RFID is Part of the DNA

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Mar 19, 2012 @ 12:32 PM

Tags: RFID, Internet of Things, Embedded RFID

ThingMagic RFID ModulesAs you know, our position at ThingMagic is that the ongoing and recent advances in RFID lend themselves very well to the technology becoming integrated into more things, and as such, more ubiquitous. Today, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and solution providers are starting to consider RFID as they design end-user solutions, versus adding RFID onto the solution after the fact.

As OEMs evaluate building their own readers, there are three basic options available:

  1. Costly & Complex = Purchasing all of the necessary discreet components and building their own readers
  2. Less Complex, but Not Ideal = Purchasing reader chips with software to design and build their own readers
  3. Faster, Better, Cheaper = Purchasing a fully functional and globally certified reader module that can be easily integrated into a wide range of products

A decade ago, when RFID readers weren't available in as many finished and embedded form factors as they are today, and companies didn’t think twice about dedicating a team of engineers to create the entire RFID communication system from scratch, the first option might be considered acceptable. But these days, unless you have time and money to burn, building from scratch doesn’t make much sense; especially when you throw regulatory certifications into the mix.

The second option is definitely less expensive and less time consuming than the first, but it still introduces significant challenges. With the reader chip and reference design, there are significant development, testing and certification requirements that take precious time and money.

Option number three is the most efficient approach available. With embedded RFID modules, OEMs can very easily incorporate RFID into pretty much anything such as handhelds, printers, vehicles, retail point-of-sale (POS) and security devices and much, much more, at a significantly lower total cost of ownership.

Our own Ravi Pappu walks us through the steps and requirements involved with each of the three approaches in this RFID.net video, “How to Build an RFID Reader, Part 1: Discrete reader, IC, or Module?”

If you’ve been following our blogs, you’ll know that the applications and solutions that can be RFID-enabled are endless. It’s no longer feasible to reinvent the wheel.

To learn more, Download our Whitepaper: Getting a Read on Embedded UHF RFID: Why RFID Modules are the Smart Choice for Developing Next-Generation Solutions!

Out with Dewey Decimal, In with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 @ 10:04 AM

Tags: RFID, Asset Tracking, Inventory Management, Asset Management, Library Book Tracking

Melvil DeweyMy guess is that Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey wouldn't be too upset with advancements of today's library systems. Dewey was a pioneering influence in the development of libraries in America at the beginning of the 20th century. And yes, he is best known for the classification system that is used in most public and school libraries - know as the Dewey Decimal System.

But the decimal system was just one of a long list of Dewey's innovations. Dewey is also known for the creation of hanging vertical files and for founding the Library Bureau, a private company created "for the definite purpose of furnishing libraries with equipment and supplies of unvarying correctness and reliability."

Hmmm... sounds a little like what RFID aims to do - improve processes by applying a technology that delivers "unvarying correctness and reliability".

Leave it to RFID to handily replace a system that’s been in place for 135 years. RFID in libraries is not a new concept, but we wanted to dedicate today’s blog post to it for a few reasons.

The more well-known uses for RFID in libraries are for anti-theft measures and to reduce the amount of time required to perform circulation operations. The time savings are a result of the fact that information can be read from RFID tags much faster than from barcodes, and several books in a stack can be read at the same time. Using wireless technology, it becomes much easier and faster to update the inventory and identify the books that are misplaced.

Aside from the common and very useful deployments, there are many more uses of RFID in libraries. For example, people can find exactly where a book is, even if it’s on the wrong shelf or even in the wrong section. That’s a key element that sets RFID apart from the Dewey Decimal System. Sorry Mr. Dewey.

Another not-so-known benefit is that RFID can be used to track reference books which are used at the library instead of being taken out. Without RFID, the only way to know which items were being used frequently, was for a librarian to actually see the books in use and which ones were being left on tables; obviously not a precise method. Barcoding, Inc. has developed an RFID system that tells librarians how often books are taken from shelves, and how long they are off the shelf. With this system, seldom used reference materials can be kept in storage rooms, leaving the shelf space for the more popular books.

Barcodes, which are most commonly used today, can be replaced with RFID tags which last much longer. Remember when we took out a book from the school library and you wrote your name and date on a card that went in a pocket on the inside cover? I do. Those were replaced by barcodes, and now it may be time for them to retire. RFID tags last longer than barcodes because fewer things come into contact with them. Many are placed inside the cover or binding. Some RFID vendors claim approximately 100,000 transactions before a tag may need to be replaced.

You may be saying to yourself, is it really necessary to deploy RFID systems in libraries? I bet you remember (again, I do) looking for a book for a school project and finding the empty space on the shelf where it was supposed to be, and the librarian was certain that the book had not been taken out. You either had to look around on nearby shelves hoping it was close by, or come back the next day hoping it turned up and was put back in its place. Either way, the school project got completed and we somehow survived.

But, ask yourself this question. Can libraries afford not to implement an RFID system? As noted by consultant Karen Coyle, library circulation, the primary function where RFID can make a significant impact, is increasing, while library budgets are on the decline. As with most RFID projects, they can be easily integrated with a minimal up-front investment. They can provide a speedy ROI, helping control circulation costs that are on the rise.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather know that my hometown library is still around and doing well, event at the expense of the Dewey Decimal System.

RFID Revolutionizes the Electric Vehicle Industry

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Mar 07, 2012 @ 03:43 PM

Tags: RFID, Automobile Production, Electric Vehicles, Automobile Access, Vehicle Tracking

Electric Vehicle ChargingRemote car starters. Curtain side airbags. Cars that you can talk to and that talk back. Those luxuries are old news these days, having made their way into almost every car on the road.

Wireless cars that are connected to databases of information as well as connected to each other are being reported on a lot in the media today. It won’t be long before those cars are on the road telling their drivers where they can go for Sushi, and if they have a new email which can be displayed on the dash for safe viewing.

Electric cars were once thought of as futuristic, but these too have become a reality. Down the road (pun intended!), we should expect to be surrounded by them. Right now they are mostly compact and well suited for driving and parking in space-constrained metro areas. But because of the advantages they afford us, we see that industry grow, and grow successfully in part, with the help of RFID.

First let’s take a step back and review what RFID has done for the automotive industry as a whole.

Location of Cars

How many times have you been so ready for a vacation, eagerly taking the keys from the rental car agent, only to spend 30 minutes waking around a hot parking lot with your family and suitcases because you can’t find your car? We’ve seen how RFID with GPS makes this practice a lot more convenient for the customer and far more efficient for the rental agency. The benefits are clear: visibility of all cars in the lot; immediate availability of cars as they are needed; improved inventory management so popular cars are on-hand more often; and reduction of paperwork and manual record keeping. A no brainer!

Parking Garage Access

The type of RFID implementation to locate cars also works for fleet management and parking garage access and payment. Long-range identification in combination with high-speed RFID is the best option for hands-free identification of cars as they enter and exit a parking facility. Parking facilities and parking garages at airports feel the pressure to find ways to grow revenue. RFID helps achieve that goal by bringing increased efficiency, security and convenience, while minimizing environmental impact. Pretty soon we won’t need to remember to bring our parking tickets with us to pay the cashier before we leave a garage, which is obviously not very convenient.

Anti-theft

We’re not talking about LoJack, although that does use radio frequency for location tracking. We’re referring to a use case where European manufacturers used RFID as “car immobilizers.” The keys are equipped with an RFID tag, and an interrogator installed in the steering column. In order to start the vehicle, the reader validates the unique identification number from the RFID-enabled key. A duplicate key would not be able to start the car because it wouldn’t be able to pass the reader’s verification without the tag.

Recharging Stations

Now, getting back to the electric car. The advent of this development has brought about another automotive market need that RFID is helping to serve - wireless charging stations.

EV-Charge America’s approach to electric vehicle charging stations uses a wireless, networked, meshed-LAN array of subscription-based stations that can be located anywhere with Google Maps, OnStar, hand-held devices and smartphones. Once at an EV Charging Station, drivers can unlock it, activate it and start the flow of electricity by waving their RFID-enabled key ring in front of the unit's reader.

To charge an EV at IKEA San Diego, drivers swipe their RFID-enabled Blink InCard, plug the charger into the EV, and then shop at their leisure in the IKEA store while the vehicle is charging.

Coulomb Smartlet charging stations will eventually let drivers use an RFID-enabled credit or debit card to pay for their electricity.  Subscribers are issued cards equipped with a high-frequency passive RFID tags so they can simply hold their card up to an RFID interrogator embedded in the Smartlet unit.

A ZigBee transceiver, compliant with the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, is used to pass the captured data to a ZigBee gateway, which then passes the data to a central server containing software that validates the card's ID number and account status – in real-time. Not to mention that the signal between the card and reader will be encrypted to secure the data transmitted by the cards. Without this added protection, people would most likely hesitate to take advantage of the benefits of paying with RFID credit and debit cards.

In the same way that RFID is reshaping aspects of the retail and healthcare markets, it is revolutionizing the Electric Vehicle industry which is still arguably in the nascent stage. If it can help shape an industry that has not had time to mature, imagine what RFID can do for a well established industry.

Where Does Your Food Come From? RFID Knows.

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Mar 05, 2012 @ 10:05 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Food Safety, Agriculture, Supply Chain, Cold Chain, Food & Beverage

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.

Farm Table

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.

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