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NOX Tracks Visitors at India's Largest National Executive Meeting

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Mar 05, 2013 @ 02:39 PM
Contributed by our friends at Simply RFiD:
BJPKaryakarini 060Bhartiya 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.

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RFID in Race Timing: Mercury-6e Beats the Competition in Brazil

Posted by Bernd Schoner on Wed, Feb 13, 2013 @ 09:48 AM

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. 

WaveLabs Case 
 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.

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Findings From NRF 2013 - Will This be the Year of RFID in Retail?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 @ 02:55 PM

NRFThe 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. 

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RFID at CES 2013 – NFC Dominates, but UHF Wins My Personal Best-in-Show

Posted by Bernd Schoner on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 @ 09:17 AM

CES 2013I 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.

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RFID + Cloud + BIM for Managing Personnel in Vertical Construction

Posted by Bernd Schoner on Wed, Dec 05, 2012 @ 02:54 PM

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.

System Overview

We have deployed a three-tier system with a distinct sensor layer, database layer, and application layer.

describe the image

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.

BIM Integration

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.

Floor Detail

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.

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How Zebra is Proving RFID’s Worth

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 @ 08:50 AM

Zebra TechnologiesEvery 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.

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Five-Cent Wireless Networking – The Most Important Invention in RFID Yet

Posted by Bernd Schoner on Fri, Nov 09, 2012 @ 09:31 AM

RFID ChipHundreds 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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Why the Micro is the Best RFID Module Ever

Posted by Bernd Schoner on Fri, Nov 02, 2012 @ 10:33 AM
ThingMagic M6e-MicroLet’s face it, we have developed quite a few RFID modules over the past decade. We have developed small modules, high-power modules, modules with low-power consumption, modules for handhelds, modules for printers, FCC-certified modules, ETSI-compliant modules, and modules designed for the Chinese market. Why on earth would we develop yet another module which – at first glance - doesn’t offer additional capabilities over previous generations?

The short answer is, that never before were we able to package all these features in a small, inexpensive, and powerful design. The M6e-Micro offers previously available capabilities in ONE module. It therefore enables all the applications we have supported in the past, and more.

If you prefer the long answer, I believe this is the best UHF RFID module ever for three key reasons:

1. Size

Size is extremely important, especially for small end-devices such as handheld terminals. If the RFID module doesn’t fit physically into a host device, it will not be considered for a project, no matter how powerful it is. At 26x26x4mm, the M6e-Micro is smaller than any module we have designed in the past and smaller than any other module in its class on the market.

The engineering accomplishment here is not so much that we were able to squeeze a bunch of components onto a small board surface, but that we were able to keep the board at a reasonable temperature. Since power amplifiers generate quite a bit of heat, up until now the difficulty has been to design high-power modules in small packages without major heat-sinking surfaces. The M6e-Micro overcomes this limitation. It can transmit at full power despite its small size.

2. Power output and power consumption

The Micro offers a maximum of 30dBm of output power which represents the maximum power output allowed in North America and in most other worldwide regulatory environments. In passive RFID systems, even a single dB of additional reader output power can make a huge difference in performance. The Micro offers between three and seven dB more output power compared to competing devices in its class.  

As important as output power is, many mobile devices use low-power modules in order to save battery life. The Micro enables the user to turns on high-power in burst mode when needed, and then switch back into a low-power mode to save battery power. This is the exact capability needed by handheld RFID terminal vendors who want to push the read range of a device without sacrificing battery life.  

3. Regional compliance

By now we know that electromagnetic emission requirements for North America, Europe, and China cannot be met in one and the same reader device, unless separate filter banks are implemented to support the three key regions. That’s exactly what we did on the M6e-Micro, despite the fact that the device is smaller than anything we have designed before. The Micro is the first full-power RFID module to support every RFID region in the world with the possible exception of Japan (Japanese RFID regulations are still debated).

In summary, the Micro is a real engineering beauty and packs many of the features of earlier generations of modules in one device. Within weeks, I expect a dozen of Micro-like datasheets to be published by our far-east competitors. The only difference to the ‘Micro’ will be, that those devices either will not get developed at all, or they turn out to be out of spec in a few but important aspects. Usually the copycats forget to design in compliance, which only becomes evident to the customer late in the design-in process.

So here is my advice for you, dear customer: check on the compliance and certification performance of competitive modules, or – if you prefer to save yourself the time and agony - choose the M6e-Micro right away!

For more information, check out these resrouces:

>> Micro datasheet


>> Whitepaper: Getting a Read on Embedded UHF RFID: Why RFID Modules are the Smart Choice for Developing Next-Generation Solutions

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Embedded RFID: Why we got excited about passive RFID in the first place!

Posted by Bernd Schoner on Wed, Oct 24, 2012 @ 12:21 PM

Embedded RFIDFifteen years ago my ThingMagic co-founders and I worked as research assistants in the MIT Media Lab’s Things-That-Think consortium. Our main agenda was to embed intelligence in everyday objects such as clothing, toys, and furniture. We quickly realized how important passive RFID would be for implementing the vision of smart and networked objects and ultimately the Internet-of-Things. Today, passive UHF RFID outperforms any other technology in applications where a large number of tags are attached to inexpensive objects and where readers are embedded in the environment to quietly understand the objects around them without human intervention.

In the years since, we haven’t always been true to this insight into the sweet spot of RFID applications. In fact, my co-founder Ravi Pappu and I like to pride ourselves in having proposed the use of RFID for just about any imaginable scenario. In our enthusiasm for the technology and our eagerness to help customers, we have put tags on people, retail shelves and vehicles of all types including fighter jets, locomotives and racecars. None of these applications deal with millions of inexpensive objects; most of these applications require expensive, portal-type reader set-ups; and none of these applications helped the RFID industry develop its full economic promise.

On the other hand, when we deployed embedded RFID reader modules, usually with the help of OEM customers, our efforts resulted in scalable projects generating long-term repeat-business. This success can only partially attributed to our market leading position in UHF modules. Embedded RFID readers quite simply outnumber their fixed reader cousins by an order of magnitude, much like WiFi-enabled devices outnumber WiFi access points.

The most successful embedded RFID applications continue to be RFID-enabled printers and RFID-enabled handheld terminals. RFID-enabled label printers, for example those made by Zebra Technologies, are a necessary ingredient of any high-volume RFID application. Labels have to be encoded, no matter what you use them for.

RFID-enabled handheld terminals have become the workhorses for the majority of workflow applications. In logistics, retail, or construction alike, workers need to truly interact with the objects they are handling. They require a user interface to fill out forms, collect the electronic signature of a customer, or record the geo-location of a particular object. RFID-enabled handheld terminals offer these capabilities: at the low-end, terminals include Bluetooth and a single-button user interface; at the high-end, terminals include every imaginable wireless capability in addition to RFID, along with a full keyboard and a big screen. For example, see Trimble Announces New RFID Accessory for Nomad Handheld. All of these devices include one common element: a ThingMagic embedded RFID reader module. 

More recently, other exciting embedded applications have emerged: Keurig is embedding RFID readers in their single-cup coffee machines. The machine recognizes the RFID-enabled coffee container and optimizes its settings to produce the best coffee possible.

Intel is enabling its OEM customers to embed RFID tags with every Windows 8 tablet computer at the time of manufacturing. This will enable embedded readers track the devices during the manufacturing process and into distribution. Retailers will be able to offer customized licensed features and configure the tablets using embedded RFID readers at the point of sale. Service centers will be reading out information about a device without even taking it out of the box or powering it on. How will they read out the information? They will be using RFID-enabled handheld terminals or other embedded readers.

In conclusion, once in a while we should remind ourselves why we got excited about passive RFID in the first place: we saw the opportunity to make inexpensive, small, but pervasive objects part of the networked world. Embedded RFID readers continue to be key to realizing that vision.

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RFID-enabled Robots Create Efficiency in the Workplace

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Oct 22, 2012 @ 10:04 AM

RobotsRobots have certainly undergone their share of transformation over the years – from the  stereotypical robot in “Lost in Space” to the child-friendly WALL-E – and I think Kevin Ashton, in a recent RFID Journal article, made a good point in arguing that robots have managed to shed creepy images, but have yet to make the complete transition to being human-like.

One ongoing limitation is that robots have not been able to have a true dialogue with humans - like that between Luke Skywalker and C-3PO, who boasted to be fluent in "over six million forms of communication"! Can RFID bridge this communication gap?

A few years ago, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Duke University embarked on a project where they used ThingMagic readers with robots in a healthcare setting. With long-range read capability, the robot named EL-E can move freely while still being able to detect RFID tags in various locations, and a finger-mounted, short-range antenna enables her to interact with a tagged object, such as handing a stethoscope to a physician.  EL-E can also assist physically-impaired people, giving them the appropriate medicine bottle when they are unable to help themselves. We’ve blogged before about how improving the patient experience can also accelerate the patients’ recovery. A robotic right-hand-man could allow nurses and physicians to spend more time researching, talking to and engaging with their patients, and therefore being able to treat the individual.

Check out another robot from Georgia Tech's Healthcare Robotics Lab -  GATSBII - a PR2 robot from Willow Garage outfitted with patch antennas and a ThingMagic M5e reader, as seen on CNN’s The Big I show!

More recently, and right here in Boston, we are seeing more investment in robot technology with companies like Rethink Robotics looking for new ways to make our industries more efficient and cost-effective. Their flagship product, Baxter, is designed to fit seamlessly into a manufacturing environment to take certain types of work off the hands of employees. Because of the enhanced level of interaction between human and robot, the robot can perform risk-posing tasks such as climbing a tower to do repairs, or repetitive, assembly line work that could free up people to do more complex, value-added tasks. In doing so, people can become more productive and the business is more efficient. And we all know that greater efficiency is the key to success in today’s economy.

The video below demonstrates how Baxter interacts with humans.

With RFID tags becoming more ubiquitous , can this be the technology that breaks down that communication barrier between robots and people?

It may be a while before we can think of a robot like C-3PO as our wing-man, but with RFID we may be able to more naturally interact with the next generation of robots – not in Hollywood - but in the business arena.

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