ThingMagic Nano: Small, Cost Effective, Reliable

Posted by Shannon Downey on Thu, Mar 12, 2015 @ 09:17 AM

Tags: Internet of Things, Embedded RFID, uhf rfid, IoT, RFID modules

Our Mercury6e series of embedded UHF RFID modules has grown yet again with the addition of the family’s smallest, lowest cost module to date – the ThingMagic Nano. As we find ourselves in the middle of an Internet of Things (IoT) revolution, RFID applications are popping up in this expanding ecosystem in all shapes and sizes, with developers begging for options that give them flexibility.

These options come in the form of a suite of embeddable modules that put developers in a position to plug low cost, low power components into their RFID solutions when the application calls for it, and still use larger high-power modules when part of an application still requires greater bandwidth and read rates. Because our universal API – MercuryAPI – spans the entire suite of module offerings, customers are free to expand their solutions with this new, smallest form factor and integrate the technology immediately into existing systems. Different readers with different jobs can coexist to suit specific customer needs without the headache of re-writing software.

Keonn, a Spanish solution provider that can implement RFID for everything from securing and re-stocking a hospital’s medical products to making marathon time-keeping more accurate, cites the Nano as an excellent source of flexibility for their solutions. The universal compatibility of ThingMagic’s software development kit, Mercury API, was a piece that CEO Ramir De Porrata-Doria cited as a major selling point, since “because we have designed other products with ThingMagic’s modules, the transition to build in this new, smaller module was seamless and enables us to expand our portfolio to include smaller readers.”

We’ve watched the industry scramble to accommodate solutions that are requiring more and more of the hardware and software involved. What we’re putting in the hands of developers and customers are the tools to adapt quickly in the face of RFID innovation.

The Next Wave of the Internet of Things (According to Bernd Schoner)

Posted by Shannon Downey on Wed, Jan 07, 2015 @ 04:35 PM

Tags: Internet of Things

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In case you missed it, ThingMagic founder Bernd Schoner was featured in the new publication IoT Journal, a sister pub of RFID Journal.  In the inaugural "Expert Views" column Bernd gives his take on the "next wave" of the IoT and how it all starts with RFID.

Check it out here.

RAIN RFID and the Internet of Things

Posted by Tom Grant on Tue, Nov 18, 2014 @ 01:42 PM

Tags: Internet of Things, uhf rfid

I was reading an article last week in National Geographic on the origins of the Internet of Things and the credit given to Kevin Ashton, a former ThingMagic colleague, for coining the phrase back in 1999.  The vision remains and the likelihood has increased significantly over these past 15+ years.

I have had the opportunity to participate in the design, development and deployment of UHF RFID since 2001.  Enormous work was done by the likes of Walmart, P&G and brethren retailers and CPG companies to form a consortium with the objective of establishing standards and funding/encouraging companies to develop the necessary elements to allow the deployment of a next generation of ID technology.  We were guided by the enthusiastic duo of Kevin Ashton and Sanjay Sarma who worked tirelessly to negotiate standards and provide a vision of what was possible.  By 2005 we were all convinced it was just a matter of time before RFID would provide supply chain efficiencies to the retail sector and provide to other vertical markets the evidence that their supply chain could be enhanced. 

Mark Roberti has chronicled the successes, challenges and technology and product improvements through his magazine RFID Journal and its corresponding newsletters and events.  As an industry we have worked tirelessly to lower costs, adhere to and improve standards and ease the development and deployment of UHF RFID.  Enormous strides have been made and the industry’s members deserve a lot of credit for hanging in there during this 10+ year period during which several factors have converged, including:

  • Improvement in the performance, cost and deployment of the fundamental technology

  • Cloud-based Architectures and back-office systems have improved our ability to turn the data collected into mission critical information

  • The Internet of Things concept and promotion has provided RFID with a market awareness concept within which  to showcase its capabilities.

It is time for the RFID industry to promote our collective efforts towards building market awareness of the power of our technology when combined with the big data architectures that are being put in place.   Fortunately, Impinj, Smartrac, Google and Intel recognized that need earlier this year and formed the RAIN RFID Alliance whose sole purpose is to increase market awareness of the power of our collective technology. 

ThingMagic joined the RAIN Alliance this year and, with the endorsement of our fellow members, I have joined the RAIN Board of Directors.  As we have worked tirelessly for 15 years to get RFID to its cost-effective state, I encourage you to become an active member of the RAIN Alliance.  Check it out, join and get involved.  

 

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Mercury xPRESS, a Developer’s Sensor Hub for the Internet of Things

Posted by Shannon Downey on Fri, Sep 26, 2014 @ 08:41 AM

Tags: Sensors, Internet of Things, Embedded RFID

The potential of a broader set of ID and sensing solutions is something IT decision makers and business stakeholders have been able to understand the potential value of for some time now, but have struggled to put into practice. As a result, though most solutions can offer measurable value, many fall short when it comes to going above and beyond what they’re tasked with and supporting greater ideals like the Internet of Things (IoT).  What’s keeping us from reaching that point?  In part, it’s a lack of tools that are easier to use, richer in functionality and can more easily and quickly integrate with the world around them.

Organizations have high hopes for IoT, but significant gaps still exist that are keeping us from opening up communication between people, devices and other objects of all types. In particular, we need to bridge the communication gap that’s always existed between the consumer world and the ID and sensing solutions of the enterprise world. Much of this disconnect stems from having devices and networks that all speak different languages, making development a more confusing and time-consuming process than it needs to be. When the goal is seamless communication between an infinite number of devices and technologies, the only way to achieve it is through platforms outfitted with tools that automatically act as a translator.

The developers tasked with building ID and sensing solutions now have a tool that will enable them to overcome that challenge and help make significant steps toward IoT. Enhancements to ThingMagic’s Mercury xPRESS Sensor Hub flexible development platform, which already allows developers to bring up a fully functional RFID reader in minutes, have now transformed it into the Sensor Hub that developers need. With new support for network interfaces (PoE and WiFi) as well as GPS, developers can easily access and deliver diverse sensor data. This enables developers to focus on application functionality, fast deployment and quicker return on investment.

Today we’re on the cusp of realizing the next wave of the Internet of Things, where communication is seamless between people, devices and objects, regardless of whether a computing device is involved. One of the biggest barriers keeping us from achieving this next step in IoT are the  parties fighting to make their language and protocols the standard, which is actually slowing the process of realizing IoT’s purpose.  We see the Mercury xPRESS Sensor Hub as a part of the solution, a step towards opening the lines of communications between devices and systems of all types that haven’t been interacting. The road to IoT is filled with many obstacles.  A major one has been integrating all the applications that use different languages and protocols.  It’s doubtful we’ll ever achieve the nirvana of a single standard that unites everything.  So until that day comes we’ll continue to need tools like the Mercury xPRESS Sensor Hub, which can act as the unifying connector and translator of the many devices and applications we’ll encounter on the path to IoT.

ThingMagic and Digi-Key: Helping the IoT Realize Its Full Potential Using RFID

Posted by Shannon Downey on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 @ 02:38 PM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Healthcare, Internet of Things, IT Asset Tracking, Embedded RFID, RFID Data, Inventory Management, Construction, Digi-Key

Conceptually, the Internet of Things (IoT), at its most basic, is composed of billions of items all connected and communicating information through wired and wireless technology.  One of its first and fundamental building blocks is sensing technologies like RFID. To date, however, RFID has been largely relegated to specific enterprise markets and applications. Though RFID-based applications can vary greatly, there is still similar functionality and value to a retailer looking to better track inventory and manage its supply chain; a hospital looking to better organize its equipment, medications and patients; or a construction company looking to better monitor job sites and work assignments to better guarantee the safety of its workers in the event of an emergency.  And this is just a small sampling of the industries and verticals that can benefit from RFID applications.  These applications, across all industries, are capable of delivering tremendous measureable value - but there is so much more that RFID can do within IoT.

Thus, a challenge we face is working to understand the limitations organizations and developers perceive when considering building RFID applications. One of the things that has kept RFID from achieving wider-spread adoption has been the availability of tools that make it easy for engineers and developers to quickly build and integrate RFID-based applications. Nobody understands this issue better than us. But having just signed a global distribution agreement with Digi-Key – one of the world’s largest and fastest growing electronic components distributors – we’re hoping to offer a solution by giving engineers better access to RFID tools and a better foundation for innovating with RFID.

Here at ThingMagic, we are now collaborating with Digi-Key to distribute our Mercury 6e Series and Mercury 5e Series embedded modules, putting us in a position to reach more engineers with the building blocks for tomorrow’s innovations.  Digi-Key’s distribution of ThingMagic development kits along with our modules will enable more companies to develop and produce the connected items that are behind the next wave of IoT solutions. Our award-winning family of modules has the performance capabilities to sustain the speed and connectivity of today’s complex systems, with the compact form factor required for the billions of devices that will one day make up the Internet of Things.

As the proliferation of devices of all types and sizes continues, the development and adoption of the Internet of Things should grow as well.  But we’re still far from that tipping point where we truly connect all devices across the enterprise and consumer worlds seamlessly through the IoT.  In spite of the progress that’s been made, the IoT ecosystem does not yet work together as it should.  For it to reach its potential, we’ll need cooperation from all the participants in the market.  By providing developers and engineers with development tools, platforms and technologies – like RFID – that all support industry standards, then we will have a collaboration that will enable the true vision of IoT.   Our partnering with Digi-Key is another step on the path to achieving that objective.

An Internet of Things Solution – Brought to You by Zebra’s Cloud and ThingMagic RFID

Posted by Austin Rand on Mon, Jun 09, 2014 @ 11:27 AM

Tags: RFID, Internet of Things, Connected Devices

For years, a longtime partner of ours, Zebra Technologies, has been known for bringing RFID-enabled products, from printers to handhelds, to market. Most recently, they’ve introduced a cloud-based, multi-sensor platform for connecting legacy devices with smart devices to bridge the gap between the two to help achieve the ideal of the Internet of Things. We’re happy to say that Zebra’s Internet of Things platform – Zatar – will integrate ThingMagic’s embedded RFID technology. The partnership will open connections between legacy assets and more modern devices like iBeacons, printers, handhelds and RFID readers and enable third party apps to more easily work with them over an open source API.

 

Internet-connected devices make information more available and enable companies to use that information to make decisions and take action faster, which are major value propositions of  the ecosystem of the Internet of Things. The evolution of these technologies – RFID and others – from tagging and tracking to automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) to connecting everything over the Internet has created a need for more platforms like Zatar to facilitate these connections. Internet of Things platforms facilitate this communication to fill a need in the space created by the influx of devices that has caught developers and integrators off-guard by the sheer volume points to connect with. As a result, more now than ever, there is now a need for more easy-to-use, comprehensive development platforms to speed the development of programs and integration of technologies with one another.

 

In the Internet of Things ecosystem, we’ve carved out our own space with the Mercury xPRESS platform. As the need for more RFID-base applications grows, development needs to keep pace by becoming a simpler, faster and more fluid process and less of a burden.  This is especially true for industries and organizations where RFID is starting to take hold. What Mercury xPRESS offers is a comprehensive development environment with the most advanced embedded RFID reader modules on the market paired with software and reference documentation to enable low-cost, high-performance embedded RFID solutions. Basically a complete development platform for embedding RFID.

 

In the new ecosystem of the Internet of Things, RFID is also driving value in more closed-loop environments – or Intranets of Things – for the enterprise, an area that is always exploding with new deployments. Connectivity and information-sharing need to occur in a way that differs on an industry-by-industry basis, so providing managers with a means of developing solutions without having extensive background knowledge in RFID development is valuable to them, especially as they’re able to customize solutions based on how they want the privacy and flow of information to occur. Internet of Things platforms will continue to appear in all different forms, but were seeing RFID continually be a vital addition to most solutions.

Embedded RFID and The Internet of Things

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Jan 16, 2014 @ 11:57 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Internet of Things, Embedded RFID, Product Design

Internet of Things

We all know our world is more connected than ever, as is evidenced by the millions of smart phones cradled in the hands of people all over the word. But beyond this, there is a vast world of connected devices that is projected to far exceed smart phones.  From toll booths and parking spots to refrigerators and thermostats, many places and common place 'things' can and will be connected. This is what the Internet of Things is all about.  

The Internet of Things has stealthily crept its way into our everyday lives, promising to create ease and efficiency in everything we do.  In the years since the term “Internet of Things” was coined at the Auto-ID Center at MIT, its definition has evolved in some interesting ways.  For example, Intel's tagline The Iternet of Things Starts with Intelligence Inside indicates their heavy focus on embedded technology. Cisco’s newly formed Internet of Things business unit has a vision to turn what were once physical products into services by enabling those products to deliver data. Their vision is broad, taking the Internet of Things a step further to The Internet of Everything. Just recently, SalesForce.com has begun defining its vision of IoT as The Internet of Customers. What ever the Internet of Things is or will eventually become, reserch firm Gartner predicts it is growing rapidly. By the year 2020, the Internet of Things market as defined by Gartner will grow to 26 billion units, representing an almost 30 fold increase from 2009.

While the Internet of Things may have expanded to inclue technologies and applications well beyond its roots in RFID, we believe RFID still plays a defining role, particularly as an embedded solution.  We’re seeing this manifested in the growth of the RFID industry, with new applications of embedded RFID increasing at a rapid pace across a variety of industries and product categories. 

To help drive this growth, ThingMagic recenlty announced the Mercury xPRESS Platform.  The Mercury xPRESS Platform is the first of its kind development platform that will make new application-specific RFID product development faster, easier and less expensive.

Leveraging over 10 years of RFID technology advancements and development expertise from ThingMagic, we expect the Mercury xPRESS platform will revolutionize the way that RFID readers and embedded solutions are brought to market, inevitably strengthening RFID’s role in the Internet of Things. 

To learn more, please attend our webinar: Innovating With Embedded RFID: Introducing ThingMagic's Mercury xPRESS Platform

Register Now!

We are excited to share the possibilities this new platform offers for designing the next generation of application-specific RFID readers, handhelds, mobile devices and more!

Image source: IEEE

Hot Fun in the Summertime (RFID Tech Trends)

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Aug 08, 2013 @ 10:18 AM

Tags: RFID, Internet of Things

HammockSummer is in full swing and with it comes all of the warm weather activities. Naps in the hammock, lemonade by the pool and if you’re like us, getting caught up on our summer reading list.

While vacation it most certainly a time for leisure reading, it can also be a good time to catch up on tech trends and industry news. To help, we’ve gathered some of our most popular blog articles. Adding a little twist, we’ve also included some of the more interesting uses of RFID we’ve seen mentioned recently - reinforcing the fact that the possibilities with RFID are limitless!

The Next Generation of Construction

Published in Construction Executive’s June Issue, a contributed piece by ThingMagic’s Bernd Schoner discusses how RFID deployments are streamlining construction projects and helping to keep construction sites secure and safe.

RFID in Retail – No Stopping Now

If there is one industry where RFID has made a name for itself, it is retail. With big players like Macy’s and JC Penny implementing the technology in order to enhance the customer experience, and cut down on overhead costs, it is only a matter of time before other retailers follow suit (pun intended!).

Passive RFID solutions for healthcare

RFID technology has impacted and ultimately improved the healthcare industry in many ways over the last several years. In one specific case, a partnership between Xecan and ThingMagic has provided a communication and tracking system for hospitals. This RFID “smart clinic” tracks patient location and wait times, ultimately allowing the clinic to operate more efficiently and increase patient satisfaction.

The Future of RFID: Infographic

When we couldn’t seem to find an infographic that covered Auto-ID technologies or RFID in particular, we took matters into our own hands. This infographic depicts the collaborative relationships between 4G, Wi-Fi, GPS, RFID and sensors, and what it means for our future. 

If you thought RFID was a technology looking for a home, think again.  Seems you can't find a market or applicaiton it hasn't been used in.  For example, check out these unique uses:

With NSA-like precision, FeederWatch researchers and students at Cornell University have gathered an "unprecedented" amount of data about the feeding behaviors of their favorite backyard birds in the Ithaca, New York, area.  Read more about Project FeederWatch

RFID for Counting Bees. Really?  We published this post on our blog as part of our 100 Uses of RFID campaing a while back.  With recent concerns about the bee population dying off and the frightening prophecy that mankind would have only four years to live if bees disappeared from the face of the earth, maybe this one isn't to crazy.

RFID Plays Matchmaker to Socks. This one dominated the headlines for weeks when it was announced.  Rightly so, because, well, you can't go out with socks that don't match.

And finally, file this one under "just when you thought you've heard it all..."  Nightclub urinal tells patrons when they've had one too many.

So, what are you waiting for?  Let us know how you see RFID being used for well known or non-traditional applications.  We'd love to hear from you!

How Zebra is Proving RFID’s Worth

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 @ 09:50 AM

Tags: RFID, Internet of Things, Embedded RFID, RFID Printers

Zebra TechnologiesEvery day we’re connected through technology. This communication between people, devices, networks, and everything in between has become so prevalent that it seems ordinary for most.  Clearly what we now take for granted has been years in the making, with innumerable individuals and companies working to make it happen.  But I think it’s worth highlighting the recent successes of companies like Zebra Technologies, whose leadership has helped to make this connected world possible, and has helped put technologies like RFID at the center of this movement.

Zebra - a partner of ThingMagic for many years - provides enabling technologies for organizations with high-volume, mission-critical or specialty labeling needs.  Several Zebra products use ThingMagic embedded modules to encode RFID tags used for item-level tracking applications such as healthcare specimen tagging, supply chain work-in-process management, and retail item tracking, among many others. Zebra’s recent recognition by Frost & Sullivan as the 2012 Company of the Year in North America for their high-value products, robust portfolio, deep market penetration, and optimized channel strategy is a testament to the impact they have had on the entire industry.  Their reach is impressive – having shipped over 11 million printers of all kinds to nearly 100 different countries – and is a driving force behind making RFID-enabled solutions a viable option across markets.

In addition to their execution on the technology end of business, Zebra has done a good job articulating to the public the importance of an interconnected world, more specifically promoting an understanding of the value of the “Internet of Things.”  To further an understanding of this concept, Zebra recently partnered with Forrester to produce a study that helps IT decision-makers better understand the importance and growing presence of Internet of Things solutions. The RFID-based technologies behind the Internet of Things are used to solve business problems like supply chain inefficiencies as well as inspire innovation in organizations.  And as the survey revealed that 82% of organizations either have Internet of Things solutions in place already or plan to put solutions in place in the next 5 years, it’s become clear that the Internet of Things will become a household concept in the very near future.

Congratulations Zebra!  We as an industry should follow your example of explaining and promoting the value everyone has and will experience in this increasingly connected world.

Five-Cent Wireless Networking – The Most Important Invention in RFID Yet

Posted by Bernd Schoner on Fri, Nov 09, 2012 @ 10:31 AM

Tags: RFID, Item Level RFID, Internet of Things, Embedded RFID, Smart Objects

RFID ChipHundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on the R&D effort to develop passive RFID tags that can be offered for five cents or less. Have we succeeded? Almost. In high volumes assembled UHF tag inlays cost somewhere between seven and ten cents. Along the way, however, the RFID industry have invented something far more important: five-cent wireless networking!

What is it and how does it work?

Both NXP and Impinj have released RFID chips that offer an Inter-Integrated Circuit (I2C) interface in addition to the Gen2 RFID interface. The new chips also include significantly more memory compared to previous generations of simple-passive RFID IC’s: NXP’s UCODE I2C offers 3.3kBit of EEPROM memory; Impinj’s Monza-X offers 2.1 to 8.2kBit of EEPROM memory.

Electronics manufacturers have been using I2C-enabled EEPROM memory chips for decades to store small amounts of data persistently, including configuration data or boot-loading information. As the main microprocessor of a device is powered up, it reads configuration information from the memory chip via the I2C interface.

The new generation of I2C-RFID chips will maintain this functionality, but offer more. The memory content can be accessed through the I2C interface and through wireless RFID interface using a standard UHF Gen2 RFID reader. Since the RFID chips can be used in passive mode, the EEPROM memory can be read and written to without powering the host device.

Why is it so cheap?

Fully assembled conventional RFID tags require the actual chip, an antenna substrate, and the conversion into a usable package. A relatively small percentage of the cost can be attributed to the chip itself. The biggest cost items are the handling, assembly and antenna substrates.

When I2C-RFID chips are placed on printed circuit boards, the antenna is etched into the board at virtually no additional cost. The assembly is part of the surface mount board assembly, i.e. it’s also virtually free. Hence the only real cost item is the IC itself. The I2C enabled RFID chips are more expensive than the regular passive RFID IC’s, however, most of that cost can be attributed to the large memory of the chips. Since I2C-RFID chips replace conventional EEPROM chips, the marginal cost of adding RFID and hence wireless networking amounts to a few cents.

What is it going to be used for?

Device manufacturers will include the I2C-RFID chips to store essential configuration, licensing, or product information persistently. Since the memory can be written to over the air, configuration or licensing information can be applied to the device using an RFID reader without turning on the device.

In manufacturing, the RFID chip can be used to identify and serialize the device (WIP tracking). Once manufactured, channel partners are able to configure devices in the warehouse or at the point of sale without taking them out of the box.

Post sales, the device’s host processor can log information on usage hours, failure modes, misuse, use of consumables etc. on the I2C-RFID chip. As the device is sent in for maintenance or repair, the information is available to the service center through the RFID interface. Once again, the device does not have to be tuned on to read out the information.

Intel announced recently that it has included an I2C-RFID chip with the reference design for its new Windows 8 tablet computer, making Intel and its OEM partners the biggest users of this new capability yet.

Why is this so important?

More and more of the objects we buy and use on a daily basis include electronic circuit boards to support and enhance basic functionality: Nowadays toys like to speak to their child owners, kitchen appliances can be programmed to turn on at arbitrary times, toothbrushes beep when its time to switch sides, and power saws shut off electronically when safety is compromised. Today, few of these devices are networked and few are RFID-enabled. The inclusion of the new I2C-RFID ships will enable both RF networking and RF identification. Almost overnight networking and identification of inexpensive everyday objects has become feasible and realistic.

We have long been waiting for the Internet of Things to become a reality. I think I2C-RFID chips will finally make it happen.

 

(Photo: Tom Hurst / RFID Journal)

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