In its 11th year, RFID Journal LIVE! is the world’s largest event focused on RFID technology, products and solutions. This year’s event – held April 30 – May 2 - offered a great number of sessions across industries, including Defense/Aviation, Manufacturing, Retail/Apparel, Healthcare/Pharmaceutical, and Supply Chain/Logistics. Many end users presented success stories, and educational tracks on RFID deployment strategies, application development and enterprise infrastructure offered sound strategic advice for those evaluating the technology.
The event promoters indicated a record number of new products were being exhibited at RFID Journal LIVE! this year, and based on what we experienced, this appears to be the case. For ThingMagic, the focus of the conference was on communicating the value of embedded RFID and sharing our newest high-performance embedded RFID reader, the Micro.
For customers and prospects, the value proposition of the Micro rang true: The exceptionally small size and powerful performance of the Micro yields increased efficiency, reduced development costs and time-to-market advantages for RFID applications. In case you didn’t have the chance to visit our booth, below are some of the materials we presented at the show:
> Embedded RFID brochure
> Micro webinar (produced with RFID Journal)
> Watch an RFID Journal LIVE! 2013 ThingMagic Booth Interview (produced by our partner Atlas RFID!)
While the Micro and other small form factor, high performance RFID modules from ThingMagic are set to usher in a new era of embedded RFID for device manufacturers and solutions providers, it’s our customers’ products that end user organizations rave about. Here are a few that were demonstrated at RFID Journal LIVE! 2013 we thought were worth noting –
Long a provider of innovative marking and printing technologies, Zebra used this year’s conference to introduce their new UHF desktop printer, ZD500R. Developed for retail, healthcare, and government deployments, the printer has an embedded ThingMagic Micro module, as it is designed for space-constrained environments that require accurate, on-demand printing and encoding. Available later this year, it will be Zebra’s smallest and lowest cost UHF RFID printer to-date.
VerdaSee’s big news of the conference was the announcement of their new mobile 1-Watt UHF Gen2 RFID reader. The company offers fixed and mobile solutions that enable recognition and tracking of assets in a variety of environments. This latest development was financed in large part by the Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center unit of the United States’ Department of Defense, as VerdaSee’s solutions are often used as a GPS solution for first responders and military logistics. As these deployments commonly require that readers be both portable and ruggedized, the ThingMagic M6e module was chosen for use in these units because of its small form factor and the versatility its multi-port capability offers.
Winners of the Coolest Demo Contest last year at RFID Journal Live 2012 for their RFID-enabled AdvanFitting fitting rooms for retail stores, Keonn was back again this year with more to show. Keonn embeds ThingMagic modules in several of their solutions for retail, healthcare, libraries, and enterprise logistics sectors. The Keonn AdvanPanel, for instance, has the ThingMagic Micro embedded to read tags in Kanban cards, allowing Just-in-Time inventory systems to function properly. Retailers that want inventory information in real-time and a reduction in out-of-stocks use Keonn’s solution to process this information, and the Micro allows them to maintain a high level of performance while still keeping costs down.
Headquartered in Brazil, ACURA Global's RFID systems are used in many applications in the commercial, utility and industrial sectors. In addition to being a valued ThingMagic reseller, ACURA integrates ThingMagic RFID modules into finished reader form factors. For example, the ACURA EDGE-50 is based on the ThingMagic M6e module, supports up to 4 monostatic antennas, and is ideal for vehicle identification, logistics and transportation applications.
In the logistics, supply chain and healthcare space, Venture Research offers RFID solutions to companies that can leverage added visibility as a competitive advantage. Because their deployments can vary greatly, Venture has found value across multiple ThingMagic embedded RFID development platforms.
An exciting part of each year’s RFID Journal Live event is seeing which products and deployments have pushed the envelope far enough to be considered for top honors at the industry’s leading event. We were fortunate to have partnered with two award winners this year:
Keonn for the second year in a row came away the winner of the Coolest Demo Contest for its RFID-enabled robot, AdvanRobot, which performs automatic inventory in spaces like retail stores. The battery-operated robot is comprised of an RFID subsystem, a mobile platform and a navigation system that allows it to move about and read RFID tags and take inventory without colliding or interfering with humans. AdvanRobot can not only provide highly-accurate inventory information, but can also give tag location of inventory items more frequently and with fewer errors and costs than humans, freeing them to focus on customer service and other more valuable activities.
The City of Grand Rapids, Michigan took home the RFID Green Award for their RFID-enabled recycling and refuse-collection system. The deployment optimizes recycling truck pickup routes and scheduling by collecting and analyzing data from tagged disposal bins. The system even incentivizes residents with programs that reward the most frequent recyclers with offers from area merchants. With residents recycling instead of putting everything in the trash, the city was able to lower refuse by 15%, increase recycling by more than 50%, and save $75,000 in the system’s first seven months – not to mention the intangible benefit of using RFID to rally a community around sustainability.
Congratulations to RFID Journal for producing another valuable RIFD Journal LIVE!
For more information on the advantages of ThingMagic embedded RFID, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The value of small form factor RFID readers is not difficult to understand – it is a combination of simplicity, utility and low cost that makes them a popular choice among application developers. Any industry can benefit from being more efficient, yet many are apprehensive to put resources or systems (RFID being an example) in place to make it happen, because of any number of barriers to entry – “it’ll cost too much,” “it’ll be too invasive,” “it’ll be difficult to integrate with our current operations.
ThingMagic’s USB RFID Reader is one answer to these concerns, particularly for users developing and deploying interactive read/write applications. Its small form factor allows users to deploy without affecting existing infrastructure. The reader’s ability to be controlled and powered by a PC means plugging into a USB port is typically all that’s necessary to integrate with existing hardware systems. And, its low cost makes it an easier investment decision. The variety of industries that the ThingMagic USB RFID Reader has made its way into shows this versatility.
Writing information to an RFID tag is easy enough when it involves something as simple as scanning workers’ ID badges into a system, but this becomes significantly more difficult when the tag you need to scan is attached to an enormous airplane part you can’t necessarily just drag over to any old reader. Companies like Honeywell Aerospace have begun applying high-memory RFID tags to various parts they manufacture so that they can be tracked from birth through their eventual use by airlines, and repair if necessary. To write and read information on these tags, which often reside on difficult to reach parts, Honeywell uses simple and portable USB RFID readers provided by ThingMagic that can be easily plugged into a laptop. Using a USB RFID reader to write and read these high-memory tags allows aerospace companies to easily attach information part descriptions, manufacture dates, part numbers, and serial numbers to the equipment being moved around a plant and even to other countries.
Healthcare environments – hospitals, clinics, etc. – depend on accuracy perhaps more than any other industry, as errors could potentially affect not only just business, but individuals’ health and well-being. A recent deployment by XECAN (watch video), a leading provider of smart RFID systems for healthcare, fixes ThingMagic USB readers to the desktop PCs in hospital exam rooms. Doctors can then scan their badge upon greeting a patient and have immediate access to that patient’s profile in the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system.
The time saved by not having to repeatedly enter login credentials for different software applications allows doctors more time to see patients and focus on care, letting the technology handle logistics. The entire process becomes more efficient and accurate, reducing potential errors and, in turn, lowering costs for patients, healthcare providers and insurers. And it involves little more effort from employees than simply touching their IDs to a desktop USB RFID reader. Download XECAN Case Study
These types of readers are just as often applied in fast-paced, often outdoor environments as part of athletic deployments, and can be used to easily replace the guesswork involved in athletic competition with structure and automation for accuracy.
When you consider the logistics of racing sports, for instance, it’s obviously important to have accurate time recording measures in place for properly determining winners and statistics. What’s often neglected, however, (and which we’ve blogged in the past) is the need to monitor for fair play – a lesson Rosie Ruiz taught us all the hard way in 1980 when she became the “fastest” female runner in the history of the Boston Marathon (until investigators discovered she’d skipped most of the race).
To protect the integrity of racing sports, companies like RFID Timing deploy RFID systems to keep track of athlete information and monitor their progress at different checkpoints throughout a race. In these types of deployments, a USB reader could be used to encode and check UHF tags before they’re placed on a racer’s number prior to an event. The readers are also used to scan athletes’ tags in various locations, for instance at the point where a runner would pick up his or her race pack. Automating a process like this ensures an athlete’s details are correct in a timing system’s database.
Though you’ll typically see these types of readers on a desk plugged into a PC or laptop, use cases have evolved in parallel with the explosion of social media to popularize RFID-powered social media kiosks at event functions. Showing the more casual and entertaining side of RFID, providers like ODIN (watch video) put together interactive kiosks that allow people to more easily engage with others and share enjoyable moments from the events they attend. Users who touch their conference ID badge to an RFID-powered kiosk and choose to attach it to their social media accounts can then easily share updates, check-ins, and photos from the variety of sessions, booths, or events they visit.
A cool use case we’ve blogged in the past was for the Olympics this past summer when candy company Cadbury partnered with the social media tech company dwinQ to set up a large, purple, inflatable booth – the Cadbury House – that was RFID-enabled. Prior to entering the Cadbury House, visitors could tap their event badges to a ThingMagic USB RFID reader and then choose to link the badge to their Facebook account. From that point on, other readers throughout the attraction would automatically pick up visitors’ badges and give them different options for sharing content, such as a photo opportunity with an added backdrop of participants receiving Olympic medals in front of a large crowd. They reported that an impressive 75% of attendees opted to link their Facebook pages, checking in 5824 times and sharing 8958 photos. Download ODIN Case Study
The value of this type of reader, regardless of whether it’s found on a racetrack or in a hospital exam room, is that it can be easily deployed to provide immediate results. These types of readers are designed to plug simply into existing infrastructure so as to offer a quick solution that doesn’t disrupt ongoing operations already in place. The variety of applications – creative and entertaining like Cadbury to complex like aerospace parts tracking – shows its versatility. Because there are so few strings attached, virtually any industry could see improvements in performance, efficiency, or accuracy with desktop USB RFID readers.
The Intelligent Hospital Pavilion at HIMSS in New Orleans earlier this month made it EASY to see the BIG value of RFID for improving the quality of patient care. Scenarios from the Pharmacy, OR, ICU and ED demonstrated how information is coordinated from diverse patient care environments with Near Field Communications (NFC), RFID, RTLS (real time locating systems), sensors and wireless technologies.
RFID has proven its worth in healthcare and continues to improve procedures and enhance workflows across a variety of areas, including:
Medication Management – ensures the right medication is delivered at the right time in the right dose by the right staff via the right means, as well as optimizes inventory of medication in the pharmacy.
Equipment Tracking – identifies the location and travel patterns of many types of valuable assets in real-time, resulting in reduced product loss, reduced capital equipment purchases & leases, improved maintenance levels, and enhanced patient services.
Patient/Staff Workflow – tracks the travel patterns of staff, patients and personnel in real-time for access control, improved patient & staff workflows, reduced wait times, and integration into anti-abduction, wander prevention, and hand hygiene solutions.
Departmental Loss Prevention – proven to deliver an ROI in a short period of time by saving high value assets from being mistakenly discarded.
Several of our blog posts cover the well-established use cases mentioned above. Check them out here: RFID in healthcare.
More recently, we’ve seen how this intelligent tracking can work regarding medical equipment. For example, scientists at GE Global Research recently won a $2.5 million contract with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to develop an RFID system for their hospitals that will automate the transporting, cleaning, and storing of surgical tools.
GE’s system, which uses ThingMagic readers for its prototype designs, is the newest in a collection of smart RFID technology we’re seeing emerge in the healthcare space.
By leaving room for error in the management of surgical tools, hospitals can not only open their patients to the risks of infection, but may also slow surgery setup and turnaround times and inaccurately report their inventory. The system GE is looking to implement would use robotics to automate the transportation, cleaning, and sterilization processes but RFID would function as the brains of the operation to ensure the right tools are sterile and in the appropriate operating rooms at the right time. Together, the RFID and robotics elements would automate the collection of dirty tools from an operating room, delivery to a sterile processing center, sorting, cleaning, and sanitation post-surgery. For the next operation, tools would be automatically built into kits, sterilized, and stored until the next doctor needs them delivered to a different operating room.
The Department of Veteran Affairs, known to be early adopters of innovative IT solutions in healthcare, didn’t stop there. They also recently awarded a $543 million contract to HP Enterprise Services to put a Real Time Location System (RTLS) in place for the millions of assets at their 152 VA medical centers. An important part of this system will be the platform provided by Intelligent InSites - a ThingMagic partner - which will be applied to a number of RFID-enabled use cases, including everything from monitoring hand hygiene and tool sterilization to managing emergency department and operating room workflows. The deployment will offer the VA an unprecedented level of visibility and analytical intelligence, not only improving hospital efficiency and compliance, but also strengthening patient care and satisfaction.
Though RFID appears in different capacities throughout hospital systems – be it in dispensing medication, queuing patients, delivering surgical tools, or managing medical records – the goal behind deploying these systems remains the same: improved patient care.
Contributors: Debbie Power, ThingMagic
Contributed by our friends at Simply RFiD
Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is India's second largest political party in terms of representation in India's parliament. It is also the main national opposition party and currently governs nine states in India. In May 23-25, 2012, the BJP held its National Executive meeting in Mumbai
. During the three-day meeting, the party gathers and frames their strategy towards the country's economic and political issues.
Challenge: Hundreds of people attend the conference including top political leaders, ministers, delegates, and reporters. In order to attend the conference, every individual must be registered and only those authorized can enter press rooms. Before using RFID, security guards at the different press rooms checked each person's ID badge and verified if they were allowed to enter the room. Not only was this a time consuming process for security officials and reporters, but inefficient.
Solution: Gyaantech, SimplyRFiD's exclusive partner and solution provider in India, helped the BJP organize the 2012 National Executive Meeting by installing the Nox Asset Tracking and Surveillance
system. Nox-2 RFID paper tags
were attached to each visitor's badge. Each tag included visitor's name, description, and RFID number. ThingMagic RFID readers and antennas were installed at doorways. Every time a visitor walked into a press room, the RFID reader read the tag and instantly updated the database. Security officials immediately knew how many people were in each room and if those attending the press conferences were authorized visitors. To ensure that no media equipment left the facility, items were tagged with RFID and Axis cameras were installed at the main entrance to record video if RFID tagged items were taken out.
SimplyRFiD's Nox Asset tracking System helped the BJP keep count of the number of people attending the conference and verify that only authorized visitors attended this important political meeting.
Filed from the front lines - where every tag read counts.
NgTechno and Tempo Certo Cronometragem-Race Timing with WaveLabs all based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, are offering race-timing solutions for running events and recently completed the design of their own RFID timing hardware, the WL4i. The new device is based on ThingMagic’s Mercury-6e module and among other critical features offers four antenna ports, Wi-Fi, and optional 3G cellular communication. The device can be purchased in a weather-resistant portable box for easy deployment at race events.
| WL4i with ThingMagic Mercury-6e
|| WaveLab’s Race Timing Solution
Upon completion of the design, NgTechno decided to compare the new M6e-based product against their earlier solution based on the Speedway Revolution R420, designed and manufactured by Impinj. On September 19th, 2012 the company timed the 5-mille Valinhos running race in Campinas, an industrial city located about 100km north-west of Sao Paulo. In this event and a number of others, rather than deploying a single system, the engineering team set up two completely independent systems: one system used the Impinj R420, the second system used the WL4i with the integrated Mercury-6e.
During the Valinhos race the WL4i/M6e collected a total of 5,333 tag reads, compared to 4,063 reads collected by the Impinj Speedway R420. At the start line, the WL4i/M6e successfully identified 439 individual tags, versus 436 individual tags identified by the R420. At the finish line, both devices identified 438 individual tags. In summary the WL4i/M6e outperformed the R420 in terms of total number of tag reads and hence overall system margin. The WL4i/M6e also outperformed the R420 in terms of the very important metric of uniquely identified tags at the start and finish lines.
The use of radio frequency identification in the retail market is far from a new concept, but one reported incident at this year’s National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show in particular caught our attention. Jordan Lampert, COO of Truecount, a ThingMagic partner offering software solutions for mid-sized retailers, was approached at their booth at NRF and offered a cash deposit by the CEO of a nine-store East Coast shoe chain. The executive’s request? For Truecount to send a team out to begin deploying an RFID system for them immediately!
If you’ve attended NRF in New York City before, you’ll know that RFID has been a topic of conversation there for years – but for the most part, retailers haven’t been lining up with bags of cash in hand to put down towards implementing a system. Retailers who’ve already taken advantage of RFID systems are now able to show the fruits of their investment, while retailers who haven’t are unveiling plans to deploy the technology and admitting they’re behind the curve. This year, the focus of the NRF Big Show remained on store-level inventory and POS deployments, with mobile developments dominating the show floor; but a handful of major players in the retail space used the show as a forum to announce their particularly progressive partnerships and endeavors for the future as well.
Taking RFID beyond the store-level, UK retail giant Marks & Spencer and Avery Dennison announced a significant expansion to their nine-year RFID partnership, to the tune of a billion tags deployed in M&S’s more than 700 stores. Shawn Neville, president of retail branding and information solutions with Avery Dennison, explained that "as one of the UK’s biggest retailers, M&S is focused on providing exceptional customer experience and RFID enables that experience by ensuring inventory accuracy from the distribution center to the store floor, providing shoppers with consistent and accurate product availability in-store and online." And with 21 million shoppers walking in and out their doors each week, visibility into operations is entirely necessary for maintaining order.
Finding the benefits of RFID deployments similarly convincing, French fashion retailer Faconnable and Tagsys RFID are turning their partnership from a one-store pilot into a 70-store, multi-continental RFID rollout. By integrating Tagsys’ FiTS (Fashion-item Tracking System) with their third-party logistics suppliers, the sizeable fashion retailer will have complete coverage of the millions of items that they and their partners sell.
Shows like NRF are continually bringing together the greatest minds in connected technology and helping facilitate communication about the value of RFID. Just recently we posted about RFID at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and how fortunate we at ThingMagic were to be able to work with Alcatel-Lucent on the Connected Service Vehicle for their ng Connect program. Though RFID connectivity is already seeing success as a business technology, the attention it gets from major events like CES and NRF helps prove its worth.
For retailers in particular, business goals boil down to a handful of uniform desires: to provide the best customer experience possible, and to do so in the most efficient manner available. What these retailers now realize is that the visibility that RFID systems can provide to their stores and supply chains can affect more than just the cost savings of having better control over inventory. When the entire supply chain becomes a unified whole, the issues that have always frustrated customers, managers, and employees regarding inaccurate information about item availability no longer exist.
And regardless of whether retailers are realizing this because they’re seeing the benefits of RFID systems they’ve deployed or because they’re kicking themselves for not jumping on RFID solutions sooner, it was clear at NRF’s Big Show that RFID is at the top of the agenda for most major retailers.
I was walking the halls of CES 2013 last week searching for RFID applications and trying to cut through the noise of an overwhelming number of low-tech offerings: just about every second booth at the event was showing iPhone cases, adding up to probably at least one case for every iPhone user on the planet. Just in case there wasn’t any case to your liking, MakerBot is offering a desktop 3D printer to print your very own personalized case. NFC was a distant second, but still a highly noticeable ‘technology’ at the show.
LG is putting NFC tags into anyone of its new 2013 appliances. Initially homeowners connect to their new appliances with their smart phones using NFC. After the pairing, the smart phone can be used to control the appliance and get a remote status update over the Internet.
Sony shows how to pair a personal smart phone with an external speaker system: just tap the phone, and the music magically starts playing through the wireless speaker system, courtesy of NFC and Bluetooth - no wires and no tedious pairing procedure.
Samsung, in collaborations with Cesar entertainment, has installed in excess of 4,500 NFC-enabled so-called TecTiles all over Las Vegas. Visitors who scan a tile with their Samsung phone get access to general information about an attraction, watch tutorials on table games and slot machines, buy show tickets, or make dinner reservations at a nearby restaurants. If you ask me, all of this could be done with a simple QR code, but that wouldn’t be nearly as cool…
Incipio introduced an iPhone case with integrated NFC reader, capitalizing on Apple’s hesitation to integrate NFC in iOS devices…. but wait, am I rambling about smart phone cases again?
No question, NFC has reached a tipping point and is making its way into the kitchen, the living room, entertainment applications, and payment systems - in short pretty much all the applications it was meant to cover and then some. However, an easily overlooked little demonstration using UHF RFID - in my humble opinion - will in time have an equally important impact on the consumer electronics industry: NXP showed their I2C-RFID chip at work inside a tablet computer. In the demo, a retailer – online or brick-and-mortar - configures and customizes the tablet as a gift for a particular user at the point of sale. At check-out, relevant information is downloaded wirelessly into the I2C memory of the tablet: name and relation of the recipient of the gift, let’s say it’s your mom; access credentials of your mom’s home WiFi router, a gift card for X dollars of e-book downloads. As your mom opens the package and turns the tablet on for the first time, she is greeted by a full-screen Happy Birthday card signed by you. Next she is taken to the online store to select a book of her liking in exchange for the gift card. Each time she uses the tablet, the desktop image reminds her of you and the happy occasion of the gift.
I say, that is progress over the conventional way of introducing your parents to digital gadgetry - remember those agonizing phone calls trying to get their new PC online? I have written about how it works in detail here: Five-Cent Wireless Networking – The Most Important Invention in RFID Yet. Remarkably, NXP is able to show read-ranges in excess of ten feet by using the metal housing of the tablet as RFID antenna. Apparel retailers have started to put UHF POS readers and anti-theft gates into stores. I predict that electronics retailers will follow with similar programs shortly. In addition to using embedded RFID for shrinkage-prevention and logistics, Electronics retailers will be able to offer value-added applications for the consumer.
ThingMagic had a significant presence at CES as part of Alcatel-Lucent’s ng Connect program. Together with a number of other technology providers we designed the Connected Services Vehicle (CSV). Among other features, the CSV leverages UHF RFID for real-time asset and tool management on a services vehicle. If you want to know what the system is about, watch Alcatel-Lucent’s video of their presence at CES.
ThingMagic has had the opportunity to design, build and run an RFID–based personnel management system on a large construction project in California. Only three months after going-live, the general contractor is blown away by the system benefits and the richness of the collected data.
Construction management and building owners used to have to wait for weeks and months to get data on how their projects have actually been staffed. The new RFID-based system provides this information in real-time during each workday. Construction site management used to deploy several security guards and supervisors for the sole purpose of monitoring the work force in different sections of the building. Using the new system, management can monitor the flow of people in and out of zones from the office trailer: if a person enters an unauthorized zone, an instant email alert is sent to the designated supervisor. Most importantly, should there ever be an emergency evacuation event on site, the system provides real-time updates on who is left in the building and where.
We have deployed a three-tier system with a distinct sensor layer, database layer, and application layer.
Figure 1: RFID-based Personnel Management in Vertical Construction: Major system components and system architecture.
Every worker on the construction site is issued a passive UHF-RFID-enabled ID card, which the individual wears on a lanyard around the neck. The sensor infrastructure consists of RFID-reader-enabled secure turnstiles for access to and egress from the job site; inside the building under construction we have installed Mercury6 RFID readers and antennas to systematically cover the entry areas of the building, staircase landings, man-lift landings, and the entrance areas of elevators banks. As a worker moves from one building section to another, the portal readers pick up the badge ID of the worker and associate the individual with the new space or zone.
Raw sensor data is sent in real-time to a cloud-based database, where the data is translated into high-level events such as zone entries and exits, and then stored.
A multitude of web-enabled applications have access to the event data through a web API.
The General Contractor and other stakeholders are given access to the data via a number of interfaces, including a mobile-device friendly web portal and email reports and notifications. However, the core filtering and reporting engine has been implemented as a plug-in to Tekla Structures, the comprehensive Building Information Modeling (BIM) and CAT software developed by our sister division Tekla.
The construction manager can visualize the personnel deployment on site within the 3D model. He or she has the ability to specify the time window of interest, the subcontractor, the zone, and other properties. The selected population of workers or a particular individual is presented along with a work zone selected in the model.
Why would a general contractor or project owner deploy this system? Our RFID-based people management system provides:
- Real-time visibility into worker location during an evacuation event
- Instant alerts on security or safety breaches
- Instantaneous reports on sub-contractor staffing levels
- Real-time updates on personnel-related compliance issues or ordinances.
Figure 2: Full-time equivalent construction personnel over a period of about seven weeks by day, subcontractor, and zone of the building under construction.
Supported by RFID and cloud-computing, emerging life-cycle management solutions are enabling new levels of innovation, productivity, collaboration, and growth in the construction market and others. Organizations that can best harness this “Big data” opportunity will hold a distinct competitive advantage.
Every day we’re connected through technology. This communication between people, devices, networks, and everything in between has become so prevalent that it seems ordinary for most. Clearly what we now take for granted has been years in the making, with innumerable individuals and companies working to make it happen. But I think it’s worth highlighting the recent successes of companies like Zebra Technologies, whose leadership has helped to make this connected world possible, and has helped put technologies like RFID at the center of this movement.
Zebra - a partner of ThingMagic for many years - provides enabling technologies for organizations with high-volume, mission-critical or specialty labeling needs. Several Zebra products use ThingMagic embedded modules to encode RFID tags used for item-level tracking applications such as healthcare specimen tagging, supply chain work-in-process management, and retail item tracking, among many others. Zebra’s recent recognition by Frost & Sullivan as the 2012 Company of the Year in North America for their high-value products, robust portfolio, deep market penetration, and optimized channel strategy is a testament to the impact they have had on the entire industry. Their reach is impressive – having shipped over 11 million printers of all kinds to nearly 100 different countries – and is a driving force behind making RFID-enabled solutions a viable option across markets.
In addition to their execution on the technology end of business, Zebra has done a good job articulating to the public the importance of an interconnected world, more specifically promoting an understanding of the value of the “Internet of Things.” To further an understanding of this concept, Zebra recently partnered with Forrester to produce a study that helps IT decision-makers better understand the importance and growing presence of Internet of Things solutions. The RFID-based technologies behind the Internet of Things are used to solve business problems like supply chain inefficiencies as well as inspire innovation in organizations. And as the survey revealed that 82% of organizations either have Internet of Things solutions in place already or plan to put solutions in place in the next 5 years, it’s become clear that the Internet of Things will become a household concept in the very near future.
Congratulations Zebra! We as an industry should follow your example of explaining and promoting the value everyone has and will experience in this increasingly connected world.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on the R&D effort to develop passive RFID tags that can be offered for five cents or less. Have we succeeded? Almost. In high volumes assembled UHF tag inlays cost somewhere between seven and ten cents. Along the way, however, the RFID industry have invented something far more important: five-cent wireless networking!
What is it and how does it work?
Both NXP and Impinj have released RFID chips that offer an Inter-Integrated Circuit (I2C) interface in addition to the Gen2 RFID interface. The new chips also include significantly more memory compared to previous generations of simple-passive RFID IC’s: NXP’s UCODE I2C offers 3.3kBit of EEPROM memory; Impinj’s Monza-X offers 2.1 to 8.2kBit of EEPROM memory.
Electronics manufacturers have been using I2C-enabled EEPROM memory chips for decades to store small amounts of data persistently, including configuration data or boot-loading information. As the main microprocessor of a device is powered up, it reads configuration information from the memory chip via the I2C interface.
The new generation of I2C-RFID chips will maintain this functionality, but offer more. The memory content can be accessed through the I2C interface and through wireless RFID interface using a standard UHF Gen2 RFID reader. Since the RFID chips can be used in passive mode, the EEPROM memory can be read and written to without powering the host device.
Why is it so cheap?
Fully assembled conventional RFID tags require the actual chip, an antenna substrate, and the conversion into a usable package. A relatively small percentage of the cost can be attributed to the chip itself. The biggest cost items are the handling, assembly and antenna substrates.
When I2C-RFID chips are placed on printed circuit boards, the antenna is etched into the board at virtually no additional cost. The assembly is part of the surface mount board assembly, i.e. it’s also virtually free. Hence the only real cost item is the IC itself. The I2C enabled RFID chips are more expensive than the regular passive RFID IC’s, however, most of that cost can be attributed to the large memory of the chips. Since I2C-RFID chips replace conventional EEPROM chips, the marginal cost of adding RFID and hence wireless networking amounts to a few cents.
What is it going to be used for?
Device manufacturers will include the I2C-RFID chips to store essential configuration, licensing, or product information persistently. Since the memory can be written to over the air, configuration or licensing information can be applied to the device using an RFID reader without turning on the device.
In manufacturing, the RFID chip can be used to identify and serialize the device (WIP tracking). Once manufactured, channel partners are able to configure devices in the warehouse or at the point of sale without taking them out of the box.
Post sales, the device’s host processor can log information on usage hours, failure modes, misuse, use of consumables etc. on the I2C-RFID chip. As the device is sent in for maintenance or repair, the information is available to the service center through the RFID interface. Once again, the device does not have to be tuned on to read out the information.
Intel announced recently that it has included an I2C-RFID chip with the reference design for its new Windows 8 tablet computer, making Intel and its OEM partners the biggest users of this new capability yet.
Why is this so important?
More and more of the objects we buy and use on a daily basis include electronic circuit boards to support and enhance basic functionality: Nowadays toys like to speak to their child owners, kitchen appliances can be programmed to turn on at arbitrary times, toothbrushes beep when its time to switch sides, and power saws shut off electronically when safety is compromised. Today, few of these devices are networked and few are RFID-enabled. The inclusion of the new I2C-RFID ships will enable both RF networking and RF identification. Almost overnight networking and identification of inexpensive everyday objects has become feasible and realistic.
We have long been waiting for the Internet of Things to become a reality. I think I2C-RFID chips will finally make it happen.
(Photo: Tom Hurst / RFID Journal)
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