The Next Revolution in Wireless and Mobility

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Jul 19, 2010 @ 06:57 AM

How RFID and Sensing Is Automating Identification, Data Collection, and Location Systems

The history of communications has progressed from human/human through human/machine to machine/machine interchange. The long evolution of each of these modalities has undeniably had a profound impact on human civilization. The last frontier in this saga is to connect the physical world to the world of machines.  Physical objects coupled with a myriad of radio technologies are driving this revolution. For instance, a modern multi-band mobile phone contains at least eight different radios —  receiving  location information from GPS satellites 26 kilometers above the earth to as close as a Bluetooth headset in your ear 1 meter away - all within the same personal communicator. 

In the past 10 years, we've gone from a world in which very few knew of RFID, to one in which the hype of the technology exceeded practical adoption rates, to today, where RFIDS is found in automated data collection, identification, and location systems worldwide. There are many types of RFIDS technologies. From Active RFIDS to ZigBee, each offers benefits across a variety of parameters including performance, standards maturity, and complementary hardware components and software applications. Solutions enabled by these technologies are addressing familiar needs across many industries including locating high-value assets in hospitals, improving item level inventory in retail stores, and tracking vehicles and goods in transit to improve supply chain management. Much more intriguing though, are the growing number of innovative solutions where users and consumers can naturally interact with RFIDS and where the technology is so integrated and transparent that it disappears into its environment.

Users of RFIDS technology may not know or even care about the enabling technology in the product or solution they are using, but understand that their professional and personal lives can benefit tremendously by experiencing its benefits. Consider a cancer patient whose treatment experience is enhanced because the environment (temperature, lighting, music, etc) changes to their liking by simply walking through the hospital door. Or a construction worker who can make sure he has all of his tools in his work truck by using an in-dash tool tracking application. Or an event participant who can manage their on-site and post-event activities through a personalized interactive information network. Each of these is an example of how new innovative solutions can deliver a valuable and unique user experience by processing data and automating processes in ways that could not be done economically or aesthetically without RFIDS.

While exploring these applications of RFIDS it is also worth reviewing advances in the enabling technology itself. Of all RFIDS technologies available, the performance of Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) Passive RFIDS (860 to 960 MHz frequency range) is advancing phenomenally. Consider the following: The read range of passive UHF RFIDS tags has quadrupled in past 3 years, meaning that UHF devices can now “see” objects at distances from millimeters to tens of meters. Read rates have increased from 200 to 1200 tags per second and read accuracy is near 100%. The cost of Passive RFIDS tags has decreased by a factor of 5 over the same period. Functionality is also expanding. In addition to reading a unique ID, UHF devices can remotely query the state, e.g., temperature of an object, determine its direction of travel and velocity, and can even turn on and off devices connected to the tag.

Regardless of the type of RFIDS you may be exploring, one thing is certain - the broad adoption of all types of RFIDS today shows that the much-heralded promise of the technology goes far beyond the supply chain focus that generated so much hype in the last decade – leading us to the next revolution in wireless and mobility applications.

September 2010 marks the 10 year anniversary of the founding of ThingMagic and as we reflect on the significant advances in RFIDS technology over the last decade, we at ThingMagic are equally excited about what the next decade holds. Since the release of ThingMagic’s first products, RFIDS technology has been able to take advantage of the incredible amount of Moore’s law expansion in the embedded world. What previously required thousands of components to implement is now available in a single chip, allowing for the design of products today that are higher performing, ten times cheaper, and one hundred times smaller than the products we brought to market ten years ago.

At ThingMagic, we believe that these advances in passive wireless ID and sensing technologies represent an important next step toward a multi-scale wireless world, significantly and positively impacting a wide array of end-market applications including mobile computing, asset tracking, telematics, and security.  To illustrate this, we plan to highlight a different application each business day for the next 100 days. We will be doing so on this blog and through a new page on our Web site. We also plan to use Twitter to foster and participate in an active dialogue as these applications are revealed.  You can participate in this discussion by following the hashtag #RFID100 on Twitter.

What is your vision of how radio frequency identification will impact our world?  What will the leading uses of RFIDS be in the next 10 years? How will we benefit from smart objects that recognize and respond to one another and to the world around them?

100 Uses of RFID

ThingMagic is the Engine in RFID®

For more examples, follow ThingMagic’s 100 Uses of RFID campaign to learn about innovative ways in which RFIDS is being used to automate data collection, identification, and location systems worldwide.  Visit our 100 Uses of RFID webpage and join the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #RFID100.

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Internet of Things, Smart Objects

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