Raising the Bar for RFID Readers

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Nov 14, 2011 @ 01:30 PM

Helping Enterprises Realize the Value of RFID

Economies such as the one we are living and working in now, are forcing enterprises to trim costs while maintaining, and even increasing output. This approach requires skill and creativity to avoid misguided cost-cutting initiatives.  One could argue it also requires making intelligent technology investments that can pay for themselves quickly while establishing a foundation for smart growth.  That’s where RFID comes into the picture. RFID isn’t unattainable.  It isn’t a pie in the sky solution that requires a team of engineers and it isn’t cost-prohibitive.  It’s right here in front of us waiting to help.

Taking Flexibility and Integration to a New Level

Those of you who are familiar with ThingMagic most likely saw the product announcement we made last week. Enhancements to our Mercury6 (M6) UHF RFID Reader raise the bar for flexibility and integration.  For reasons, in part brought about by current market conditions, high-quality reader capabilities are much needed by enterprises today.  The firmware upgrade to our M6 reader includes several enhancements to address these needs, most notably support for Low-Level Reader Protocol (LLRP) and Reader-Hosted Applications.

What is LLRP and Why Now?

Let’s first start with EPCglobal - the organization that supports the adoption and implementation of standards-based Electronic Product Code™/Radio Frequency Identification (EPC/RFID) technology.  EPCGlobal was responsible for standardizing the tag and reader radio frequency interface protocol with the UHF Gen 2 standard.  As a next step in facilitating the adoption of EPC and RFID technology, EPCglobal ratified the LLRP standard, a specification for the network interface between the reader and its controlling software or hardware.  In creating LLRP, EPCglobal included air-protocol configurations and a robust set of vendor extension points that support the flexibility and integration required to innovate. The FAQ can be found here.

We’ve chosen to implement LLRP now for two primary reasons.  First, a growing number of enterprise organizations are deploying RFID technology.  In doing so, they need to integrate data generated from RFID reads with existing standards-based enterprise systems to support critical aspects of their business.  Secondly, as the distribution channels for RFID products continue to evolve, supporting standards is crucial.  Supporting LLRP and other standards makes it easier for our channel partners to sell and support ThingMagic products.  The bottom line is that all of this makes it easier for customers to deploy and manage their RFID systems, allowing them to recognize the business benefits of RFID faster.

Reader-Hosted Applications

Also included in the upgrade is a Linux-based operating system capable of hosting on-reader applications. This feature allows the M6 reader to perform application-specific actions independently, providing solution developers the opportunity to differentiate their offerings to the enterprise market.

An example of this is a solution developed by ThingMagic partner XECAN, a leading provider of RFID patient safety solutions for the healthcare market.  XECAN developed a RFID plug-in application designed to eliminate patient identification and potential treatment errors by interfacing directly with Electronic Medical Record (EMR) software.  This application is hosted directly on the ThingMagic reader (in this case and Astra reader, but could just as easily have been an M6).  According to Bin Yang, Ph.D., CEO of XECAN, “By embedding our agent software directly onto the Astra reader, we’ve made our RFID Oncology Solution truly plug-and-play…This breakthrough advantage sets us apart while enabling us to provide an affordable, yet highly reliable RFID system.”

Multiple Choice

It’s important to note that, with this upgrade, ThingMagic customers now have the option of operating M6 readers with the ThingMagic MercuryAPI or LLRP depending on their project requirements.  Existing M6 customers can take advantage of LLRP by upgrading to the new interface without changing how their current host programs interact with the API – making the transition seamless and transparent.  If desired, customers can continue to use the ThingMagic MercuryAPI - a common application programming interface implemented across all of ThingMagic's readers.

To help you visualize the value of the MercuryAPI and how you can develop an application that takes advantage of the breadth of ThingMagic’s product line, including the USB desktop reader, Astra integrated reader, Vega in-vehicle reader and the Mercury6, watch the following video: ThingMagic Mercury6 (M6) RFID Reader Makes Integration Easy

ThingMagic M6 RFID Reader

As illustrated below, with one application, enterprises can gain access to location, employee identification and time stamp information that allows them to track asset throughout the entire chain of custody, including plotting the location of the assets in-transit using integrated GPS.

RFID Application

RFID Tag Selection & Automated Placement Testing

Another important aspect of creating any successful RFID application is knowing where to place the RFID tag for maximum performance. But don’t worry, it’ll be easy.  We’ve done the work for you in our lab, and it can be seen in the video, “RFID Tag Placement: Where do you stick it?

RFID Tag Placement

It’s Time to Reshape the Way We Think About RFID

There is no doubt that over the next decade, RFID systems will become an integral part of the consumer and business experience. The convergence of wireless technologies will be augmented by RFID systems. The development of passive RFID as part of this platform will be driven by the potential to measure, report and monetize a growing number of transactions in the physical world.

Similar to the mobile phone, the widespread integration of GPS into today’s commercial and consumer positioning solutions, and the adoption of this thing called the Internet, RFID is ready to transform markets.

Only time will tell the scale and impact RFID will have, but I for one, bet it will be a big one.

Tags: Business Intelligence, RFID, Healthcare, IT Asset Tracking, USB RFID reader, Telematics, RFID + GPS

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