The ARTSAFE project is developing data collection and communication services for protecting and monitoring high-value or hazardous objects. Its new radio frequency identification (RFID)-based system can be used in buildings such as airports, offices and retail outlets, on construction sites and in manufacturing facilities. Project partners, both of whom are small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), say the EUREKA has provided invaluable support, allowing them to develop a new product that they believe will be a great commercial success.

The advent of wireless and mobile technologies has produced a wave of innovative communication systems. RFID is just one example, a new and ingenious method for monitoring the state and location of objects. It involves storing and retrieving data using devices called RFID tags, small transponders that can be attached to or incorporated into products, animals or even people.

"RFID has a great potential for use in a wide variety of applications," explains ARTSAFE coordinator Lucas Aahlstroem of Plefo Ab. "Tags can be used to monitor the location and movements of high-value objects, but they can also monitor the workings of machinery, helping operators to plan more efficient and economical maintenance schedules."

Based in Stockholm, Plefo specialises in security and alarm systems, and the tracking of objects using the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS). Its UK partner, the Mannings group, supplies RFID and barcode technologies. Together, they have developed the ARTSAFE system, combining four major components: a wireless RFID tag; a wireless tag reader; a control computer; and an alarm communication system.

"These components work together to provide security and monitoring of just about any valuable object," explains Aahlstroem, "from a motorcycle helmet to the Mona Lisa, to a 747 aeroplane."

These components work together to provide security and monitoring of just about any valuable object, from a motorcycle helmet to the Mona Lisa to a 747 aeroplane.

Lucas Aahlstroem,
Plefo Ab, Sweden

The ARTSAFE system can be used in virtually any indoor or outdoor environment, even in places such as mines where radio signals do not propagate well and where there may not be electrical power. "Multiple communication pathways, anti-jamming techniques, advanced encryption and multiple power sources all make it very difficult to fool ARTSAFE," says Aahlstroem. "Jamming radio signals and cutting power and phone lines for a whole city block would not be sufficient to circumvent the system."

The ARTSAFE tag performs no less than five major tasks, including power management; sensor operation; command reception; data synchronisation, encryption and transmission. The alarm system represents the link to the outside world, employing any combination of standard phone lines, cellular and satellite phones, satellite data links, digital spread spectrum microwave radio, HF/VHF/UHF radio, and/or optical links.

ARTSAFE is already being used to monitor diesel-driven pumps. "These pumps are portable and are supplied by hire companies for end-user operations at building sites," Aahlstroem explains. "The operation of mechanical equipment fitted with our RFID devices can be monitored in detail, providing information on overall run-time, for example. This means better awareness of potential problems and better diagnostics in case of failure." Of course, ARTSAFE can keep track of the actual location of items that are not supposed to leave assigned areas, and the system can be configured to record an automatic log of events.

Other potential applications include high-priority security monitoring. Pharmacies, for example, need to ensure the safekeeping of controlled substances. Commercial outlets, especially in the luxury retail market, museums and exhibitions, all have a clear interest in monitoring valuable and vulnerable objects. Airports, hydroelectric and nuclear power stations and other utilities, environmental services, hazardous materials and corporate security, represent other key user sectors.

"We are looking at a wide spectrum of potential users," says Aahlstroem. "Our selling points are simple and persuasive: ARTSAFE represents a unique and low-cost solution; it is easy to set up; and it features unparalleled functionality."

Thanks to this project, we have had the chance to develop a product that we think is going to be a great commercial success...

Lucas Aahlstroem,
Plefo Ab, Sweden

But ARTSAFE benefits go beyond commercial gains for project partners. Property loss prevention and improved maintenance and security operations represent valuable services than can benefit many European businesses and citizens, and society as a whole.

"EUREKA is a great platform for cooperation between development teams," says Aahlstroem. "Thanks to this project, we have had the chance to develop a product that we think is going to be a great commercial success and we have already entered into business agreements with several organisations."

Both ARTSAFE partners, Plefo and Mannings, are SMEs, a category of enterprise seen as a key source of innovation for the larger European economy.

Unfortunately, limited resources and a low profile often make it difficult for SMEs to identify partners and move forward with research initiatives. By providing support to SMEs, EUREKA is not only helping find new solutions to important business and social problems, but it is also providing a boost to key European entrepreneurs, strengthening Europe’s economic and industrial competitiveness.

Raising the productivity and competitiveness of European businesses through technology. Boosting national economies on the international market, and strengthening the basis for sustainable prosperity and employment.