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The Field Test
From 1999 to 2001, the Auto-ID Center's research teams were focused on designing the prototype system software and hardware for a new network that would allow companies to track goods using low-cost RFID tags. Field research with a number of sponsors, including Gillette, Procter & Gamble, Sun Microsystems, Unilever and Wal-Mart took place during 2000 and 2001. This work formed the foundation for a largescale field test, which began in the fall of 2001.

On Friday, September 28, 2001, the Center achieved a major milestone. Electronic Product Codes on pallets of Bounty paper towels in a P&G factory in Cape Giradeau, Missouri, were read remotely in the MIT Lab, using scalable architecture developed and installed for the field test. Phase 1 used commercially available tags and readers that were modified as required for our needs. The aim was to test the software and system design only. It was a success. We were able to look into and search P&G's facility's inventory remotely, in real time. On Monday, October 1, 2001, a shipment of Bounty was sent to a Sam's Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the EPCs were read as the pallets left the factory. Over the following months, we added pallets of goods from other vendors, including Gillette and Unilever.

In February 2002, we moved into Phase Two of the field test: putting tags on cases. Companies like Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Gillette, Wal-Mart, and Johnson & Johnson shipped tagged cases to and from selected distribution centers and retail store in over 8 US states. Despite the significant increase in the amount of data created by moving from the pallet level to the case level, the system continued to function well. Phase Three, planned for the end of 2002, will test the system's ability to scale even more, when we begin to tag individual units. For this phase, we plan to introduce new, scalable low cost tags and readers. Auto-ID Center labs in other regions are also planning field tests. We expect to be live in Europe and Asia during 2003. These tests will enhance our understanding of performance requirements of the new EPC network and will provide further opportunity to stress test the system we have designed.