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)

Will NRF’s ‘The Big Show’ Be a Good Barometer of RFID in Retail?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Dec 15, 2011 @ 04:34 PM

Tags: RFID, Retail, Item Level RFID, Social Media

NRFAlready in its 101st year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) is gearing up for its Annual Convention & EXPO in New York next month. It looks like there is a lot of excitement in store for us (no pun intended) including a keynote speech from Bill Clinton!

Aside from a former U.S. President being in attendance, digital retail and mobility are dominating the buzz this year. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise because retailers are marketing to the consumer in ways that align with their behaviors – which is largely dominated by using mobile devices to consume digital information. 

According to Susan Newman, NRF’s Senior Vice President of Conferences, “Right now, it’s all about how you reach customers, engage with them, and help them engage with you.”

If you walk into any mall or store, or even just observe people walking down the street, EVERYONE is carrying a mobile device. If that’s an accurate representation of the consumer market today, retailers must recognize that they can reach a very large portion of their target audience via digital media and the smart phone. As a proof point to that theory, Shop.org’s First Look Track at NRF will be two days that focus on all things digital, related to topics such as The Future Shopper and Buying Behaviors.

A while back we experimented with mobility and social media, having RFID play the integral role. We determined that RFID + Social Media = Reach. Meaning that by adding the two together, it was easier and more effective to reach the intended audience, customize to their preferences and build brand loyalty. How can RFID help get us closer to that Holy Grail (in a simple, easy way) in retail?

One way to get to get a better understanding of your customers’ preferences is through item-level tagging. It may actually be on its way to being considered a best practice in retail. The Voluntary Inter-industry Commerce Solutions (VICS) Association started the VICS Item-Level RFID Initiative for that very purpose. Its goal is to foster innovation, improve business processes and enhance consumer experiences by developing business applications and best practices around standards-based RFID. This is the kind of support the industry needs to effectively sell, and sell in such a way that is embraced by consumers. Using mobile devices and digital/social media will undoubtedly be widely accepted because it aligns with their current behavior.

We can’t wait to see some of these session tracks at NRF to learn more. Congratulations, NRF on 101 years and a sold out expo floor!

Tis the Season for RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Dec 02, 2011 @ 11:44 AM

Tags: RFID, Smart Displays, Retail, Item Level RFID, Smart Shelves

RFID HangerIt’s that time of year. With the holiday season in full swing, it seems like retail is the topic of choice for RFID stories lately. We last blogged about the mobile wallet and how it can enhance the check out process, which could have a huge consumer impact during this time of year.

And here's yet another way that RFID is improving the shopping experience and potentially helping boost sales. A department store in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan is the first to try out interactive hangers. When a shopper picks up a garment, RFID triggers one of the large screens above the rack to display a person modeling the clothes selected. Beyond the holiday season, this use of RFID could also have a huge impact on the back-to-school purchases, and even prom season.

Check it out here.

The hangers were developed by Tokyo tech firm Teamlab. They are regular hangers with a large central rectangle that houses the RFID tag. We didn’t find reports that included information on the RFID readers, but they could be placed on the clothing racks or ceiling mounted. The hangers can also be used to manipulate the music and lighting in the store. The diagram above depicts how the RFID system works.

We like it because it’s unobtrusive, as is the case with RFID in general. If you don’t care to see what the garment looks like on the model on the screen, simple. Don’t look up. It’s out of the way and can be easily ignored.

Many shoppers can be easily influenced by a positive image and I bet this is why retailers will like this solution. If a leather jacket looks good on the GQ model, I transfer that image to myself, I buy it and the marketer wins.

Take the concept one step further, what if the model on the screen showed us how to tie a tie or scarf and the various other ways it could be worn? That could be extremely useful, especially if it’s a new fashion trend.

This implementation of RFID reinforces that the technology can play a valuable role in all phases of the retail supply chain - from the manufacturer to the show room floor. While this use case may not be the driver for RFID being widely adopted in the retail sector, it shows that very intelligent people are thinking of creative, yet easy ways to integrate RFID into everyday processes.

Which one of your everyday activities can be enhanced with RFID?

Image Source: TechCrunch

To Tag or Not to Tag? That is the Question.

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Mar 07, 2011 @ 11:20 AM

Tags: RFID, Retail, Item Level RFID, Smart Shelves, Consumer Goods

Can RFID end the ongoing debate?   

grocery store stickerWe’re all pretty much accustomed to look at the price on the shelf when we want to know how much an item costs. The tags on the shelf even let us know if a certain item is on sale that week. It seems that only the smaller stores like 7-Eleven still use the orange price tag stickers on the individual items. Or maybe I see those orange stickers because I live in Massachusetts where we have an item-pricing law.

That law was news to me when I read a story in the Wall Street Journal, “In a State of Sticker Shock, Stores Try to Sell Public on a Radical Idea.” The impetus for the article is that retailers in Michigan may be close to forcing a repeal of the state’s Item Pricing Law. It’s similar to the Massachusetts law, except Michigan’s law is the broadest such law in the nation.  Retailers say that the repeal of the law could save them many valuable man hours and costs. But the labor unions and people who hold pricing jobs, say the law protects them and their livelihood.

The alternative is barcode scanning. However there is debate about whether any inaccuracies with bar code scanning could be considered unfair to the consumer.

Could RFID solve the problem and end this ongoing debate? We’ve seen how RFID can streamline operations in many industries, including retail. We’ve also seen examples of how the technology can reduce errors that typically occur in manual processes. It seems only logical that RFID could solve the price sticker dilemma.

As for the employment issue, we’ve seen how RFID will most likely not replace sales clerks, but merely shifted their responsibilities. Rather than spending time doing manual inventory in a back room, the sales clerks are out on the floor interacting with customers, encouraging more sales.

Based on the uses of RFID that we’ve seen and written about, the investment in the technology tends to help businesses grow with more efficient operations, or attract more users because of more personalized and convenient service, whatever the case may be. 

What do you think? Price tag or RFID tag?

Designer RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Aug 09, 2010 @ 10:00 AM

Tags: RFID, Retail, Item Level RFID

Enhancing the Shopping Experience While Boosting the Bottom Line

Remember when your casual wardrobe was dominated by Levis or Wrangler jeans and Izod shirts? And in the 80s we branched out to don Jordache, Polo and Z. Cavaricci. Some of you probably had parachute pants and a velour jumpsuit in your closet. Admit it. Don’t worry, we won’t tell.  Despite the few fashion choices and faux pas we may have made years ago, we all still have one thing in common – we want an easy way to get our favorite styles and brands.

Well there is a whole new world of shopping out there today, which includes more malls, specialty boutiques and the vast online retail experience. And with this diversity in stores and more brands and styles to choose from, the need for a better way to make sure products are on the shelf when shoppers are in the store is driving retailers and their suppliers to innovate. And that is a good thing – especially for those of us who want the latest designer denim!

But it’s not just about track and trace and supply chain efficiency anymore. That is so 2005. It’s about creating a better shopping experience for the customer and higher sales figures for the seller. In fact, according to Reik Read’s RFID Monthly - Apparel Supplement, “Improved receipt, faster cycle counts and greater inventory visibility have freed up over 175 labor hours per month at each of the 10 RFID-enabled American Apparel stores. The analysis suggests that American Apparel could save $27,000 annually per store through reduced labor. However, we expect at least a portion of labor savings can, and should, be redeployed to help drive revenue through increased customer interaction.”

Enter ThingMagic partner TAGSYS.  TAGSYS has deployed its RFID solutions within a number of retailers’ production supply chains, bringing significant operational benefits both in logistics and retail, with an average ROI of less than 18 months.  Notable retail customers include:

Rica LewisRica Lewis, the leading supplier of jean apparel to major European retail stores. It sells more than 5 million pairs of jeans each year. Rica Lewis is using the TAGSYS “RFID for Fashion” solution to deliver a better customer experience and improved store efficiencies. Its RFID implementation delivers complete real-time visibility of its merchandise from distribution to the Point of Sale. Each sales manager from Rica Lewis is equipped with portable RFID readers enabling them to perform rapid inventory of items directly on the sales floor, greatly improving the efficiency of retail distribution. Initial results have demonstrated that the previous manual inventory has been reduced by more than 80%.

Serge Blanco, a French luxury sportswear designer and retailer, tracks more than 1.5 million items per year at its distribution centers. The company uses TAGSYS “RFID for Retail” which incorporates UHF garment hang tags, HHU-400 handheld readers, the SRU-400 point of sale reader, UHF Security Gate for theft prevention and TAGSYS’ e-Connectware software, which manages RFID data and processes.

At Serge Blanco, the merchandise is received into the back room and then moved to the retail floor. The RFID tags are read as they pass through UHF RFID reader portals positioned at a variety of checkpoints. Information is recorded and the inventory is automatically updated in the store’s management database. Fitting rooms are also equipped with RFID readers so that Serge Blanco can assess conversion rates of products based on what customers try on versus what they actually purchase. Inventory on the shelves also is performed regularly so that the right items are available to customers and not hidden away in the back room.

These are just a few examples of the natural applicability of RFID technology in the Fashion & Apparel supply chain.  Tremendous opportunities for improved customer satisfaction exist when the RFID infrastructure is integrated into the IT system, allowing brand manufacturers and retailers to have access to actionable information in real-time.

Innovations like these make sure that I can get my straight fit sable ples marques aux pouches Rica Lewis jeans when I want them.  And what CEO or VP of Sales wouldn’t want the level of knowledge that RFID provides, to help drive their business forward?

Specialty Retail Inventory Management with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Aug 04, 2010 @ 08:58 AM

Tags: Specialty Retailers, Retail, Item Level RFID

From Diamond Dealers to Pawn Shops, RFID Allows Small Retailers to Compete with Big Box Stores

Over 400,000 specialty retail stores operate in the US, with combined annual sales of about $350 billion.  Targeting narrowly selected markets, specialty retailers include auto parts suppliers, book stores, camera shops, garden centers, jewelry stores, office supply centers and even pawn shops.

There are many success stories of RFID-enabled handheld scanners and portals being used for inventory in the mass apparel and footwear markets.  Whether counting jeans or Jordans, using RFID for retail floor inventory has been proven to take a fraction of the time it takes to complete a manual inventory and is one of the primary reasons cited by Wal-Mart for rolling out a new item level RFID program to track clothing.

But what about smaller specialty retailers?  Does the same hold true for counting diamond rings and digital cameras?

Given the fragmentation of the specialty retail market, it can be difficult for these stores to stand out.  Because of this, it is important for specialty retailers to take advantage of technology to increase efficiencies so they can compete with larger mass retailers not only on customer service and selection, but also on price.

EIS PortalThingMagic partner Electronic Inventory Solutions (EIS) based in Carrollton, Texas, has seized on this opportunity and is providing RFID inventory management solutions to specialty retailers like eyeglass stores, jewelry stores, pawn shops and liquor stores.  With the decline in passive RFID tag prices and improved read rates, EIS believes that RFID solutions for specialty retail is an explosive growth market, delivering a tremendous opportunity to implement an improved method for inventory management and control.

EIS serves the market with two complementary products based on ThingMagic embedded RFID modules:  a portal security system and a handheld fast audit system that can be deployed individually or as an integrated solution. 

Several specialty retailers have deployed EIS security and inventory management systems, including Bishop Pawn & Jewelry in Dallas and Santa Fe Optical in Austin, TX.  The Santa Fe Optical system, which utilizes pre-programmed, custom RFID tags from Avery Dennison, has significantly reduced theft of designer eyeglass frames and has allowed the store to complete its inventories with greater accuracy, less labor, and in less than 20% of the time compared to previous manual processes.  Most importantly, it has allowed Santa Fe Optical to improve their product mix and increase sales.

Given the uniqueness of products sold by specialty retailers, EIS has also invested in the design of active and passive RFID tags, including a new proprietary, reusable, battery assisted jewelry tag that is only 15mm in size and with tamper-proof technology.

With innovations like these, do you believe the specialty retail market moving toward mass adoption of RFID?  What other markets or market segments will benefit from the proven success of large retailers implementing RFID-based inventory solutions?

RFID and Document Management

Posted by Yael Maguire on Thu, May 01, 2008 @ 11:19 AM

Tags: Item Level RFID, Document Management

RFID is most associated with supply chain applications and item level tagging. But over the last couple of years many other applications for RFID have emerged. One area that is getting an increasing amount of attention is using RFID in document management. In many industries, the value of a printed document can be substantially higher than an equivalent weight of currency. Critical media, legal or financial documents can be embedded with an RFID tag so the document can be located and tracked. It allows these documents to inherit a digital identity and gives computers the ability to search for and locate documents as easy as clicking the search button on an Internet search page.

It also increases information security. Important documents such as earnings releases, merger and acquisition memos, health records and legal documents can be linked to specific people or locations, and un-authorized document movement can be identified. Wouldn’t it be nice if an earnings report could message the CFO that it had left their office?

Two events at the recent RFID Live conference highlight the growth of RFID in document management. Lexmark announced a new RFID enabled printer drawer option for their T60, T642 and T644 laser printers. These are regular laser printers that can be equipped with a special drawer that contains a ThingMagic M5e embedded RFID reader. This allows the laser printer to print documents and other media and encode attached RFID tags.

Also at the show, Dan Zinn, Chief Information Officer of the Florida State Attorney’s office, presented on using RFID to manage case files and documents. The Florida Attorney’s office manages thousands of document case files. Using ThingMagic RFID readers as part of system designed with the help of our business partner Innerwireless, they’ve been able to make tracking and locating case files much more efficient.

We expect to see many more examples of RFID being used to track, locate and secure documents in the coming months.

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