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.

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

ThingMagic

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.

Prediction: Data and Apps Rule RFID For The Next 10 Years

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Dec 20, 2011 @ 10:14 AM

Tags: RFID, Embedded RFID, RFID Predictions, RFID Data, Big Data

Big Data“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!”

-- Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and author of Sketching User Experiences

It amazes me each year. It seems like I blink and all of a sudden I see the torrent of predictions coming at me from all directions. Where did the year go?

Indeed, it was another year of fast-paced change in the RFID market. The end of the year is always a good time to take a step back and consider what the next year will hold. I personally find it fun to make predictions.  Except, instead of predicting the next year, I’m going to channel Bill Buxton and his quote referenced above and issue somewhat of a challenge for the next 10 years.

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

During the last 10 years (and even going back 40 years since the first passive radio transponder with memory was patented in 1970), 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 form factors, and embedded RFID modules are being used to enable many stationary and mobile devices with the auto-identification technology. 

In fact, the technology itself has matured to a point where it is no longer a barrier to entry for most markets and applications.  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. 

So now what?

End customer organizations of all sizes have learned where and when it makes the most sense to apply RFID to their business processes.  RFID vendors and solution providers have survived the technology maturation process.  Now it’s time to think beyond RFID of the past 10 years and toward the next wave of innovation. 

Big Data, Meet RFID

We should think beyond the underlying technology – and toward the value of RFID data, emerging methods of data access and analysis, and about the many innovative enterprise and consumer applications that can be enabled with this 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 we’ve experienced with many other data-driven solutions, this progression will lead to RFID as a data platform – with RFID modules and extensible software interfaces allowing for the integration of RFID with other technologies. 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. 

Thought about in this way, RFID becomes much more valuable in the context of “big data” and how it is “the next frontier of innovation”, as McKinsey states earlier this year in its report Big Data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity. In fact, it cites the Internet of Things as a major contributing factor to the explosion of data.

Consistent with Bill Buxton’s view, big data is not new. If you look at the amount of information Google deals with as an example, it’s been around for at least 10 years. But as more objects get connected to the network, the idea of “big” data as we’ve known it so far will seem quaint (a view that McKinsey shares).

The increasing volume and detail of information captured by enterprises, the rise of multimedia, social media, and the Internet of Things will fuel exponential growth in data for the foreseeable future.

Along with the torrent of data RFID platforms will produce come challenges in dealing with the data; first and foremost the need to think at a business process level about how this data can be used to create more organizational value in the form of increased revenue, cost savings and profits. 

So, along with the challenge to think about RFID from a data vs. technology perspective comes the need for the industry to provide more end-to-end-solutions.  The market needs to move fast because companies already are thinking at this level, in particular in the in-transit, retail and healthcare markets - which we’ll examine in future posts. 

In the meantime, what do think?  What are the challenges you see ahead for the industry? I’d love to discuss in the comments and in future posts.

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