Reshaping the Way We Think about RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Feb 01, 2012 @ 01:21 PM

Tags: Business Intelligence, RFID, Internet of Things, Embedded RFID, RFID Data, Connected Devices


As published in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of PassAGEnow:

When predicting technology trends, Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and author of Sketching User Experiences may have said it best:

“If history is any indication, we should assume that any technology that is going to have a significant impact over the next 10 years is already 10 years old!”

This theory holds true for several technologies.  For example, the first mobile telephone call was made in 1946, many years before the first commercial cellular network was launched in 1979.  GPS was in use for nearly 30 years in government and military programs before it became a must have for personal vehicle navigation.  And, the formation of the Internet as we know it began in the 1980s, but wasn’t truly incorporated into virtually every aspect of modern human life until a decade later.

Applying this premise to radio frequency identification (RFID) seems to hold true as well. The technology itself was well over 10 years old in 2004 when retail giants began pushing it as a means of driving efficiencies into their supply chains.  While these initial retail programs didn’t succeed according to plan, and mass adoption didn’t happen the way many analysts predicted, these initiatives did kick off a high level of interest from retailers, product manufacturers and many other industries and markets focused on improving their business and service processes.  Between 2004 and now, something else happened that makes one ask if RFID is ready to have that significant impact Buxton mentions.

During this span, RFID hardware and software providers have continued to innovate and collaborate at a notable clip.  RFID readers have evolved to include a wide variety of purpose-built and multi-use form factors. Smaller, more powerful embedded RFID modules are being used to enable many stationary and mobile devices with the auto-identification technology.  These advancements, coupled with continued innovation in the RFID tag and software markets, have resulted in RFID system performance improving exponentially.  While these advances are significant, I’m not suggesting that that there will be an ‘ah-ha’ moment when businesses and consumers realize that RFID is a technology they can’t live without.  To the contrary, RFID adoption will likely be steady; finding its way into a greater number of solutions and replacing less effective legacy technologies as time goes on.  A key point in all of this however, is that the technology itself has matured to a point where it is no longer a barrier to entry. 

‘Climbing the Slope’

So where are we now, more than 40 years after the first passive radio transponder with memory was patented in 1970, and nearly eight years since the retail industry brought attention to RFID at a global scale?  Confirming the market’s progress is evidence that RFID technology has passed several critical milestones of Gartner Research’s well known Hype Cycle, including first and second generation products, media hype, negative press, supplier consolidation and failures, and emerging methodologies and best practices.  Taken at face value, this would put the market in the Hype Cycle’s Slope of Enlightenment stage and moving toward the emergence of third generation products, out-of-the box usability, and high growth adoption.

What’s more, businesses across all industries have a great number of well documented end user case studies and best practices to help them with their ROI analysis.  Many pre-configured and kitted solutions are emerging, and ease-of-use features are starting to find their way into once highly-technical, hard to use products.  Maybe most importantly, vendor promises and user expectations about performance have found solid common ground.  Error rates have dropped significantly and there are many applications where 100 percent read rates are achieved.  That said, users accept that there can be momentary losses of visibility of RFID tags owing to environmental factors and that software error correction, along with well-designed installations, should be a principal consideration in implementing successful solutions.

So now what?

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

With the reliability of today’s RFID systems and the apparent progression through traditional stages of technology advancement, it’s time to reshape the way we think about RFID.  RFID vendors and solution providers have survived the technology maturation process.  End customer organizations of all sizes have learned where and when it makes the most sense to apply RFID to their business processes.  Now it’s time to think beyond RIFD of the past 10 years and toward the next wave of innovation.

We should think beyond the underlying technology – and toward the value of the data, emerging methods of data access, and about the many innovative enterprise and consumer applications that can be enabled with RFID data.

We should think beyond one-size-fits-all readers – and toward the wide variety of fixed-position and embedded RFID reader form factors that can support a great number of unbelievably diverse applications.

We should think beyond siloed deployments of RFID – and toward the hardware, software and data becoming an integrated element of the enterprise.

We should think beyond the singular technology of RFID – and toward the combination of RFID and other technologies like GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

As an industry, we are beginning to see glimpses of this forward thinking.  Technology vendors are more willing to collaborate.  True solutions are starting to emerge.  We are experiencing a realization, albeit a slow one, that no single technology is suitable for identifying and tracking things because different assets hold different values and each technology has its strengths and weaknesses relative to a given application.

As we’ve experienced with many other data-driven solutions, I expect this progression may eventually lead to RFID as a platform – with RFID modules and extensible software interfaces allowing for the integration of RIFD with other technologies.  Purpose-built systems will incorporate passive sensors and computational systems will emerge.  In certain applications, it is easy to imagine everyday physical objects with built-in RFID.  If we’ve learned anything from the mobile device revolution it is that there is great promise when devices are able to connect with objects around us.  Even more compelling is when these devices will be able to learn about our environment, provide contextual adaptation if necessary, and, connect those objects to the broader Internet and business systems. 

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.

Raising the Bar for RFID Readers

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

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

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.

RFID Helps Estée Lauder Innovate

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Sep 23, 2010 @ 01:40 PM

Tags: Business Intelligence, RFID, Retail

Interactive Kiosks Provide Unique User Experience & New Level of Business Intelligence

We’ve covered the use of RFID in the retail market in a few recent blog posts:

Specialty Retail Inventory Management with RFID highlights how small retailers can compete with big box stores by implementing RFID for stock counting and item level security.

RFID Enabled Smart Shelves provides examples of how RFID can be integrated into store displays or fixtures for inventory management.

Designer RFID showcases how two European retailers have implemented RFID to deliver a better customer experience and improve store efficiencies.

Not to be lost in each of these examples is the important combination of creating a unique customer experience and the value of actionable data that could not have been generated without RFID. 

Estee LauderGiven that the first line of their corporate bio identifies them as a “technologically advanced, innovative company” it is no surprise that this personalized user experience and new level of business intelligence is just what beauty business leader Estée Lauder was after with the RFID-enabled kiosks they developed to promote their Lab Series Skincare for Men. 

Unique User Experience

When shoppers remove an Estée Lauder's Lab Series Skincare for Men product from the kiosk, an RFID reader reads the tagged product triggering a video to play - providing the shopper with information about the item they’ve picked up.  When the product it returned to its place, the video stops playing.  In an RFID Journal interview Dominic Lennon, IT director of Estée Lauder explains how this unique customer experience is offered:

"The whole of this system is based around providing a solution that uses RFID as a mechanism to deliver the content to the end user," says Dominic Lennon, Lime IT's director. "The users do not have to press anything, scan anything or touch anything to get the content delivered to them; the user has only to pick up a product—a very natural human action."

Business Intelligence

Additionally, each time a product is removed from and returned to a shelf, data regarding that action is sent via the Internet to an Estée Lauder server.  This allows Estée Lauder to compare the kiosk action records with actual product sales transactions in order to gain insight into consumer behavior and purchase trends.  Conceptually, this is not too different from what Coca Cola is doing with their Freestyle soft drink dispenser which uses RFID to record pour data at each drink dispenser location – allowing for a new level of business intelligence.

Estée Lauder marketing partner signagelive proudly accepted a 2009 Retail Systems Award acknowledging the “Best use of in-store marketing technology in retail” for this project which has been deployed in several House of Fraser sites in the UK and Macy’s in Toronto, Canada. 

So the next time you think you’re confusing the smell of Beyond Paradise with Intuition for Men, just look up and see which video is playing.  RFID makes it that easy.

RFID Journal LIVE! Review

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, May 03, 2010 @ 01:46 PM

Tags: Business Intelligence, RFID, Healthcare, Embedded RFID

This year's RFID Journal LIVE! Conference provided a great opportunity for vendors and customers to gather to learn from each others successful deployment experiences, launch new products, and most importantly generate new business.

Several members of the media & analyst community attended and reported on the event.  One of the most insightful and intriguing post-show articles was published by Supply Chain Digest, sharing the observations of IDC analyst Leslie Hand.  Leslie's analysis titled RFID and Auto Id News: IDC on RFID Journal Live Event Takeaways, detailed 10 specific observations, several of which were independently reported by other analysts and many of which ThingMagic is experiencing on a daily basis.  These observations include:

1. End-user expectations have matured significantly

2. Industry focused basic RFID education is necessary

3. The vendor community has matured significantly

4. Innovation is still taking place, but there is no need to wait for the next big breakthrough

5. Asset tagging, RTLS and transit pass projects pay the bills for many vendors

6. Projects that involve government, defense and aerospace organizations abound

7. Retail apparel and footwear projects are taking off

8. Vendors are diversifying, strengthening the array of choices for integrated retail RFID applications

9. Some hardware vendors are demonstrating a clear understanding of end-user process and technology requirements

10. RFID in the cloud is a reality

In addition to providing an opportunity for us to move business forward, for ThingMagic, RFID Journal LIVE! provided a great platform for several partnership, product, and solution deployment announcements.  Congratulations and thank you to all of our dedicated partners and customers involved in the following exciting announcements and achievements:

  • The Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center was selected by RFID Journal as the winner of the Most Innovative Use of RFID Award! This deployment includes ThingMagic's Astra UHF RFID readers as part of an integrated RFID solution designed to reduce patient anxiety and improve the workflow between clinicians, patients and administrators at the hospital. Watch the following video where Ray Lowe, regional director, IS operation, described the system at the conference.



  • ThingMagic announced a partnership with Element ID, which recently used ThingMagic's M5e module to build their UHF Series Appliances. You can check out our case study to learn how the Element ID solution saved one customer more than $150,000 in up front software fees versus a typical RFID deployment.


  • ThingMagic announced of the addition of the M6e to our embedded RFID reader module family. Read full press release here, including the announcement of our M6e beta test program. This program offers customers and prospects the opportunity to gain early access to the M6e for evaluation and design-in. If you're interested in the M6e beta program, or would like more information, please contact our sales team at or 1-866-833-4069 (+1 617-499-4090 for callers from outside the U.S. and Canada).

We're really excited by the interest and feedback that we got from people who stopped by to talk to us.  Thanks to Mark Roberti and the team at RFID Journal for another excellent event!

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