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.
Each year about 1 in 6 people in the United States gets sick from eating contaminated food, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Salmonella is responsible for many of the reported outbreaks and causes more hospitalizations and deaths than any other type of germ found in food. While E. Coli infections have been drastically reduced, there has been no reduction in people getting sick from Salmonella.
One way to cut down on illness caused by Salmonella is to apply lessons learned from past outbreaks as depicted below.
View larger version of the diagram (source: CDC)
Efforts to educate about prevention can be supplemented by enhancing the traceability of food shipments within the supply chain. The Food Safety Modernization Act calls for the FDA to focus on new food traceability rules to prevent contamination.
A report issued recenlty by ABI Research, “RFID-enabled Food Safety and Traceability Systems,” reviews the Food Safety Modernization Act and provides forecasts for the use of RFID-enabled devices in cold chain applications. RFID allows the food industry to trace food items and record environmental conditions throughout the entire supply chain.
Sensors in RFID tags monitor the temperature and humidity of products. They can detect if the temperature for a specific food item goes above or below the ideal temperature, at any given time, and record that detail. Tags can be used on anything in the supply chain from the farms, to slaughterhouses, to pallets, to shipping containers, to grocery stores. Even the cows and pigs can be tagged.
You may remember the Orange Juice recall from this past January. CNNMoney noted that if there is wide adoption of a traceability solution in the industry, it could stop the contaminated food from being put onto store shelves in the first place, and help stop outbreaks before they start.
Aside from preventing food borne illnesses, ABI Research also points out that the information delivered by an RFID traceability solution could have a significant impact on the $35 billion a year in wasted produce. With the environment detail captured by the RFID readers during the supply chain, a grocer or manufacturer can determine precisely which containers were exposed to temperatures outside of the ideal range, and discard only those containers instead of discarding the entire shipment.
The prevention of waste or food borne illness is enough to warrant an RFID food traceability mandate in my book. Being able to impact both? I’ll let you do the math.
Football is by far the most popular sport in the United States with much of its success being credited to its sheer brutality and gladiator mentality. Let’s face it; if you watch football on TV, you are likely drawn in by the bone crushing hits.
If you pay attention to the sports scene at all, you undoubtedly have been hearing a lot of discussion around player safety, specifically, the issue of concussions. What was once referred to as “getting your bell rung” has now been more appropriately diagnosed as a concussion, and has sparked spirited debate over player safety and the ramifications of multiple concussions on a player’s long-term health.
The issue of concussions was largely ignored in contact sports such as football and hockey until the middle of the last decade when former Ivy League football player and former WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski wrote a critically acclaimed book called: Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis, which was published in 2006. This book and his subsequent research and affiliation with the Boston University School of Medicine has shown a bright light on the issue of sports based concussions.
So what does Football have to do with RFID?
I’m glad you asked.
Treehouse Labs, a product development firm based in Austin, TX recently announced that they will soon be testing a prototype along with Shockwave Impact Systems of Chicago that allows them to install a sensing system inside of football helmets in order to alert coaches and medical personnel when a player experiences an impact great enough to cause a concussion. Using RFID, the data is transmitted to a web-based server that can be accessed via smartphones. The transmitters are expected to have a range of approximately 2.5 miles.
These developments have the potential to open up a whole new arena for RFID technology. In addition to football, contact sports such as hockey and lacrosse would seem a natural progression. Other sports such as auto and motorcycle racing and cycling could benefit as well; information gathered from these sensors could assist medical personnel in diagnosing head injuries quicker and take the appropriate steps for treatment.
These are just the latest examples of how RFID is finding its way into our everyday experiences and improving the quality of our daily lives.
I have to admit that I buy organic milk, not just because I think it’s healthier for my family, but because I can stock up on it without the risk that it’ll go bad before we use it. Why does organic milk have such a longer shelf-life than regular milk? Maybe they’ve figured out something that the others haven’t. Maybe it’s Intelleflex.
Recently, the company developed what they call the Cool Chain Quick Scan. It helps farmers and shippers identify spots in their temperature-controlled supply chain - or cold chain - to improve freshness. This may sound familiar to you because during our 100 Uses of RFID program, we blogged about RFID enabling temperature tracking in real-time for sensitive, pharmaceutical shipments. Now we learn about it being used to track produce temperatures, which makes a ton of sense.
The time for fresh produce to be harvested, cooled, processed and shipped can vary by hours and is influenced by several external factors beyond the farm. Air temperatures of refrigerated vehicles add to the complexity because they vary significantly, potentially causing the food to go bad before it reaches the store. That could explain the condition of the avocados I see in my supermarket.
The Cool Chain Quick Scan replaces guesswork, visual inspections and First In/First Out inventory methods, with a snapshot of the cold chain. It identifies, measures and documents the impact of the temperatures on the produce. The monitoring is continuous - from the field, to the pack house, through distribution, and finally the retail store. It sounds tedious, but with RFID, it’s easy and cost-effective.
RFID tags that use light, temperature and humidity sensors, are placed on the produce and processed as usual. For example, tags could be placed with produce in the field during harvest, or in pallets being transported from the pack house to distribution centers. Readers and condition monitoring tags use battery-assisted, passive RFID to read through pallets and containers with precision. The tags are removed at the pack house and mailed back to Intelleflex for analysis that is included in a detailed report, including:
- Temperature variation that the product is experiencing
- Amount of shelf life lost due to temperature issues
- Impact on customer satisfaction
- Recommendations to improve temperature management
This level of reporting can help farmers, distributors and retailers develop cold chain best practices.
By transforming climate monitoring from trailer-, container- and warehouse-tracking devices to individual pallet tags, RFID can give fresh produce suppliers detailed visibility into the lifecycle of the produce. They can use this new found visibility and resulting best practices to reduce shrink and improve profitability. Every fresh produce supplier’s dream come through thanks to – of all things - RFID.
When we launched our 100 Uses of RFID program earlier this year, we had an overarching goal of raising awareness of the many different types of wireless identification technologies available today. Looking beyond traditional uses of ID technologies like radio frequency identification and sensors (RFIDS), we also wanted to explore the growing number of solutions where users are naturally interacting with RFIDS and where the technology is so integrated and transparent that it disappears into its environment.
Executing the program was an exciting challenge. Through the use of our blog, press releases, YouTube and Twitter, we intended to promote innovative yet real RFID applications each business day for 100 days. At the beginning, some called us out, wondering if we could sustain the pace we publicized. ReadWriteWeb challenged our plan “Can they keep this up 95 more times? That seems like a rough row to hoe.” Thankfully, we were able to reach our goal on target and benefited from a follow up RWW article: Looks Like There Really Are 100 Uses for RFID and mention in their Top 10 Internet of Things Developments of 2010 round-up!
The visibility favorable editorial coverage has driven isn’t the only positive outcome. This program has also led to ongoing dialog about innovative uses of RFID and sensing technology with users, prospective customers, business partners, and several industry and business media outlets.
We hope that the content generated for this program continues to be useful others. For those of you interested in keeping track or guessing about what your peers are interested in, the most popular topics of the program to date are:
Race Timing with RFID
Enhancing the Patient Experience with RFID
The Next Revolution in Wireless and Mobility
Hospital Inventory Control with UHF RFID
The Batteryless RFID Imperative in Healthcare
RFID – The New Future of Retail
Of course we couldn’t have done it alone. The ThingMagic team would like to gratefully acknowledge those who made this program possible, including our valued customers and partners for their editorial contributions, and the inspirational sources for several of the uses of RFID noted in our program, including RFID Journal, PSFK, the MIT Media Lab and many others.
And in today’s age of social media, we couldn’t have reached the audience we did without our growing community of blog subscribers and Twitter followers. A special shout out to @AetherCzar for #WirelessWednesday mentions and @ZebraTechnology, @VeryFieldsRFID, @LPP_PR and @zanderliving for the many re-tweets!
Stay tuned for future programs as we continue to blog on the many uses of RFID. If you have a unique use of RFID and/or sensor technology, let us know and we’ll consider it for a blog post or future marketing activity!
RFID-Enabled Helmet Designed to Reduce Cases of Heatstroke
To demonstrate how hard football players hit each other, ESPN Sports Science suited up Bruce Campbell, an offensive guard for the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders, and had him run full speed at a tackling dummy.
The hit generated over 2700 pounds of force. Check out the bone crunching video.
After a weekend of vicious hits like the one demonstrated by Campbell, the NFL announced yesterday that it will begin suspending players for dangerous and flagrant hits and tackles - mainly those involving helmets.
While there may not be an RFID application to prevent violent collisions between football players, there is one to monitor the temperature of players on the filed to make sure they don’t overheat.
Developed by Atlanta-based Hothead Technologies and Kennesaw State University, the wireless heat monitoring system includes a lightweight, impact-resistant transponder with temperature-sensing capabilities embedded inside football helmets. With a range of up to 500 meters, the system measures body temperature and transmits the information to a handheld computer monitored by a trainer or medical staff. The promise of the system is to prevent incidents of heatstroke, the on-field cause of death of Minnesota Vikings star Korey Stringer in 2001.
Unique in its application? No - like many other uses of RFID, this solution could be applied to other markets. Hothead Technologies is reportedly considering marketing the smart-helmet to the military and public services organizations like firefighters where heatstroke is also a threat.
RFID Detects Airborne Toxins
If only manufacturers and their plant workers had access to innovative solutions like this decades ago so they could avoid breathing harmful asbestos and other cancer-causing airborne toxins.
GE Global Research won an award for its “Wearable Organic Electronic Film RFID Sensors for Monitoring of Airborne Toxicants,” by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The goal of their research was to develop a sensor for chemical and biological detection in complex environments. The impetus for this development was that existing sensors would yield inaccurate readings and false positives in these types of environments, rendering them ineffective. The team set out to develop a sensor that would give more accurate readings.
A new battery-free RFID-based transducer platform uses low cost, passive RFID sensors for chemical monitoring and analysis. Through a coated sensing film, the RFID sensor helps identify and quantify volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in complex environments. Complex environments can be air in the workplace, in a city or in a battlefield, for example.
The detection and isolation of certain toxins is achieved by the combination of: recognition of vapors by the sensing film; the new design of sensor transducer to fully probe the vapor-film interactions; and multivariate analysis of the data from the RFID antenna structure.
What does this mean for you?
Based on their successful project, the research team is now developing a prototype for a wearable, wireless, passive RFID sensor system. Because the sensors are very small, they can be part of a person’s identification badge and warn them as they enter an area with harmful toxins that are not otherwise detected by human senses. And if it can be used to detect a toxin, it can most likely be used to detect changing levels of oxygen to help workers stay away from danger zones.
The biggest potential breakthrough with this invention could very well be its ability to serve as an early warning sign for diseases. By analyzing exhaled air from medical patients, the sensors can identify volatile biomarkers for diseases like diabetes, emphysema and metabolic disorders.
Now that’s our kind of invention. We’ll be anxiously awaiting the next phase of the project.
[Photo credit: GE Global Research]
Robotic Milking Systems Use RFID and Sensors to Increase Production and Ensure Quality
Humans have consumed animal milk as part of our diet since around 5,000 BC and, for millennia to follow, we’ve processed milk to make dairy products such as cream, butter, yogurt, ice cream, and cheese. To improve the production of milk and milk-based products, dairy farms have adopted many new technologies over the years. Large scale dairy farming has seen innovation come by way of vacuum bucket milking, milking pipelines, milking parlors, and, yes, fully automated robotic milking.
Robotic milking systems automate the tracking of milk production, in part, by using RFID to track and identify cattle as they enter milking stalls. If a cow hasn’t been recently milked, the system dispenses feed pellets and initiates the milking process, while recently milked cows are allowed to move on through an open gate. The system’s mbedded sensors are used to detect changes in the milk’s temperature and color which are signs of possible illness.
According to a U.S. News and World Report story, Minnesota dairy farmers using these types of systems have seen an increase in herd productivity, resulting in overall improvements in daily farming operations.
To help identify sources of possible contamination, RFID is also used to track individual milk samples through mandated testing processes followed by dairy farming industries around the world. For example, SAITL Dairy Laboratory in New Zealand has implemented an RFID-based identification and tracking system to test up to 30,000 vials of milk from dairy farms every day.
As reported by RFID Journal, SAITL’s solution uses RFID to ID batches and samples of milk by using a Texas Instruments 13.56 MHz passive RFID tag attached to the bottom of each vial. SAITL lab workers process the milk-filled vials past RFID readers which send the tag data to a database to identify the specific tests that each sample must undergo. According to SAITL, RFID has increased the speed and accuracy of their lab processing and minimized manual handling and resulting errors – helping to ensure the quality of milk produced by 11,000 New Zealand dairy farms.
So the next time you sit down for a snack of cookies and milk or pour milk into your breakfast cereal or cup of coffee, its possible that RFID helped deliver that carton of milk – safely and securely.
Let us know about other areas of the agriculture and farming that you feel can benefit from the use RFID.
Nokia and Burton Boards Combine the Misty Flip with Mobile Apps
I admit it - I’m starting to sound like a broken record on this topic, but I think solutions like these will introduce RFID and sensing technologies to the mass consumer market, leading to a very interesting convergence of RFID and wireless sensor data capture, social networks, and the mobile web. And, they’re just plain cool!
In an earlier post titled RFID Predictions, I mentioned that I have long thought that there was a natural connection between RFID and social networks, and that someday this enabling technology and would collide with the massive reach of the social web. I pointed to Epic Mix – a combination RFID tags in lift tickets, RFID readers on the slopes, mobile applications, social networks, and virtual currency – as an example.
In my email inbox today was another interesting example of the combination of wireless sensors, mobile devices, and connected games. It started with the Nokia Push project in 2009 which integrates small sensors into skateboards to capture motion data about the tricks and movements of riders. This program has recently been extended to a collaboration with Burton Snowboards where similar data from snowboard rides is pushed to a Nokia phone and displayed in a game-like interface. Sharing this information via Twitter and Facebook is a natural extension of the application, presumably providing new opportunities for mountain operators and retailers to connect with their customers.
Your thoughts? Will this example of a connected everyday object – where in-vehicle RFID can be used to make sure your boarding equipment is in your car and sensors allow you to share your experience on the slopes with the world in real time – enhance your experience on the slopes?
Making Hay with RFID
Farming includes a wide spectrum of agricultural activities. At one end is the subsistence farmer, who farms a small area with limited resources. At the other end is commercial and industrial agriculture farming which involves large fields, large numbers of animals, and a high level of mechanization and efficiency. While farming has been around for a long time (reportedly since 8000 BC!), the ways in which land is farmed and is constantly evolving. As a result, each acre farmed is producing more food for more people – an important trend given the world’s population growth trends.
When you think of RFID and sensors being used in the agriculture and farming industries, tracking livestock with low frequency (LF) RFID tags to automate processes like feeding, weighing, and disease management may come to mind. Or, maybe using RFID and sensors for food security and cold chain systems. But hey, what about automating hay harvesting?
Harvesting Hay with RFID
Harvesting hay is a very precise process with a very large impact on the success of a farm’s feeding program. Not only do livestock get nourishment from eating hay, but farmers who harvest hay need it to be top quality in order to sell it for a good price. Hay is at its prime during a specific one week period during its maturation. Passed that point, it becomes coarse and dry and much of its nutritional value has faded. Once the hay is cut, it then has to be dried and then baled. Tracking the moisture levels in bales is one of the most important aspects of the entire hay baling process. A bale with a moisture content above 20% is at risk for spontaneous combustion due to elevated heat levels during its respiration process. Any bale harvested below 12% has experienced field losses, leading to low feeding value and yield losses.
As with any job or process, not everything always goes perfectly and in the business of hay harvesting, the quality of some bales turn out to be better than others. Cows’ multiple stomachs can properly digest hay at many different qualities - even moldy. But, the production of milk and meat from cows fed high quality hay is significantly higher than those fed a lower quality. Other animals such as horses are at a higher risk of getting sick from eating bad hay – elevating the need for growers to produce high quality hay for these species.
What was once managed manually can now be done much more efficiently with newer technology and machinery. Advances in baling equipment have led to the production of large square bales that have increased field harvesting capacities and mechanized handling and feeding. Bales can now be created by one tractor that cuts and rolls it in one step. Conditioners are available to speed up the drying process and now – believe it or not - RFID tags are being incorporated to monitor every detail about each individual bale.
In the Field with Harvest Tec
ThingMagic partner Harvest Tec offers a useful RFID Bale Identification Systems add-on for three popular hay baler machines: AGCO, New Holland, and Case IH. Harvest Tec chose to develop RFID-enabled solutions because of the technology’s widespread use across many industries and low cost per tag. In their solution, as the bales are leaving the tractor a thin RFID tag is wrapped around one of the twine holding the hay together. On this small tag, all of the data essential for farmers is stored. With either a handheld or tractor mounted reader anyone can see which field the hay came from, on what date it was harvested, average and high moisture levels, temperature, weight, amount of preservatives used, latitude and longitude of the position the bale was harvested from, and a unique ID number. With this valuable information, farmers can distribute hay to their livestock and ensure it is of consistent quality.
The rest of the hay can be sold for a higher price since the buyer knows exactly how nutritious each bale is. Bales with too much moisture or mold can be removed from a stack so they don’t contaminate the rest of the bales. These bales can then be efficiently used to feed cows or other uses where top quality is not a priority.
Harvest Tec has produced a few cool videos and have them posted on their website. Check them out and let us know about other areas of the agriculture and farming industries that you feel can benefit from the use RFID.
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