RFID Replaces Ouija Boards, Witchcraft and Séances

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Oct 29, 2010 @ 08:29 AM

Tags: RFID, Embedded RFID, NFC

Lets the Dead Speak from Beyond the Grave

GravestoneThis Halloween talking to the dead may be easier than you think.  Before you get too spooked, you can forget the hocus pocus, witchcraft and voodoo techniques they use in the movies. No need for séances, full moons, candles or sacrifices; all you need is RFID.

Objecs LLC, an Arizona information-exchange company specializing in the sharing of digital information between individuals and objects, came up with the idea to place RFID into a stone tablet called a RosettaStone. The RosettaStone is embedded with a passive high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID tag. An ID number is engraved on the stone as well as coded in the tag. This ID number is linked to a database where a picture and up to 1,000 words of information on the deceased is stored.

This information can be accessed by anyone who has an NFC-enabled smartphone. When the phone is tapped near the tablet, the information appears on the phone’s screen. It can also be accessed by entering the ID number into the RossettaStone website. The information is not only stored on the RosettaStone server, but also on the Physical World Database Project server, so the information will still be accessible even if Objecs is no longer around.

In addition to the ID number, the RosettaStone itself is engraved with symbols that represent milestones in that person’s life. The tablet can be taken home by the family as a keepsake or it can be attached to the headstone so anyone in the cemetery who wishes can learn more about the deceased.

1,000 words and a picture seem like just the beginning. Why stop there? As Curtis Hopkins points out in his ReadWriteWeb article, in the future perhaps we will see videos added or allow people to record their memories with the deceased.

So remember, when you are walking through the cemetery this Halloween, if you get a message from the dead on your smartphone, it might be a ghost – a Ghost In The Machine, that is!

Ghost in the Machine

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Oct 28, 2010 @ 01:44 PM

Tags: RFID, NFC, Product Design

RFID and the "Magic" of Nearness

Touch Ghost IconIn the introductory post of our 100 Uses of RFID program, we discussed the fact that there are a growing number of innovative solutions where users and consumers can interact naturally with RFID and Sensor technology and where the technology is so integrated and transparent that it disappears into its environment.  This is also a primary theme of a blog post recently published by Touch - a research project that investigates Near Field Communication (NFC) and RFID technologies.

Using probes with LEDs that flash when an RFID tag is passed by a near-field reader, Touch conducted research to explore the visual and special aspects of RFID.  Capturing the path of the LED with long exposure photography and animation, Touch produced a compelling video that displays how the two objects are communicating with each other through the ‘magic’ of radio waves - creating an interesting ghost-like image!

Immaterials: the ghost in the field from timo on Vimeo.

Given that many aspects of RFID are fundamentally "invisible", Touch conducted their study to help them better understand the interactions that can be created with RFID and the ways it can be used inside products.  As they eloquently point out:

“…invisibility also offers opportunities: the lack of touch is an enormous usability and efficiency leap for many systems we interact with everyday (hence the success of Oyster, Suica and Octopus cards). But there is also the ‘magic’ of nearness one of the most compelling experiential aspects of RFID.”

Touch’s experiments were conducted to flesh out their own spatial and gestural models in part to help them understand the readable volume of RFID for the design of products like Sniff – an interactive child’s toy - Skål – a tabletop media player.

What experiments have you conducted to support the development of your RFID, NFC or Sensor-based products?  Feel free to share them with us and we’ll highlight them in a future 100 Uses of RFID post.

The RFID icon above is based on the shape of the "readable volume" within an RFID radio field. Created by Timo Arnall & Jack Schulze, it is licensed for use under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Automated Video Stores

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Oct 27, 2010 @ 12:42 PM

Tags: RFID, Sports & Entertainment, Process Control, Asset Management

A New Way to Rent Movies – Powered by RFID

MovieQThe way we purchase, rent and watch movies has evolved significantly since Louis Le Prince created and experimental film titled Roundhay Garden Scene on October 14, 1888 – now known as the earliest surviving motion picture.  Personally, I remember the days of having no option other than going to the theater to watch a movie.  It was a fun family event and as I got older, movie night included a half an hour at the arcade across the street playing Tempest before show time.

Then in 1975, Sony brought movies into the home with the introduction of the Betamax. The first Sony LV-1901 Betamax console consisted of a VCR and a 19" TV and retailed for a whopping $2,495!  Expanding our access to movies, in November of 1977 Magnetic Video became the first company to sell motion pictures on home video.  To launch their business, Magnetic Video licensed 50 titles from Twentieth Century-Fox and sold them for $49.95 each under the terms of a club membership.  Taking the market further, George Atkinson launched the first video rental store in Los Angeles in December 1977.  Atkinson charged $50 for an annual membership and $100 for a lifetime membership, providing access to video rentals for $10 a day.  Atkinson grew his business to 42 stores in less than 20 months, running his company, later know as The Video Station, until 1983 when it had nearly 500 stores.

With continued advances in movie production and distribution, we now have the choice of purchasing high-quality DVDs and several ultra-convenient self-service options like on-demand cable rentals and Netflix integrated into my kid’s Nintendo Wii.  We can also still go to brick and mortar retail stores like long time market leader Blockbuster and relative newcomer MovieQ.

MovieQ, an automated movie and game rental chain, has taken a unique approach to operating its stores.  Typically manned by a single employee to sell munchies, MovieQ stores use state-of-the-art RFID-enabled robotic systems to automate DVD dispensing.  In addition to providing automated access to a large selection of movies and games, customers can use a credit card or preloaded MovieQ cash cards at in-store customer interaction centers (CICs) to purchase rental merchandise. 

With over 10,000s items available, MovieQ stores offer compelling advantages over other types of brick and mortar stores.  This model – automated with RFID – allows MovieQ to operate in a small footprint which translates to low real estate costs.  They also save on staffing costs and have reduced product loss and theft – allowing them to pass savings and value to the customer.

An interesting case study on MovieQ has been published by UPM Raflatac - the provider of high-frequency RFID tags MovieQ uses in their solution.  Check them out and let us know how you think RFID can automate other high-volume retail operations. 

RFID and Mud Motors

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Oct 26, 2010 @ 03:22 PM

Tags: RFID, Process Control, Disaster Management

A Natural Fit for Natural Resource Exploration

Downhole DrillingWith the recent Deepwater Horizon drilling rig disaster that killed 11 workers and spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, many of us know more about oil exploration than we did before.  Those of us who followed news reports of the rig explosion, spill and clean up quickly became familiar with blowout preventers, shear rams, cement plugs, and the combination of mechanical failures and human errors that resulted in the tragedy.

Over the years, many different technologies, techniques and innovations have been used when drilling for gas or oil reserves.  One such innovation, known as downhold drilling, was introduced in the 1970’s.  With downhole drilling motors (aka mud motors), the drill bit can be rotated on the bottom of the hole while most of the drill pipe is held stationary as opposed to having the entire drill string rotating at all times.  Among other advantages, various measurement tools can be added to the stationary drill string to help determine if any corrections or adjustments may need to be made – in real time.  The data generated from these measurements is also used to maintain engineering and legal records describing the path of the well bore.

By utilizing RFID technology, Marathon Oil Company of Houston, TX has taken downhole drilling to the next level - allowing for completely new processes to occur.  Instead of activating the downhole equipment with traditional uses of mechanical systems, hydraulic pressure and fluid pulses, a downhole tool is configured with an RFID reader and the tool is activated when RFID tags are read along the length of drill pipe.

According to an article in Drilling Contractor, Marathon Oil has recognized notable benefits from the use of RFID.  With initial goals of reducing costs and rig time, Marathon Oil has also estimated that by implementing such an RFID-powered system, a major oil and gas operator could save at least $17 million in annual costs.  While cost savings are a great achievement, Marathon Oil also pointed out that this solution could result in improvements to operational safety.

With operational safety on everyone’s mind after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the use of RFID for downhole drilling and many other aspects of natural resource exploration seem like a natural fit to us. 

What do you think?  Let us know your thoughts on how RFID could be used for large-scale operational improvements and worksite safety.

[Image credit: Sandia National Laboratories]

ThingMagic, a Division of Trimble!

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Oct 25, 2010 @ 06:29 PM

Tags: RFID, GPS, Trimble Navigation

ThingMagic Continues Lead Position as Developer of RFID Technology from Within Trimble Navigation

ThingMagic, a division of TrimbleThingMagic is pleased to share some exciting news about our company.  It was announced today that ThingMagic has become a division of Trimble!  For more information on this announcement and Trimble, check out the press release or Trimble’s product and solution offerings for the Engineering & Construction, Agriculture Solutions, Field and Mobile Worker, and Advanced Devices markets.

This is a very exciting opportunity for ThingMagic, its customers and the RFID market as a whole.  ThingMagic and our staff will remain located in Cambridge, MA and will continue to offer high-performance finished and embedded RFID readers and services to customers in a wide range of industry verticals from construction to health care.

And now with Trimble’s support, ThingMagic will be able to accelerate development of the world’s best RFID reader technology and is positioned to continue to grow its business to meet growing market demand.

From today’s announcement and to help frame Trimble’s perspective Jürgen Kliem, vice president of Trimble’s strategy and business development has provided his view of the opportunity:

Similar to the widespread integration of GPS into today’s positioning solutions, we believe RFID can transform markets and is a natural complement to our existing technology portfolio.”

We at ThingMagic are very excited to join the Trimble family!  Let us know what you think.

RFID Hits Center Stage

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 @ 03:44 PM

Tags: RFID, Sports & Entertainment, RTLS

Following Opera Singers to Capture the Experience for the Audience

I grew up with the music of Pavarotti, Verdi and Rossini coming from the living room, usually on Sundays. And a little Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra mixed in. By no means am I an expert, but I must admit, I thought the quality of the performances solely depended on the talent of the singers and the acoustics. But even with the most advanced architecture and best names in show business, apparently the live experience could still get better.

Opera can be defined as a theatrical presentation in which a dramatic performance is set to music, incorporating many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, costumes Outboardand dance. To pull the audience in with greater force and make it feel like one of the characters, Out Board, as reported by RFID Journal, developed a sound-locating system that would pinpoint the location of the performers on the stage. What that means is that the singer’s location – or coordinates - are forwarded to a software program, which determines when a specific voice should reach a certain speaker. The second piece of the puzzle is for the software to determine the precise second for that performer’s voice to come out of a certain speaker.  

Remember the Saturday Nite Live skit with Bill Murray playing Hercules, poking fun at the audio and video being comically out of sync, as was the case in the days of early TV when sound suffered from latency issues. (The SNL video clip isn’t available due to copyright laws, but here is a transcript with pictures to jog your memory.) So, not exactly the same as what we’re talking about here, but an audible “out of sync-ness” can be noticed when you’re at an opera house that seats tens of thousands of people. And the larger the theatre, the more common it is for the performer's voice to be heard by the audience slightly later than when the voice comes out of the speakers. This obviously interferes with the sound quality, which is especially important when you’re listening to an opera in another language.

The authentic experience starts with each performer wearing a battery-powered Ubisense RFID tag, easily invisible to both performer and audience member. The tag transmits a unique ID number that is linked to the performer's information. When the performer enters the stage, it receives transmissions from RFID readers. The Ubisense Location Platform software calculates the location of the tag based on the angle of signal arrival to each reader, and the time at which the signal was received. Then it assigns the location of each tag to a specific zone on stage. By determining the exact location of each performer, the system can calculate the sound delay to ensure proper amplification and speaker location for each voice.

Many of the heavy metal concerts that I’ve seen in my day could have benefitted from better sound quality, among a few other things.

[Screenshot Outboard TiMax Tracker (TT) real-time location system]

Are RFID Tags on the Ropes?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Oct 21, 2010 @ 01:53 PM

Tags: RFID, Agriculture, Food & Beverage

RFID Used to Improve Mussel Cultivation

Mussel RopesWithout a crystal ball, cultivating mussels is like a shell game (pun intended) where each one looks like the other and in order to win you have to remember which one was where at which time. Suffice it to say, that’s why the house (or the guy on the street) usually wins. Mussel cultivators need to better their odds because this is their livelihood, not a game.

In order to process mussels for the best sale and retail consumption, you would need to know how long each batch of mussels has been on each rope. This becomes trickier when the ropes move or get lost in a storm.

Mussel company Concepción Suárez Fernández, worked with the University of Vigo in Galicia, Spain, to devise a way to use passive RFID tags to track the ropes. The cultivation begins with the seeding of mussels on to the ropes which hang on a platform in the water. There they mature until harvest time. But how do the cultivators know when it’s harvest time when platforms can be more than 1,000 square feet, hundreds of ropes have been hung at different times, and oh yeah, like the shell game, they all look the same?

"We need a way to distinguish them. If you forget some of the ropes, the mussels can grow too big and fall to the sea floor." That was the sentiment of Jorge Nuñez, an owner of Concepción Suárez Fernández, which led to the introduction of RFID to Aquaculture.

Each rope is fitted with an RFID tag that is UHF and Gen2 compliant. The company is using tags from Premo Group, Confidex and Intermec Technologies that were developed to withstand the extreme conditions that the sea can bring like very cold temperatures, lots of moisture and rough motion due to storms.

A software program tracks all of the information about the mussels on that rope, obtained by the RFID tags. Now, cultivators can know when it’s the best time for mussels to be harvested. Needless to say, the enhanced process can increase revenue because fewer mussels are lost and fewer are harvested at the wrong time. As usual, with an RFID deployment, it would also seem that less time is spent on contingency planning and manually chasing down information.

As a consumer, I’m excited because who wouldn’t want to go to the store knowing they’re always going to get the best batch of mussels? What’s your favorite food whose supply and quality you’d like to see improved with RFID?

[Image credit: Inverlussa Mussel Farm]

Don’t be a Hothead

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Oct 20, 2010 @ 07:34 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Sports & Entertainment, Environmental Monitoring

RFID-Enabled Helmet Designed to Reduce Cases of Heatstroke

Hothead RFID HelmetTo 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.  

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 field 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?  Not at all - 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. 

The New Junkyard Dog

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Oct 19, 2010 @ 10:18 AM

Tags: RFID, Asset Tracking, Inventory Management

RFID Helps Sniff Out Hiding Vehicles in Salvage Yards

Remember that game when we were kids and the person who was “it” had to close their eyes and yell “Marco” in a swimming pool? The rest of us would respond with “Polo” while trying to fool the person into thinking we were somewhere that we weren’t. Well, auto salvage yard workers have to play a similar "game" when trying to find a specific vehicle in a lots that can span tens of acres with thousands of cars.

Typically the cars in these lots are sold at auction. When it’s time to find the car and bring it to the auction site, the manual process of identifying and locating vehicles can feel like a game of Marco Polo - or someone’s idea of a bad joke.

When a truck takes a wrecked car to a parking space in the lot, the driver writes down the car’s details, such as its VIN with the lot space number on a piece of paper. In the case of Barodge Auto Pool, as reported by RFID Journal, an office employee would receive the car’s information and enter the data into the inventory-management system, with a stock number assigned to the car by the inventory system. When auction time came, a printout of the car and its ID data was provided to the operator. This is where the manual system would break down because sometimes a lot space number was wrong or the car may have been moved to a different space. And as we are all too familiar with, numbers can get transposed when we write them down or type them in.  

 RFID Auto Location System

Recognizing the precious time spent chasing down vehicles and the inefficiency it caused, the owner of Barodge Auto Pool developed an RFID-based system to solve the problem. The new system would also eliminate the errors associated with the hand-written/data entry process. He named it the DogBone RFID Vehicle Tracking System.

The solution was to attach an adhesive UHF EPC Gen 2 tag to an auto’s windshield when it came onto the lot. A photo of the car and the tag number are sent to the company's server via a handheld device equipped with a camera and a WiFi connection. The DogBone system receives the data, including GPS location and space number, links it to the stock number and sends that data to the inventory-management system.

Each of the company's trucks comes equipped with a WiFi-enabled PC, a GPS unit and an RFID reader. The truck operator can see a photo of the car he needs to pick up, as well as a vehicle description, space number and a map, graphing the car’s physical location. Then, the reader scans the RFID tag and the software determines that the car is being picked up. The DogBone software sends an alert if it’s not a match. If a car is in a different space, DogBone updates the inventory-management software.

MyDealerLot and its partner, Electronic Inventory Solutions, were onto this idea in 2008 when they found a way to track 3,500 vehicles across three locations with WiFi-based RFID technology. In their case, they deployed solar powered outdoor receivers for real-time location of cars on auction lots.

In both cases, inefficiency drove innovation that we can all benefit from, even if indirectly. Think of the time the employees can spend doing more productive tasks and the gas saved from driving up and down these lots. I bet their neighbors are happy.

And like most successful innovations, this one can be easily adapted for other uses. Sound familiar? It should. It’s RFID.

[Image credit: Cresan Management, LLC]

Are RFID License Plates Coming Down the Road

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Oct 18, 2010 @ 12:18 PM

Tags: RFID, Google, Automobile Production, Traffic Management

Or Will Google Cars Solve the World’s Traffic Problems?

Google License PlateRFID is used throughout many aspects of the production and use of automobiles.  By no means an exhaustive list, RFID is used to improve production logistics, automate access control and parking, secure border roadways, automate toll collection, support car share programs, manage traffic flow, facilitate electric car payments and track tools in construction vehicles.

With all of these processes made possible or enhanced by RFID, one has to wonder if RFID tags will some day become standard identifiers in all cars – much like a VIN number or license plate. This topic has been discussed for some time with legal and privacy rights taking the forefront of the conversation - and rightly so.  One potential and controversial use of RIFD in vehicles and on the roadside is designed to allow authorities to automate the monitoring of intersections and issue tickets without having to be on the scene.  Video and CCTV cameras are already being used for this purpose and RFID pilots have been conducted.  Honestly, I’m on the fence on this one.  I’d surely like to be able to plead my case to the officer on the scene.  However, I’d also like the repeat offenders who speed past the "Watch for Children" signs on my street to be severely and repeatedly fined, but the police in my neighborhood have been unwilling to conduct 24x7 surveillance!

Or maybe we don’t have to worry about any of this because Google is developing cars that drive themselves.  Using video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder, Google cars will take us where we need to go, safely and efficiently, and presumably within the speed limit and in compliance with all traffic laws.  Problems solved, right?  My commute will be shorter and while along for the ride I can use Google search on my Google phone and maybe watch a little Google TV before I’m automatically checked in at my destination using Google Places – anywhere on Google Earth.

All kidding aside, Google’s intentions are noble.  They believe self-driving cars can cut in half the 1.2 million lives lost each year in road traffic accidents and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing how we use transportation. 

So where are you on all of this?  Would you be OK with an RFID infrastructure deployed in your neighborhood for traffic control?  How about on the highways?  What are your thoughts about Google cars?  Do the safety benefits proposed by Google outweigh the potential requirements to disclose more information about your personal travel?

RFID for Disaster Management

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Oct 15, 2010 @ 10:25 AM

Tags: RFID, DoD, Disaster Management

Auto ID Technologies Help Deliver Supplies and Locate People During 72 Hour ‘Golden’ Rescue Period

As noted in previous posts, RFID can be used in many aspects of urban planning and construction.  But what happens when carefully planned and urban areas and buildings are destroyed by a disaster and emergency response efforts are needed?

Well, RFID can help there too.

A study published in the International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development earlier this year claims that RFID could be used in the immediate aftermath of major disasters, like an earthquake, to help save lives.  To support their study, researchers modeled the magnitude 8.0 Sichuan earthquake of Disaster ManagementMay 2008 and 100 magnitude 4.0 aftershocks to study how RFID could be used to mitigate a wide array of logistical challenges such as monitoring evacuees and managing the flow of medical supplies.

Researchers found there is a 72 hour ‘golden’ rescue period following an earthquake during which the efficiency of emergency response procedures is key to the rescue operation.  Particularly challenging, the study states, is knowing how many people are present in a damaged building or structure that needs to be evacuated.  In these scenarios, RFID can facilitate the dispatch of rescue personnel and provide real-time information that could be used to organize search and rescue missions. 

A real-world example of the value that RFID can provide in emergency situations was realized immediately following the 7.0 earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti on January 12th, 2010.  As detailed in an RFID Journal report, the U.S. Department of Defense leveraged its In-Transit Visibility (ITV) network to track shipping containers as they moved to and from the island.

Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Riddle, the commander of the 832nd Transportation Battalion, in Jacksonville, FL described the benefits of ITV network: "From a commander's point of view, I'd say that the ITV was critical to the recent aid operations in Haiti.  This was a very complex mission, with a rapid deployment. It's something we don't do every day, but we prepare for every day. And the ITV network was absolutely critical [to its success]."

If faced with a ‘golden’ rescue period of only 72 hours, I know I’d want all available technology, including RFID, used to aid recovery efforts.  How about you?

Cup o’ Joe to Go

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Oct 14, 2010 @ 11:26 AM

Tags: RFID, Retail, Waste Management

RFID and Coffee Drinkers Unite to Cut Waste and Time

Smugs RFID mugWhen you think about how many cups of coffee a week the average person buys at a Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks, that’s a lot of paper cups being thrown out. The majority of coffee consumers seem to opt out of splurging on the fancy mugs the Java houses sell, including yours truly. So, how else can we possibly cut down on that coffee to-go waste?  Unless they’re in Italy or another European country that takes its coffee breaks seriously, people are going to have a tough time staying put for their morning coffee in order to help the environment.

But maybe we won’t need to change our lifestyles to save the environment from zillions of plastic and paper cups.

Ever hear of Smugs? They are reusable Smart Mugs embedded with RFID chips. A Marquette University student, Chris Hallberg came up with the idea to let people use their own Smug, fill ‘er up and walk out of the coffee shop without paying. So, it saves waste and time. And who isn’t in a hurry when getting coffee on the go?

The Smugs use a high-frequency 13.56 MHz circular RFID tag with a Mifare chip designed to store ID numbers. The unique tags are connected to a Smuger’s account in the shop’s back-end database. The accounts are front-loaded by the customers with the amount they choose. An RFID reader is placed on the shop’s wall and also connected to the accounts in the database. When the customer leaves the shop, voila, the coffee is paid for.  

As if saving time and cutting down on waste weren’t enough, this innovative idea also lends itself to customized service – which we’ve seen before in this blog. Because a customer’s name and previous coffee orders are stored in the tag, a coffee shop employee can ask he should serve up a mocha latte, double espresso, non-fat as usual.

We understand that Hallberg has another invention in the works. Hopefully RFID is involved.

There’s Something in the Air

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Oct 13, 2010 @ 05:00 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Environmental Monitoring

RFID Detects Airborne Toxins

GE SensorIf 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.  

They succeeded.

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]

Music Branding with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Oct 12, 2010 @ 04:00 AM

Tags: RFID, Retail, PSFK

RFID to Match the Mood of Clothing with Music

The following use of RFID comes by way of a blog entry from PSFK titled Music Branding With RFID-Embedded Clothing.  Yes, this is the same PSFK that published the thought provoking Future of Retail presentation referenced in our post RFID - The New Future of Retail earlier this year.

Music Branding with RFID

From PSFK:

Gomus is a music branding company based in Brazil that works with sound to create unique environments. Their RFID-based platform called Echo is a retail-focused project currently in development, which recognizes information on the tags embedded in clothing to create specific musical environments while shoppers try on clothes. The project will be implemented in Brazilian clothing stores next year, and aims to match the mood of the clothing with music.

As highlighted in our earlier retail post, PSFK invites us to: “…think less about real estate, staff, footfall and online stores and start thinking about the entire world as a store; one in which we can easily make instant purchases regardless of time and place. Driven by technology, the web, community and the search for ever-richer experiences, the world of shopping is undergoing a sweeping transformation.”

What are your thoughts about the intersection of retail and technology?

RFID Gives New Meaning to Train Spotting

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Oct 08, 2010 @ 05:00 AM

Tags: Railway Management, RFID, Transportation

Single View of Trains to Improve Railway Safety

Hochbahn TrainCrashes involving trains are more common than one might think. Just this month in Indonesia, a train crashed into a parked railcar killing 36 people and injuring many more. It’s still uncertain whether the crash was caused by human error or a failure with the signals on the trains.

Hochbahn is taking no chances. The company that serves 500,000 daily passengers in Hamburg, Germany is expanding its already-successful RFID implementation to improve railway safety.

As part of Hochbahn's existing system, 2.45 GHz RFID interrogators are mounted on railroad ties and two MarkTag HDS S1456 semi-passive tags are placed on the bottom of each railcar. When a tag passes over a reader, it transmits an ID number. The collected data is then used to notify an operations control center – in this case it’s operated by Funkwerk IT – telling it which trains passed where, at what time and headed in which direction. It seems as though this type of information would be just what we need to prevent accidents and crashes. Yet Hamburg is still enhancing its system, presumably because the ROI from an expanded RFID project is clear and demonstrable. Or to put it more simply, the benefits of RFID far outweigh the costs. 

The intent of the RFID expansion is to provide a single view of the trains and their movement. The latest project involves GEN4HD Track Readers made by TagMaster which will be installed on the railway’s new U4 line. TagMaster has previously supplied RFID equipment to Hamburg for lines U2 and U3. The new RFID tags will be seamlessly integrated with the existing solution, making the desired, single view capability easier to attain.

This type of RFID application also yields other business benefits aside from safer conditions for travelers. By being able to better manage and predict train schedules, the technology can also help support revenue growth and reduce costs through more efficient operations. Knowing RFID was involved, would you expect anything less?  

Milkin’ It with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Oct 07, 2010 @ 11:22 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Agriculture

Robotic Milking Systems Use RFID and Sensors to Increase Production and Ensure Quality

CowHumans have consumed animal milk as part of our diet since around 5,000 BC and will 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 embedded 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.

Smart Ball

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Oct 06, 2010 @ 12:34 PM

Tags: RFID, Sports & Entertainment, Cisco, New York Yankees

RFID Will Help Deliver the Fan Experience of the Future

Contactless Payment KioskWith the Major League Baseball playoffs ready to kick off, what better time to cover the potential uses of RFID in sports.  The use of new technology is nothing new to this market.  Think instant replay, the Telestrator and race car cams.  With recent advances in wireless and mobility technologies however, we’re now entering new era of technology use in sports venues.  New stadiums are being built with a variety of wireless and mobile services, many of which may include RFID, to streamline operations and deliver a personalized fan experience.

Here are a few to consider:

RFID tags in tickets to improve ticket processing, venue access and reduce ticket counterfeiting.

RFID-enabled loyalty cards and retail infrastructure (see Yankee Staduim conctless payment kiosk above) for point-of-sale automation and on-the-spot retail promotion.

Automated access control, personalized greeting and service delivery for VIPs.

Delivery of live and replay video and data pushed to mobile devices based on personal identification and location.

Personalized location-based messaging delivered on smart displays, including special offers during the event and real-time traffic updates after the event.

Location based fan experience sharing and engaging with friends, sports teams and professional athletes on social networks.  (See previous posts RFID Predictions and Shredding it with Sensors for examples).

Sports teams are investing significant dollars to create the next big thing in fan experience and today’s wireless and mobility technologies allow for a new level of personalized fan involvement.  Check out the expansive use of Cisco communication technologies at the new Yankee Stadium to provide fans with a more interactive, personalized and immersive sporting experience.  As advertised by Cisco, this infrastructure is architected to integrate video, voice, data and wireless services into a seamless next generation network that transcends sports operations.

With an estimated 50 billion smart cards in use by 2015 and RFID finding its way into sports tickets and other venue services, what impact will RFID and related technologies have on the way that stadiums operate?  What are the benefits that businesses and fans can expect to gain from using RFID-based solutions?

Cactus Chips

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Oct 05, 2010 @ 11:36 AM

Tags: Loss Prevention, RFID, Asset Tracking

RFID Helps Protect a Desert Symbol

SaguaroI bet you didn’t realize that thieves could get between $500 and $5,000 - per cactus!  Apparently, if a Saguro cactus is in its prime (roughly 40 years old and 5 feet tall) a nursery or landscaper and even a collector will pay dearly for it.

The Los Angeles Times reported that officials in Palm Desert, California put up surveillance cameras after losing $20,000 worth of cacti. That method can’t be cheap. But there is another way.

Park managers at Saguaro National Park are using RFID tags to serve as a deterrent to the cactus thievery. The tags are inserted into the cactus with a needle and will last as long as the plant’s life, which could be 200 years or so. The tags can be read by scanners about a foot away which enables them to be found in nurseries during periodic checks or in passing trucks on the road. The RFID scanners can also reveal the origin of the cactus to help verify whether it’s been stolen. A popular myth is that the police can locate the missing cacti with an embedded GPS which has contributed to the deterrent effect.

RFID tags also help protect the beautiful desert symbol by letting scientists keep track of the 1.3 million saguaros in the park by recording their location, health and growth rate. IF RFID can make a difference like this for the Saguaro, imagine what it can do for other endangered species of plant and wild life.  

Some believe the desert is a mystical place with ways of exacting its revenge against violators.  But if you’re not a believer in the Great Spirit and are still thinking of rustling a cactus, you better watch out for RFID.

[Photo source: http://www.davewilsonimages.com]

RFID Lets Cars Park Themselves

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Oct 04, 2010 @ 10:31 AM

Tags: RFID, Parking & Tolling, Transportation

The Next Generation Parking Garage

I recently went out for dinner on Hanover Street in the North End of Boston where the food is great, but parking can be a hassle.  The restaurant advertised a great parking option at a garage around the corner.  For just 3 bucks I could park a few blocks away if I got my ticket stamped at the reception desk and returned to my car within 3 hours.  Not bad.  It was a nice night and it would just be a short 5 minute walk from the garage to the restaurant. And we were eating on the early side of the evening, so we’d be sure to get a spot in the garage, right?

Wohr Parking TechnologyAs we turned the corner, there was a line of cars driving slowly past a "Garage Full" sign.  Oh well, too good to be true.  Now we had to navigate our way back toward the restaurant to dish out $20 for valet parking.  Couldn’t they have squeezed a few more cars into the garage?  Probably – if they were using a system from Wöhr.

Wöhr is a leading manufacturer of car parking systems based in Germany that has been developing innovative parking solutions for the last 50 years.  Their take is that as the world’s population and the number of cars increase, there is only one solution: compact parking spaces.  In fact their tagline is “We compact parking space”.

Through the use of RFID and lift and shuttle technologies typically used to transport large equipment within buildings, Wöhr has developed next generation parking garages that not only maximize space, but allow cars to park themselves.

Upon entering the garage, the driver scans a user specific microchip-enabled key fob (RFID), drives onto a flat pallet and exits the vehicle.  The car automatically descends into the garage where it is mechanically placed into an open space.  When the owner returns to retrieve his or her car, the reverse sequence is initiated by scanning their key fob to identify themselves and their car.  The average wait time is about 160 seconds and owners are able to monitor the movement of their car on plasma screens as they move through the parking facility.

Check out the NY Times coverage of Wöhr’s parking solutions.  And the next time you’re driving past the "Garage Full" sign ask yourself if you’d rather have the parking attendant taking your car to who knows where, changing your radio station and helping themselves to valuables left behind or would you like to keep that $20 to spend on another glass of the "Barolo" Marchesi di Barolo to wash down your dish of Anatra della Duchessa?

RFID Puts Las Vegas Under Lock & Key

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Oct 01, 2010 @ 11:50 AM

Tags: RFID, Access Control, Hospitality

Taking Luxury Guest Rooms to the Next Level

Some of you may have had the pleasant experience of getting to your hotel room and finding a chilled bottle of champagne with a card wishing you a Happy Anniversary or Congratulations on Your Nuptials from “the management.” It’s a simple gesture that goes a long way, just because they were paying attention in Reservations and knew how to share the right information with the right people. 

If we can get excited about something like that, imagine how happy and loyal guests would be if hotel management knew we wanted to sign up for the first tee time, or wanted the coveted 8:00 pm dinner reservation, or desperately wanted the maid to stay away until noon. Sign me up, right? So what are we waiting for?

Hint: The enabling solution would also eliminate the demagnetization problem with swiped key cards.

MT RFID LockThe answer: An RFID guest room locking system which eliminates the need to swipe, but even better, enables a deeper level of personalization for the guests.

ARIA at CityCenter was one of the first Las Vegas resorts to install an RFID guest room locking system. With KABA Saflok Messenger, the hotel door lock system can be put on the network which allows ARIA staff to interact with rooms in such a way that makes the guests' visit more personable, and therefore more pleasurable.

The RFID technology lets the guests unlock the door by flashing their key over a lock reader. No swiping involved. The Saflok RFID system communicates with a wireless network of technologies in the guest rooms. Control4 Corporation was brought in to help enhance the guest experience. For example, when a guest opens the door for the first time, Saflok sends a message via a Zigbee mesh wireless network to the Control4 in-room controller, which activates a 'welcome theme.' The welcome theme prompts certain activities, curtains parting to showcase the view and the TV displaying controls for guests to personalize, that best serve newly arriving guests. From there, more personalized services await for the remainder of their stay.  

The bonus is that an RFID key cannot be demagnetized by cell phones or other similar devices which has been quite problematic across the hotel industry. And as with most RFID applications, this one also comes with added operational efficiencies. Fewer moving lock parts and automatically monitored batteries reduce maintenance. And since CityCenter's guest rooms and RFID door locks are integrated with the network, guests can change rooms without needing to make changes to their key.  How’s that for modern convenience?

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