Thursday, April 26, 2007

Dude, Where's My Scissor Lift?

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Like the private sector, the U.S. federal government is bullish on technology for keeping better track of stuff. Take the Department of Defense’s supply-chain experimentation with radio frequency identification, or the Federal Aviation Administration's push to usher in satellite-based air traffic control.

One venture-backed company looking to cash in here: Ekahau. The Saratoga, Calif., outfit, 65 employees strong, sells systems that track goods using wi-fi technology. Wi-fi, for anyone wondering, refers to kind of wireless local access network--the kind you use at Starbucks to surf the Internet on your laptop.

In terms of its business, 15% of which comes from customers in the public sector, Ekahau is targeting physical spaces much bigger than a coffee shop. Example: Hill Air Force Base. Located in northern Utah, Hill employs thousands and is home to seven U.S. Air Force wings. Its Ogden Air Logistics Center does maintenance and overhaul work on hundreds of F-16, A-10 and C-130 aircraft each year, as well as engineering and logistics management for weapons such as the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile.

The Air Force has a keen interest in better ways to manage the gear involved in all this upkeep. The faster mechanics get the tools they need, the faster planes get out of the hangar and back into service.

A year ago, Ekahau's tracking system was chosen for a related pilot project at Hill by Knowledge Based Systems (KBSI), a contractor to the Air Force. The company slapped Ekahau tags (see box image) on scissor and wing lifts, stands, dollies and other equipment relied on by Hill's repair staff. Ekahau's software, known as the Ekahau Positioning Engine, managed location information flowing from the tags, as well as laptops and PDAs carried by Hill personnel.

"The pilot went very well," says Michael Graul, a senior research scientist with Knowledge Based Systems. "We were able to pick up within 15 feet where an item was."

Full story at Forbes.com