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PervasID founder Sabesan Sithamparanathan reflects on the future of RFID and STEM

The founder of RFID company PervasID says that recent advances in the field making tracking easier and more accurate than ever

With an OBE award on the horizon, PervasID founder Dr. Sabesan Sithamparanathan says he wants to expand the reach of RFID technology while also helping to advance STEM education at home and abroad.

Speaking with The Stack ahead of the award, Dr. Sithamparanathan said that the advancement of the RFID space as a whole has really been driven by a pair of recent advances that have made the technology more reliable and practical for use in a number of sectors.

He explained that while the basis for RFID tracking has been around since World War 2, until recently the tracking only really worked within a couple meters of the tag and even then reliability was around 80 percent.

"I am pleased to say we have increased to 20m and nearly 100 percent," the PervasID founder said of his company's research and development operation.

"We can attach these tags to any asset."

While Sithamparanathan believes that RFID tracking can have applications across a number of unrealized industries and markets, he said that currently his company is focusing on three key industries.

The first sector being targeted is also the most obvious one: the retail market. Specifically, the Dr. believes that retailers can find a number of uses for RFID beyond things such as loss control.

One largely unrealized application, says Sithamparanathan, is inventory management. He explained that for many brick and mortar retailers, taking inventory is a long and tedious process that in many stores can only happen once or twice a year.

With RFID tracking, however, the process of taking inventory and tracking its movements can be performed constantly and with far greater accuracy. This, in turn, can help prevent losses from product that goes missing in between inventory checks.

"In every store they are able to locate each and every product," he said.

"They can see where items get stolen or disappear."

A similar reasoning is behind the second key sector for PervasID, healthcare.

In practice, the RFID tracking can be performed on medical appliances such as monitoring equipment that gets moved between patient rooms and various storage spaces.

Just as with retail, the sales pitch for RFID is that the trackers will be able to give a better picture of where every device is currently located and stop equipment from going missing.

That tracking technology could also make its way down to an even more granular level. Sithamparanathan said his company is currently performing trials in the UK with RFID tracking for surgical equipment. Specifically, the instrument trays surgeons used while performing operations.

"The reason for tracking on trays is to improve the decontamination process," he explained.

"Also, what often happens is if surgeons do not have the proper instruments they have to fast track obtaining them, which costs time and money."

The third key sector for PervasID is less obvious than the other two. The company is hoping to gets its technology into the manufacturing sector. Sithamparanathan said that aerospace is an area of particular focus due to its need to track individual tools.

He explained that when manufacturers and maintenance staff work on planes, they may lose track of hand tools and components. While this loss will add up through the cost of replacement tools, it can also pose a significant safety risk should those tools be left in vital components such as jet engines.

PervasID believes that its ability to RFID track those tools will appeal to manufacturers and airlines who want to be able to spot when something like a misplaced tool or a dropped wrench socket could be left inside a plane or engine.

To that end, the company is running a pilot programme with Black and Decker to offer RFID tool tracking to its aerospace customers.

Other possible sectors the company is looking to target would be shipping and supply chain, where the RFID tracking platform would allow for better management of products when in transit.

Personally, Sithamparanathan has also been involved in establishing and aiding a number of academic initiatives. Among those has been a programme to advocate STEM education in low-income areas.

The ultimate aim of those programs, Sithamparanathan explained, is to offer disadvantaged students a pipeline from underfunded schools to top universities such as Cambridge and Oxford, whose ranks are often filled with students from exclusive, private schools.

"Once you come to Cambridge or Oxford, those schools are going to change your life," he said.

"I am trying to change that so we can bring in some of those well-deserving students from those disadvantaged backgrounds."

In his native Sri Lanka, Sithamparanathan is pushing a more holistic approach to academic outreach and funding. He says that rather than focusing entirely on STEM programs, he believes that students should also be exposed to the arts and humanities as viable paths for study and careers.

"We all have been pushed to be the doctor or the engineer, that is how the culture is," he explained.

"I go back to students and tell them that might not be the best decision. I try to get them to realize it comes down to what you are good at and what you love doing."