it, but it isn't really any less safe, all the person at the counter does is slap a sticker on it and put the bag on a conveyer belt. Any inspection they do of the bag is only caused by the fact they have to look at the bag to move it, the same thing chukers in the back will be doing anyway. Only a random selection of bags are searched between the counter and the plane, and you find a lovenote from the inspectors in your bag when you claim it.

Re:TL;DL (1)

pnewhook (788591) | more than 2 years ago | (#36263528)

Is a checkin without human interaction something that is in use generally?

All the time. I never see a real person if I can avoid it. The way it works here is you walk up to a scanner, put in some ID (drivers license, passport, credit card or frequent flyer card), choose your seat if you need to, print your baggage tags if you are checking anything in, then put the tags on your luggage and walk through to security. No people, quick and easy.

Re:TL;DL (3, Insightful)

Idarubicin (579475) | more than 2 years ago | (#36261862)

Perhaps they should have tried an actual normal bag?

They did. The jar was wrapped in bubble wrap, which was then zipped inside a small backpack/tote bag. While I'm sure that the producers were hoping for a bag of broken jar and loose M&Ms about which they could snark at the end of the segment, there wasn't anything freakishly bizarre about the bag that they tried to check.

The one thing that was a bit unusual was the size of the bag--it was quite a bit smaller than most checked bags or backpacks would be; certainly much smaller than the carry-on limits for any airline. I can see a parcel that size being checked only if the passenger had multiple carry-on-sized items and the airline was being particularly sticky about their carry-on bag count. Since the automated checking system incorporates sensors for bag weight and laser scanners to detect bag size, it may be that this particular item fell below the check-in system's minimum size thresholds. It couldn't tell the difference between this small bag and an empty bin, so sent the passenger to the regular, manual check-in rather than risking checking in an RFID tag without its attached luggage.

Re:TL;DL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36263036)

No: In Australia we still have (mostly, and certainly with Qantas) free and excellent checked luggage services. You can check anything you want, and I often do out of convenience, even when I could certainly carry it on the plane myself.

Only in America (and the budget European airlines) do you have a carry on luggage nightmare.

Re:TL;DL (1)

FullCircle (643323) | more than 2 years ago | (#36262126)

It's an RFID tag, the size of the thing it is attached to should make no difference.

A tag in the bin should have made it to being lost by the handlers just like any real luggage.

Re:TL;DL (1)

mjwx (966435) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259724)

The bloke at the airport couldn't get the RFID tag to work after three goes.

(Translation: The guy at the airport couldn't get the RFID tag to work after three tries.)

In other words, it's QANTAS. Things like this are the reason I'd rather fly anyone else.

Re:TL;DL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36259774)

The fact they have never had a fatal crash (the only such major airline) is reason I would rather NOT fly with anyone else.

Re:TL;DL (2)

RoFLKOPTr (1294290) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259838)

The fact they have never had a fatal crash (the only such major airline) is reason I would rather NOT fly with anyone else.

All major airlines never had a fatal crash until they had a fatal crash. The fact is that your chances of dying in an aviation-related accident are so negligible (several times less than driving your car anywhere at any time for any purpose) that taking such statistics into account when choosing an airline to fly is quite pointless.

Re:TL;DL (2)

mjwx (966435) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259914)

The fact they have never had a fatal crash (the only such major airline) is reason I would rather NOT fly with anyone else.

All major airlines never had a fatal crash until they had a fatal crash. The fact is that your chances of dying in an aviation-related accident are so negligible (several times less than driving your car anywhere at any time for any purpose) that taking such statistics into account when choosing an airline to fly is quite pointless.

First off, QANTAS had a fatal crash in 1951.

On your second point you're right, your chances of dying whilst travelling overseas is greater on the drive to and from the airport. So if you get to the check-in counter, congratulate yourself for surviving the most dangerous part of your journey.

No fatal JET crash is correct however (1)

GroovinWithMrBloe (832127) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260470)

First off, QANTAS had a fatal crash in 1951.

You are of course correct, they have had fatal crashes in the past. But none with jet engines. I.e. nothing in the modern era. I'd prefer we had a rolling scale approach that reflects the average working life of modern planes, e.g. in the last 20 years has the airline had a fatal crash?

Re:No fatal JET crash is correct however (1)

mjwx (966435) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260572)

First off, QANTAS had a fatal crash in 1951.

You are of course correct, they have had fatal crashes in the past. But none with jet engines. I.e. nothing in the modern era. I'd prefer we had a rolling scale approach that reflects the average working life of modern planes, e.g. in the last 20 years has the airline had a fatal crash?

Not many would have I'd say, at least first world airlines.

However QANTAS' safety record in the last 3 years has dropped a lot. A few engine fires (not including the A380's) and hull loss incidents.

Re:TL;DL (2)

mjwx (966435) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259870)

The fact they have never had a fatal crash (the only such major airline) is reason I would rather NOT fly with anyone else.

They had a fatal crash in 1951 So that one is a myth.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QANTAS#Airline_incidents [wikipedia.org]

Given their abysmal safety record of late (a lot of engine trouble and hull loss incidents not including the problems with the Trent engines on the A380, QANTAS cant fairly be held responsible for a design fault). The Wikipedia list is a bit incomplete missing, including a pair of engine fires in a B747 (Link 1) [theaustralian.com.au] (Link 2) [thesun.co.uk] in late in 2010. Not to mention Flight QF30 [wikipedia.org]

QANTAS have seriously dropped in the last few years from one of the safest western airlines to one of the least safest. But it's everything else that makes me want to fly Singapore Air, Air Asia, Virgin Blue or even Tiger instead of QANTAS, bad service, surly flight attendants, dodgy luggage collection, uncompetitive prices, bad food. Why pay $1100 to fly QANTAS from PER-BKK when I can pay Singapore $1050 for the same trip (Air Asia is often around $500 but they are a budget airline).

All prices in AUD, just add 5% to get USD.

Re:TL;DL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36259964)

All prices in AUD, just add 5% to get USD.

Man, ain't that satisfying to say these days.

Re:TL;DL (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260422)

All prices in AUD, just add 5% to get USD.

Man, ain't that satisfying to say these days.

Apart from the difficulty of staying employed.

Re:TL;DL (1)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260712)

Apart from the difficulty of staying employed.

Yeah, that 5% unemployment rate is a killer!

Re:TL;DL (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260820)

Apart from the difficulty of staying employed.

Yeah, that 5% unemployment rate is a killer!

I work for an exporter and believe me, it is hard to stay competitive at the moment.

Re:TL;DL (2)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260418)

I know a guy who worked for on 747s as a LAME. After the incident with the lost gas tank he drew a picture for me of that tank in relation to the center fuel tank on the aircraft. Qantas were extremely lucky that the fuel tank didn't get punctured by the gas tank or the valve. An explosion would have been almost certain.

Re:TL;DL (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 2 years ago | (#36261098)

The fact they have never had a fatal crash (the only such major airline) is reason I would rather NOT fly with anyone else.

I always go Greyhound. They've never lost a plane.

Re:TL;DL (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 2 years ago | (#36262018)

The fact they have never had a fatal crash (the only such major airline) is reason I would rather NOT fly with anyone else.

I always go Greyhound. They've never lost a plane.

True, but no major air carrier has ever had a plane come down with parvo.

Re:TL;DL (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260394)

I am in Melbourne and my wife refuses to fly Qantas. Last time going to Malaysia she flew Emirates. I really should point her to this page about this incident [smh.com.au]. The north south runway at Tullamarine is slightly higher than the terrain past both ends of the runway and I heard from a traffic controller that the tower controllers almost lost sight of the aircraft as it traded altitude for speed immediately after takeoff. They hit the crash button and expected to see a fireball.

Re:TL;DL (1)

mjwx (966435) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260484)

I am in Melbourne and my wife refuses to fly Qantas. Last time going to Malaysia she flew Emirates. I really should point her to this page about this incident [smh.com.au]. The north south runway at Tullamarine is slightly higher than the terrain past both ends of the runway and I heard from a traffic controller that the tower controllers almost lost sight of the aircraft as it traded altitude for speed immediately after takeoff. They hit the crash button and expected to see a fireball.

They used the wrong weight of the aircraft, bad form by the pilots.

I must admit to being a bit of a plane spotter, I've found VASO (Russian airline) like to use the entire runway when flying out of HKT (3000 M) when flying the IL86's out. Fortunately the western end of the runway goes over the ocean.

Re:TL;DL (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260828)

There was a video floating around at work which was taken by a tower controller in Canberra. The russian aircraft in question used all the runway and a bit more. I can't recall the type unfortunately. One russian co-worker told me about particular aircraft type which takes off "due to the curvature of the earth". Following the Emirates event I have stopped hanging around the ends of runway 34 at Tullamarine. It is more dangerous than I expected.

Re:TL;DL (2)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | more than 2 years ago | (#36261264)

I flew Qantas to and from Alice Springs. While I never had any issues and the service was excellent during the transpacific flight, I have witnessed some major screw up on other flights. My colleague left Alice a day earlier then I and when he arrived at the airport there were a huge number of people standing around in the airport lobby. He thought there was going to be a full flight to Sydney. Instead it turned out that the plane had left Sydney without any luggage. Nobody had luggage, and the next plane from Sydney wasn't until the next day around noon. This was during the Easter weekend, and I learned how seriously Australians take their easter weekend. :P

The air system in Australia is screwed up anyway. We've shipped some of our equipment via Air Express (by unnamed brown guys *hint*). The packages were shipped during the last week in April, and the packages still sit in Darwin as I type this comment. The funny thing is the large pieces of equipment that we shipped via ocean container will beat the air shipment home.

Re:TL;DL (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | more than 2 years ago | (#36262280)

I wonder how hard it would be to have some kind of sensor in the landing gear that would give a sanity check on the numbers being fed into the computer. I could see this happening very easily frankly. Typos happen, and having a computer trust a number punched in when it is controlling the plane is rather odd.

Re:TL;DL (2)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260522)

Did you RTFA? Of course not. Dude tries to check in a fucking jar of lollies and was surprised when it didn't work.

I fly QANTAS always (company deal). Their checking procedures are the most streamlined and refined of any airline there is. My last trip last week I didn't need to talk to anyone. Go to the computer type in my 6digit booking code, hit next 3 times and I got a bag tag and a boarding pass. Put bag tag on bag (didn't have a Q tag), put bag on machine, it acknowledge it and weighed it, I went to the gate and had a pleasant flight.

Some guy next to me had a problem and not 20 seconds later a service rep came and helped him through the entire process.

It took me longer to pass security then it did to check in. All airlines should be like this.

Re:TL;DL (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | more than 2 years ago | (#36261278)

It took me longer to pass security then it did to check in. All airlines should be like this.

That's fast considering that airport security in Australia is faster than the US. They still do all the checks (I've been swabbed for chemicals twice), but they don't slow down the line by requiring people to take of their shoes.

Re:TL;DL (3, Informative)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259832)

The airline employee couldn't get the airline system to accept the airline tag. Not just "three goes" but "every time tried" and just gave up. It's not like it worked the third time, but the airline employee admitted failure of the tagging system when it wouldn't work. It's not like it was done by a regular person who didn't get it to work. The people trained and paid to make the system work were unable to do so.

I wonder if it may have been because it was such a small bag and the bag didn't raise the tag high enough to be accurately read in the initial scan. Unfortunately, since they have the "automated" system run by airline employees, the guys trying couldn't get a chance to play with it at all to test anything like that themselves.

Re:TL;DL (3, Interesting)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259968)

The automated checkin system has been in place in Perth for a while and works smoothly enough for experienced travelers. The baggage scanner/conveyor kiosks do seem a bit temperamental, but if one doesn't work, I just move to the next.

Normally, if the RFID part fails, the barcode scanner in the top can pick up the code on the back of the tag, so I'd say the guys in the video might have had a better experience if they'd just put an "Out of Service" tag on the broken kiosk and moved to the next one.

The biggest problem I've seen is that there's not enough information telling people new to the system what to do. Qantas put a number of staff around the kiosks to help, but better signs and directions would have been much smarter.

Re:TL;DL (1)

sco08y (615665) | more than 2 years ago | (#36267570)

I guess I was more trying to establish the fact that there wasn't any even resembling a review of the RFID tags. They just tried to scan their luggage and it didn't work.

It's like the new standard for journalism is, "as pointless as Youtube, but better video quality."

Perth Airports (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36259566)

Good luck Perth Airports, Currently ranked one of the worst in the country! Not a bad place to test a system if it fails, who will know any different.

Re:Perth Airports (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259576)

I flew out of Perth around xmas on QANTAS and my luggage made it to Brisbane no problems.

poor test (5, Interesting)

Zebai (979227) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259574)

This seemed like a poor test to me, they tested a really small hand bag on a luggage system that normally handles well...luggage. Why not test it with suitcase or duffel bag?

Re:poor test (1)

Rahvin47 (2075384) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259976)

This seemed like a poor test to me, they tested a really small hand bag on a luggage system that normally handles well...luggage. Why not test it with suitcase or duffel bag?

This is exactly why it is a good test. These systems must also work on special cases like this, shouldn't it?

Re:poor test (2)

bloodhawk (813939) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260062)

I couldn't care if they work on special cases or not. conveniences such as these are not for the minority of cases, they are for the majority which makes everyones experiences faster.

Re:poor test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36260100)

Nobody will ever use this obscure floating point operation. No, sir.

Re:poor test (1)

GroovinWithMrBloe (832127) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260494)

What Qantas has here is closer to the difference between self-checkouts in supermarkets - designed to handle only small loads - and the regular supermarket operator who can handle all volumes of goods. Yes, your floating point operation will work, sir, as long as you use the correct registers.

Re:poor test (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260536)

In what kind of a special case would someone try to check a fragile small item they could easily carry in their hand luggage?

Most people I know go out of their way for the opposite. I've seen the Q-tags bags go through the airport plenty of times. Never seen anyone have a problem with it. Heck even if you don't have a Q-tag their automated baggage system works really well. I checked in last week and the entire process was faster than walking through the security checkpoint.

Re:poor test (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36260044)

Go work in airport baggage handling and see very small, oversized, or strangely shaped items come through on every single flight.

That IS a real-world test, because people do put items that size through as checked luggage.

Re:poor test (1)

louic (1841824) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260798)

This is a poor test, but not for any of the reasons in the above 4 posts. Slashdot commenters, you disappoint me.
To properly test this, luggage of all sizes and shapes should be tested, and more than once for every item. Also, it should be compared against exactly the same luggage that is sent using the traditional system without RFID tags.

Not exactly new (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36259598)

Qantas has had the system operating from Perth airport for around a year now, and it's worked great the (many) times I've gone through. It's brilliant having almost no lines and no additional baggage tags for the entire checkin process.

Honestly.... (1)

malakai (136531) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259628)

So do we really care what ZDNet thinks? It's like reading Popular Science because of the "Science".

More Lost Baggage (2)

egranlund (1827406) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259668)

The old tags have the destination of the bag written on them. If your bag gets mixed with a bunch of others how the heck are the airplane techs supposed to tell them apart when the tags are identical? Scan each one of them?

Re:More Lost Baggage (2)

Namarrgon (105036) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259966)

Why would the new tags not have anything written on them? Article never says that they won't.

Obviously not all destinations will be equipped to handle these RFID tags, so they'd have to have written codes as well, like always.

Re:More Lost Baggage (2)

bloodhawk (813939) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260086)

The new tags still have your details printed on them (I have them on my bags), and I think you will find a working rfid tag system is far faster than you visually grabbing each tag and turning it over to read it (as to how well they work is another question, though I certainly have had no trouble with them).

Uhh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36259708)

I'm trying to figure out how the zdnet article is a story?

What kind of tests was that? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36259714)

Did ZDNet try their particular chosen luggage on the old luggage system first? No doubt the check in person in the old system would have left the glass jar of candy on the concourse too. I'd say the new system did exactly what it should do. No fault there.

longest article ever? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36259720)

Holy shit, that's a tremendously long article. Who approved this news again?

Ahhh...the weekend... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36259754)

When slashdot.org becomes slashdot.org.au...

Diminishing summary returns (1)

GumphMaster (772693) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259772)

Am I missing something, or is the "story" really as short as the Slashdot "summary"? Seems hardly worth the effort to summarise a six sentence piece into a four sentence piece.

Works fine (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36259798)

This is a ridiculous story. I use it all the time. It's the best thing yet.
1. Tag Qantas card on post to check-in
2. Flight details and seat number is sent to me in an SMS.
3. Put BAG on conveyor, tag Qantas card, press yes and no on screen.
4. All Done.

Maybe the story is, baggage scale at Qantas does not check items weighing under 1kg or some other threshold?

Sample size os one? (3, Insightful)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259810)

Great test of a system; Not. We have no idea if they actually placed the package in the correct area. "We test the system by sending a package" is not a study.

Re:Sample size os one? (1)

dakameleon (1126377) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259974)

It's hardly a "study" to begin with, what with it being a whole 6 lines of article, but there's something to be said for the fact that a failure rate above 0 would be considered unacceptable by the person expecting the goods.

Re:Sample size os one? (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260548)

Sample size of zero actually. They tried checking something so small that no sensible person would check it.

I'm not sure if it applies to the RFID system as well but if you use the automated bag check-in it rejects your bag if you're under a certain weight and asks you to see the normal check-in. This "study" stinks. I've had less problems with the automated check-in than I have had with the people behind the counter.

like-denver-but-warmer (2)

AJWM (19027) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259882)

Denver scrapped their automated baggage system years ago. Among other things, it had a nasty habit of mangling bags which (partially) fell out of the carriers.

Re:like-denver-but-warmer (2)

prefect42 (141309) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260188)

Erm, what do you think happens with current systems? You put your bag on a belt at check in, and it's sucked into the system. Surely as far as the bag's concerned, this journey is much the same as at any other airport? The only difference is, you're doing it with a machine unsupervised, as opposed to details being keyed by an employee.

Re:like-denver-but-warmer (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260382)

Hmmm, because baggage handlers got the pejorative term "throwers" by placing carefully every single bag of golf clubs, packing tube, and package marked with "fragile" or "do not bend" with the utmost care?

I'm just glad Customs stick a ball-point pen into the zip of your luggage to open it now instead of cutting the front open with a box cutter. At least it comes back in one piece, even if you are missing a bottle of perfume.

Re:like-denver-but-warmer (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260524)

baggage handlers got the pejorative term "throwers"

I suppose it's better than calling them "tossers".

My personal experience (2)

sstrick (137546) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259884)

OK... I've used this 6 times so far and everytime it has worked first time. I like it as a system (although it is confusing for elderly or tech illerate people). Basically you just have to print your own boarding card and then drop your bag on a conveyor belt.

Checking in with bags now takes 2-3 minutes. I am not sure why the jar in the test did not scan, but it was a pity it was done with one sample only (a small object). With a normal sized suit bag it has worked for me first time all 6 times I have tried and most importantly the luggage has been at the other end each time when I arrived.

sample of one? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36259924)

A conclusion based on a non-random sample of one? Good Grief, Charlie Brown!

GOD FUCKING DAMNIT... (1)

netsharc (195805) | more than 2 years ago | (#36259946)

That video pisses me off... the guy says "Science!" as if what he's doing is science, and that is something mystical and unapproachable. And it's a 3 minute video which could've been replaced with one sentence of "The image recognition system couldn't recognize my bag after 5 scans.". Fuck you Luke Hopewell, you useless idiot!

So, what do the red lines have to do with the RFID? Wait, is it an image recognition trying to detect the shape and size of the bag, or is it a barcode scanner (with 2 lines to catch different orientations)? In which case, that would mean the attendant forgot to attach the luggage tag to the bag (and why is there a luggage tag at all?)

QANTAS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36260016)

Qantas the airline that calls Singapore home.

Is there an actual article there? (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260106)

All I saw was a summary slightly shorter than the /. summary, and a bunch of ad links. Where's the actual story?

Re:Is there an actual article there? (2)

plunderscratch (2169382) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260796)

The rest of the article was mis-detected during the handling procedure, it has been placed on a different flight and should arrive tomorrow.

Why no stay with barcodes? (2)

drolli (522659) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260114)

They work, they are cheap, you can stick them on anything,the limits are well known, and if the printer fails you can even send the tag by fax.

Re:Why no stay with barcodes? (2)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260404)

Do you know why a human still has to pass goods over the barcode scanner at the checkout? It is because the barcode needs to be oriented so that the scanner can read it. With RFID there is no such requirement so the system can be fully automated.

Re:Why no stay with barcodes? (2)

hackertourist (2202674) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260520)

Yup.
National Geographic has a documentary (in their 'Megafactories' series) about the UPS hub in the US. It shows that a large fraction of the personnel there has a single task: orienting boxes so the label can be read by the scanners.

Re:Why no stay with barcodes? (1)

drolli (522659) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260568)

Is there anything fundamental which prevents automating the orientation of the package? Or sticking barcodes on several sides of the luggage?

Re:Why no stay with barcodes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36260990)

you can make a very complicated multi camera system which tries to read the barcodes. but it will fail as soon as something obstructs the barcode. RFID tags, if done right, can be read on anything that passes through a scanner regardless of where it is (there are cases where this doesnt work, it should be fine for luggage). so it no longer requires a human operator.

Re:Why no stay with barcodes? (1)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 2 years ago | (#36261086)

Luggage is not regularly shaped, and adhesive tags all over (rather than looped through the handles and secured to the back of the tag itself) will either fall off or require industrial strength glue that'll you'll never manage to remove after the flight.

You probably could design a robot arm and/or multi-camera system, and it might even be reliable, but it'd be much, much more expensive than either RFID or employing a human to scan the tags. I'm sure these RFID tags will still have barcodes and human-readable destinations printed on them, since the infrastructure to read both is already present and the cost of printing is negligible, but they're a fallback measure.

Re:Why no stay with barcodes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36261516)

Is there anything fundamental which prevents automating the orientation of the package? Or sticking barcodes on several sides of the luggage?

I remember seeing something about semi-automated baggage handling systems a while ago. Basically, there are machines that scan from 4 or 5 sides at a time, then rotate the cargo if the scanner doesn't detect anything. There are several stations lined up in a row like this in case it isn't able to detect anything. As soon as something is detected, a pusher plate shoves the package down the right ramp. So yeah, it's already being done like that and has been for a while.

Re:Why no stay with barcodes? (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 2 years ago | (#36261882)

You try creating a system where you can take an arbitrarily shaped object up to the largest size luggage allowable +50% for oversize and orient it in a way that consistently allows barcode reading. If you can do it you will be rich.

Re:Why no stay with barcodes? (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 2 years ago | (#36262022)

Humans pass it over because humans hand it to them. You clearly haven't checked in a bag at QANTAS. You put the bag on the conveyer tag up or back. The conveyor weighs it and then this neat little thing that looks like R2D2's head runs a scan over the top and rear of the bag to locate and scan the tag for you.

I remember my first time using it last year. It put the bag on the conveyor and thought now how the heck am I supposed to scan this ta... oh WTF it did it itself.

The automated checking system uses barcodes OR RFID with the RFID tags being for frequent travelers, and the barcodes being standard bagtags which are spat out at the computer terminal when you print off your boarding pass.

Re:Why no stay with barcodes? (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260562)

These are for frequent travelers. The type who don't want to mess around with a normal bag-tag.

If you go to a QANTAS check-in normally you can do everything in an automated way as well, except for the additional step of going to the machine (even if you check in online) to print your bag-tag. The same machine which checks the RFID tags also has a really neat revolving scanner that looks for the barcode automagically and scans it.

This simply removes that step.

QANTAS don't always send your bag on your flight (0)

dbIII (701233) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260346)

Recently they have been trying very hard to save weight and fuel to the extreme of flying Houston to Sydney without any luggage and shipping the luggage on other flights via LA to arrive a day or so later. It's not completely unsafe to fly such a long stretch since they can refuel in New Zealand if they have to, but I'm sure the passengers would have preferred to have their luggage on the same day they landed. They are not the airline they used to be and are very busy trying to get around Australian safety rules and employment laws. They are really a Singapore based airline now and not the passenger fatality free airline with a good reputation they used to be. It's a bit of a kick in the face for Australia becuase a lot of taxpayers money has gone into helping what is no longer an Australian airline.

Re:QANTAS don't always send your bag on your fligh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36260450)

Damn those dirty yellow foreigners! Next you'll be telling me they let abos fly :(

Re:QANTAS don't always send your bag on your fligh (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260566)

The funny thing is that you talk as if QANTAS is the only one who does it.

Re:QANTAS don't always send your bag on your fligh (1)

bloodhawk (813939) | more than 2 years ago | (#36261104)

Qantas and EVERY airline has been doing this for decades, it is rarely about fuel and weight though. luggage misses flights and arrives on others for a variety of reasons, everything from late checkins, luggage bay full, sent on wrong flight, idiot baggage handlers and any number of other reasons.Qantas aren't the worst and probably not the best either. of a couple of hundred international flights Qantas have maybe had my bags arrive seperately to me less than 10% of the time, sounds like a lot but compared to a few other airlines this is fantastic, only airline I can think of that hasn't had my bags arrive seperately to me is BA, but that is probably because I have not flown them much.

Re:QANTAS don't always send your bag on your fligh (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 2 years ago | (#36261170)

However the Houston to Sydney run is a different story - no luggage at all for any of the passengers on several of those flights. Not just a few bags missing but all of the bags missing. That's trimming things a bit much IMHO.

RFID tags (1)

louic (1841824) | more than 2 years ago | (#36260806)

I wonder what happens if somebody wants to take a bag full of RFID tags as luggage.

Re:RFID tags (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36261302)

Have to put them in a foil envelope / bag, or similar Faraday cage-like container. Like when EZ-Pass sends you a new transponder for your car by UPS - that brown truck full of transponder packages doesn't register as a fleet of cars when it gets on the highway. I'm sure they also only look for their codes, and if you send a bag full of Quantus RFID tags as luggage on Quantus without proper shielding, I bet it puts the bag in a special room, where you have to collect it personally, and the Quantus security guards can thank you personally for your prank.

How is this a story? (1)

Syberz (1170343) | more than 2 years ago | (#36261576)

The summary's almost longer than the actual article.

They checked in a minuscule bag and it never made it. Why? What happened? How could the system be improved? Etc.

Is this crap what passes as journalism these days? At least Fox News are longer and have more information, false or biased information, granted, but more of it nonetheless.

Obvious culprit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36262552)

They decided to participate in the fifth c underhanded code contest http://underhanded.xcott.com/?p=18 and tested their programs in a production setting.

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