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 Takes a Ride on School Buses

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Sep 03, 2010 @ 01:59 PM

Tags: RFID, Student Tracking, RFID + GPS

School's Out, Do You Know Where Your Child Is?

4-year-old left on school bus”.  Headlines like this one from the September 3, 2010 issue of the Joliet, IL Herald-News seem to be repeated several times every year.  Imagine the panic experienced by a four year old who thought they were going home, but find themselves in the bus parking lot hours later.  Imagine the feeling a parent has when their child does not get off the bus at their designated stop.  Not to mention the resulting calls for the resignation of otherwise responsible school bus drivers and lawsuits filed against schools.

School BusTo help avoid frightening and potentially costly mistakes like these, several school systems have deployed or are considering RFID-enabled solutions to help monitor children when they are traveling to and from school on buses.  Through the combination of RFID tags placed on students' backpacks and equipping school buses with RFID readers, schools can monitor student movement and automate in-transit attendance.  By combining the data form RFID readers with data from GPS tracking devices that are already installed on most buses, school administrators can look up the ID number of a specific student, find out what bus they boarded, the location of that bus and whether they exited the bus or not.  Some systems even send text alerts to parents, letting them know when their child gets on and off a bus and provide an online view of the buses while en route.

Privacy Concerns

The adoption of RFID by the education markets comes with privacy concerns.  Some parents object to electronically tracking their children’s whereabouts, suggesting that it might compromise their privacy.  Despite the fact that passive RFID tags carry little information about the person carrying them and are unable to transmit signals over long distances, these concerns are well founded and must be addressed by solution providers and schools alike.

With the right privacy safeguards in place, during emergency situations or as part of a standard transportation attendance process, RFID-enabled solutions can help schools do more efficiently and effectively what they’re already doing manually.  And, in the case of tracking children on school buses, puts parents' nerves at ease.

For examples of schools implementing RFID solutions to track students on buses, check out the following articles:

Technology Tracks Schoolbus Kids

Indian Schools All Set to Implement RFID and GPS Based Tracking System

Would you be open to your child’s school implementing an RFID-enabled system to monitor and report your child’s whereabouts?   While mistakes happen, I can’t think of one parent, teacher or school administrator who would want to be caught up in the headlines.

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