The potential of a broader set of ID and sensing solutions is something IT decision makers and business stakeholders have been able to understand the potential value of for some time now, but have struggled to put into practice. As a result, though most solutions can offer measurable value, many fall short when it comes to going above and beyond what they’re tasked with and supporting greater ideals like the Internet of Things (IoT). What’s keeping us from reaching that point? In part, it’s a lack of tools that are easier to use, richer in functionality and can more easily and quickly integrate with the world around them.
Organizations have high hopes for IoT, but significant gaps still exist that are keeping us from opening up communication between people, devices and other objects of all types. In particular, we need to bridge the communication gap that’s always existed between the consumer world and the ID and sensing solutions of the enterprise world. Much of this disconnect stems from having devices and networks that all speak different languages, making development a more confusing and time-consuming process than it needs to be. When the goal is seamless communication between an infinite number of devices and technologies, the only way to achieve it is through platforms outfitted with tools that automatically act as a translator.
The developers tasked with building ID and sensing solutions now have a tool that will enable them to overcome that challenge and help make significant steps toward IoT. Enhancements to ThingMagic’s Mercury xPRESS Sensor Hub flexible development platform, which already allows developers to bring up a fully functional RFID reader in minutes, have now transformed it into the Sensor Hub that developers need. With new support for network interfaces (PoE and WiFi) as well as GPS, developers can easily access and deliver diverse sensor data. This enables developers to focus on application functionality, fast deployment and quicker return on investment.
Today we’re on the cusp of realizing the next wave of the Internet of Things
, where communication is seamless between people, devices and objects, regardless of whether a computing device is involved. One of the biggest barriers keeping us from achieving this next step in IoT are the parties fighting to make their language and protocols the standard, which is actually slowing the process of realizing IoT’s purpose. We see the Mercury xPRESS Sensor Hub as a part of the solution, a step towards opening the lines of communications between devices and systems of all types that haven’t been interacting. The road to IoT is filled with many obstacles. A major one has been integrating all the applications that use different languages and protocols. It’s doubtful we’ll ever achieve the nirvana of a single standard that unites everything. So until that day comes we’ll continue to need tools like the Mercury xPRESS Sensor Hub, which can act as the unifying connector and translator of the many devices and applications we’ll encounter on the path to IoT.
Conceptually, the Internet of Things (IoT), at its most basic, is composed of billions of items all connected and communicating information through wired and wireless technology. One of its first and fundamental building blocks is sensing technologies like RFID. To date, however, RFID has been largely relegated to specific enterprise markets and applications. Though RFID-based applications can vary greatly, there is still similar functionality and value to a retailer looking to better track inventory and manage its supply chain; a hospital looking to better organize its equipment, medications and patients; or a construction company looking to better monitor job sites and work assignments to better guarantee the safety of its workers in the event of an emergency. And this is just a small sampling of the industries and verticals that can benefit from RFID applications. These applications, across all industries, are capable of delivering tremendous measureable value - but there is so much more that RFID can do within IoT.
Thus, a challenge we face is working to understand the limitations organizations and developers perceive when considering building RFID applications. One of the things that has kept RFID from achieving wider-spread adoption has been the availability of tools that make it easy for engineers and developers to quickly build and integrate RFID-based applications. Nobody understands this issue better than us. But having just signed a global distribution agreement with Digi-Key – one of the world’s largest and fastest growing electronic components distributors – we’re hoping to offer a solution by giving engineers better access to RFID tools and a better foundation for innovating with RFID.
Here at ThingMagic, we are now collaborating with Digi-Key to distribute our Mercury 6e Series and Mercury 5e Series embedded modules, putting us in a position to reach more engineers with the building blocks for tomorrow’s innovations. Digi-Key’s distribution of ThingMagic development kits along with our modules will enable more companies to develop and produce the connected items that are behind the next wave of IoT solutions. Our award-winning family of modules has the performance capabilities to sustain the speed and connectivity of today’s complex systems, with the compact form factor required for the billions of devices that will one day make up the Internet of Things.
As the proliferation of devices of all types and sizes continues, the development and adoption of the Internet of Things should grow as well. But we’re still far from that tipping point where we truly connect all devices across the enterprise and consumer worlds seamlessly through the IoT. In spite of the progress that’s been made, the IoT ecosystem does not yet work together as it should. For it to reach its potential, we’ll need cooperation from all the participants in the market. By providing developers and engineers with development tools, platforms and technologies – like RFID – that all support industry standards, then we will have a collaboration that will enable the true vision of IoT. Our partnering with Digi-Key is another step on the path to achieving that objective.
For years, a longtime partner of ours, Zebra Technologies, has been known for bringing RFID-enabled products, from printers to handhelds, to market. Most recently, they’ve introduced a cloud-based, multi-sensor platform for connecting legacy devices with smart devices to bridge the gap between the two to help achieve the ideal of the Internet of Things. We’re happy to say that Zebra’s Internet of Things platform – Zatar – will integrate ThingMagic’s embedded RFID technology. The partnership will open connections between legacy assets and more modern devices like iBeacons, printers, handhelds and RFID readers and enable third party apps to more easily work with them over an open source API.
Internet-connected devices make information more available and enable companies to use that information to make decisions and take action faster, which are major value propositions of the ecosystem of the Internet of Things. The evolution of these technologies – RFID and others – from tagging and tracking to automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) to connecting everything over the Internet has created a need for more platforms like Zatar to facilitate these connections. Internet of Things platforms facilitate this communication to fill a need in the space created by the influx of devices that has caught developers and integrators off-guard by the sheer volume points to connect with. As a result, more now than ever, there is now a need for more easy-to-use, comprehensive development platforms to speed the development of programs and integration of technologies with one another.
In the Internet of Things ecosystem, we’ve carved out our own space with the Mercury xPRESS platform. As the need for more RFID-base applications grows, development needs to keep pace by becoming a simpler, faster and more fluid process and less of a burden. This is especially true for industries and organizations where RFID is starting to take hold. What Mercury xPRESS offers is a comprehensive development environment with the most advanced embedded RFID reader modules on the market paired with software and reference documentation to enable low-cost, high-performance embedded RFID solutions. Basically a complete development platform for embedding RFID.
In the new ecosystem of the Internet of Things, RFID is also driving value in more closed-loop environments – or Intranets of Things – for the enterprise, an area that is always exploding with new deployments. Connectivity and information-sharing need to occur in a way that differs on an industry-by-industry basis, so providing managers with a means of developing solutions without having extensive background knowledge in RFID development is valuable to them, especially as they’re able to customize solutions based on how they want the privacy and flow of information to occur. Internet of Things platforms will continue to appear in all different forms, but were seeing RFID continually be a vital addition to most solutions.
We all know our world is more connected than ever, as is evidenced by the millions of smart phones cradled in the hands of people all over the word. But beyond this, there is a vast world of connected devices that is projected to far exceed smart phones. From toll booths and parking spots to refrigerators and thermostats, many places and common place 'things' can and will be connected. This is what the Internet of Things is all about.
The Internet of Things has stealthily crept its way into our everyday lives, promising to create ease and efficiency in everything we do. In the years since the term “Internet of Things” was coined at the Auto-ID Center at MIT, its definition has evolved in some interesting ways. For example, Intel's tagline The Iternet of Things Starts with Intelligence Inside indicates their heavy focus on embedded technology. Cisco’s newly formed Internet of Things business unit has a vision to turn what were once physical products into services by enabling those products to deliver data. Their vision is broad, taking the Internet of Things a step further to The Internet of Everything. Just recently, SalesForce.com has begun defining its vision of IoT as The Internet of Customers. What ever the Internet of Things is or will eventually become, reserch firm Gartner predicts it is growing rapidly. By the year 2020, the Internet of Things market as defined by Gartner will grow to 26 billion units, representing an almost 30 fold increase from 2009.
While the Internet of Things may have expanded to inclue technologies and applications well beyond its roots in RFID, we believe RFID still plays a defining role, particularly as an embedded solution. We’re seeing this manifested in the growth of the RFID industry, with new applications of embedded RFID increasing at a rapid pace across a variety of industries and product categories.
To help drive this growth, ThingMagic recenlty announced the Mercury xPRESS Platform. The Mercury xPRESS Platform is the first of its kind development platform that will make new application-specific RFID product development faster, easier and less expensive.
Leveraging over 10 years of RFID technology advancements and development expertise from ThingMagic, we expect the Mercury xPRESS platform will revolutionize the way that RFID readers and embedded solutions are brought to market, inevitably strengthening RFID’s role in the Internet of Things.
To learn more, please attend our webinar: Innovating With Embedded RFID: Introducing ThingMagic's Mercury xPRESS Platform
We are excited to share the possibilities this new platform offers for designing the next generation of application-specific RFID readers, handhelds, mobile devices and more!
Image source: IEEE
Summer is in full swing and with it comes all of the warm weather activities. Naps in the hammock, lemonade by the pool and if you’re like us, getting caught up on our summer reading list.
While vacation it most certainly a time for leisure reading, it can also be a good time to catch up on tech trends and industry news. To help, we’ve gathered some of our most popular blog articles. Adding a little twist, we’ve also included some of the more interesting uses of RFID we’ve seen mentioned recently - reinforcing the fact that the possibilities with RFID are limitless!
The Next Generation of Construction
Published in Construction Executive’s June Issue, a contributed piece by ThingMagic’s Bernd Schoner discusses how RFID deployments are streamlining construction projects and helping to keep construction sites secure and safe.
RFID in Retail – No Stopping Now
If there is one industry where RFID has made a name for itself, it is retail. With big players like Macy’s and JC Penny implementing the technology in order to enhance the customer experience, and cut down on overhead costs, it is only a matter of time before other retailers follow suit (pun intended!).
Passive RFID solutions for healthcare
RFID technology has impacted and ultimately improved the healthcare industry in many ways over the last several years. In one specific case, a partnership between Xecan and ThingMagic has provided a communication and tracking system for hospitals. This RFID “smart clinic” tracks patient location and wait times, ultimately allowing the clinic to operate more efficiently and increase patient satisfaction.
The Future of RFID: Infographic
When we couldn’t seem to find an infographic that covered Auto-ID technologies or RFID in particular, we took matters into our own hands. This infographic depicts the collaborative relationships between 4G, Wi-Fi, GPS, RFID and sensors, and what it means for our future.
If you thought RFID was a technology looking for a home, think again. Seems you can't find a market or applicaiton it hasn't been used in. For example, check out these unique uses:
With NSA-like precision, FeederWatch researchers and students at Cornell University have gathered an "unprecedented" amount of data about the feeding behaviors of their favorite backyard birds in the Ithaca, New York, area. Read more about Project FeederWatch.
RFID for Counting Bees. Really? We published this post on our blog as part of our 100 Uses of RFID campaing a while back. With recent concerns about the bee population dying off and the frightening prophecy that mankind would have only four years to live if bees disappeared from the face of the earth, maybe this one isn't to crazy.
RFID Plays Matchmaker to Socks. This one dominated the headlines for weeks when it was announced. Rightly so, because, well, you can't go out with socks that don't match.
And finally, file this one under "just when you thought you've heard it all..." Nightclub urinal tells patrons when they've had one too many.
So, what are you waiting for? Let us know how you see RFID being used for well known or non-traditional applications. We'd love to hear from you!
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)
Fifteen 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.
A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to be able to speak with InformationWeek’s Jeff Bertolucci, a respected voice in the Big Data space. In a conversation stemming from our Future of RFID infographic, we discussed the role RFID is playing in the revolution brought on by devices communicating with one another and individuals and enterprises relying more on technology.
In general, we are all connecting more with the world around us every day and RFID can be thought of as an enabling technology that pulls it all together. Clearly it contributes to the amount of data generated by business and consumer activities, but it can also be used to manage it – and in the words of a recent report by InformationWeek, “the big data challenge is real.”
New and innovative uses of RFID are emerging on a daily basis - reshaping the way we (vendors, partners, end users) should be thinking about the technology. It can no longer be viewed as a niche technology or a replacement for barcodes. In a previous blog post, we introduced the intersection of RFID and Big Data to get people thinking about the technology in a bigger way. Business managers are seeing cost savings, consumers are enjoying new efficiencies, and generally speaking, people are able to more easily connect their online world with their physical world.
So what do you think – is RFID becoming more of a household name in Big Data conversations? Or do we have a few more years of flying under the radar?
In our view, RFID plays an important role in managing Big Data and facilitating the Internet of Things, even though it’s never been the flashy new technology that has commanded headlines - well, until now at least.
Inevitable, open, and inclusive are just a few words Rob van Kranenburg used in a recent article The Sensing Planet: Why The Internet Of Things Is The Biggest Next Big Thing to communicate the growth and adoption of what he loosely defines as the global process to enhance all objects with some form of digital identity. Van Kranenburg, a teacher and consultant on the topic, believes that U.S. industry and government bodies aren’t taking as active a role in its adoption as we are – the people – who are coming to own and drive the movement.
But don’t consider this a mark against it. This isn’t a bad sign for the Internet of Things. In fact, since its inception, the Internet we’ve seen evolve over the past twenty years has itself functioned a lot like the Wild West, with people driving its progress more quickly than any governing body or private business has. It’s clear that a number of factors will drive our world closer to this connected world, but we believe it’s RFID that will be the unsung hero supporting the people to drive this shift.
Van Kranenburg referred to RFID and the rest of the “ecology” surrounding the Internet of Things as “nothing fancy; mostly radio, quite mundane,” but that’s what we love about RFID. Its wallflower-like characteristics enable it to blend into our lives, and that’s the very reason it will drive this movement. If any technology requires extra steps, behavioral changes, or new inconveniences, it can’t take off.
We live in a connected world, but in reality it is hundreds and thousands of systems that all operate separately. RFID is the glue that passively, yet intelligently, connects our doctors to their patients, our cars to their parking spots, and our businesses to their products. It will be the connection between the intranets we already have established that forms the Internet of Things we all imagine coming to life.
Van Kranenburg will be communicating how he perceives the Internet of Things at the PICNIC conference this week in Amsterdam. In fact, the theme of this year’s PICNIC is “The Shift from Top Down to Bottom Up,” articulating that it’s the people driving innovation, not the legislators and business leaders up top.
For an idea of what’s possible with RFID growth, Tik Tik, one of the businesses attending PICNIC, is using the example of children checking themselves in and out of daycare with RFID keychains and rating activities they’ve chosen there for their parents to see via a secure Web site. The conference will most likely usher in a new era of understanding just how universally applicable RFID technology has become. I’m willing to bet that in years to follow, RFID will have a much bigger presence at this show because people will have recognized its role in driving the Internet of Things. If you’re not yet convinced, we have an Infographic that could change your mind.
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