Adding RFID to Rugged Handhelds and Tablets

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Oct 15, 2013 @ 12:03 PM

Tags: Mobile Computing, Oil and Gas, RFID, Construction, RFID Handhelds

PipelineHow mobile computing devices have changed our personal lives is obvious, but enterprises and business professionals today are being similarly affected by the 24/7/365 nature of being connected. The enterprise presents its own challenges for mobility, one in particular being that there are environments mobile devices are now being used in that come with their own risks.  We’re talking about settings that can be remote, have harsh operating conditions, are security threats to sensitive information or present dangerous weather, among others things. These mobile computers could be with construction workers hanging steel beams, firefighters in remote mountains, miners miles underground or soldiers in a combat theatre. In these situations, the users need to know that these devices are rugged enough to handle extreme heat, cold, moisture and take a heavy pounding. Like the old Timex watch tagline says, these devices need to be able to “take a licking and keep on ticking.”

It should not come as a surprise that RFID is a growing customer requirement for these devices as it is for many other mobile computing solutions.

To support these requiremnts, last year, Trimble's Mobile Computing Solutions and ThingMagic divisions partnered to create an RFID Reader accessory for the Trimble Nomad handheld. The UHF RFID Reader accessory includes a mounting kit which allows users to add UHF RFID capability to their Trimble Nomad handheld computers – devices with the ruggedness and durability that have made it the handheld computer of choice for users with both physically and technically demanding tasks.  Using the Trimble Nomad with an RFID scanner, building contractors for example, can perform a variety of functions such as asset check-in, check-out, transfers and inventory validation much faster than traditional bar code scanning.  When integrated with the Trimble® AllTrak™ Asset and Tool Management System, contractors can more easily track and manage all of their jobsite assets and tools resulting in improved equipment monitoring and asset utilization.

One of our more recent opportunities in this space has been with two leading auto-ID companies, DAP Technologies and Omni-ID.  DAP and Omni-ID partnered to launch a series of mobile tablets for harsh environments that incorporate both active and passive RFID capabilities – an industry first. As a result, a single device can track and manage assets, collect information, synchronize systems, report data and receive and respond to messages. These rugged tablets include ThingMagic’s high-performance UHF RFID reader module, the Micro, for reading tag information on critical assets and equipment and transmitting that information for management and inventory purpose. The size of the Micro makes it unobtrusive for embedding in mobile devices that still require high performance.

Another industry that’s jumped at the opportunity to apply these kinds of solutions is oil and gas production. Oil and gas companies are now investing in tools that enable them to achieve the vision of the “Digital Oilfield revolution.” Simply put, the Digital Oilfield is defined by a focus on how the petroleum business can deploy information technology to support its main business drivers, namely: maximizing and discovering oil reserves, optimizing hydrocarbon production, improving safety and protecting the environment.  And of course much of this work takes place in hard-to-reach, harsh working environments.

Similar to opportunities for productivity enhancement in other industries, the key to almost all the activities associated with the Digital Oilfield is the real-time capture and analysis of data. The auto-ID functionality of today’s mobile computing devices, when coupled with their ruggedized form factor and intuitive interfaces, allows asset tracking and data collection to be a more simple and consistent process, almost becoming an afterthought when in the field. This means fewer manual processes and the opportunity to generate new data for business process improvement.

At RFID Journal LIVE!, Embedded RFID Takes Center Stage

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, May 10, 2013 @ 04:10 PM

Tags: RFID, Embedded RFID, RFID Printers, RFID Journal LIVE, RFID Handhelds

RFID Journal LIVE13In its 11th year, RFID Journal LIVE! is the world’s largest event focused on RFID technology, products and solutions.  This year’s event – held April 30 – May 2 - offered a great number of sessions across industries, including Defense/Aviation, Manufacturing, Retail/Apparel, Healthcare/Pharmaceutical, and Supply Chain/Logistics.  Many end users presented success stories, and educational tracks on RFID deployment strategies, application development and enterprise infrastructure offered sound strategic advice for those evaluating the technology.

The event promoters indicated a record number of new products were being exhibited at RFID Journal LIVE! this year, and based on what we experienced, this appears to be the case. For ThingMagic, the focus of the conference was on communicating the value of embedded RFID and sharing our newest high-performance embedded RFID reader, the Micro.

For customers and prospects, the value proposition of the Micro rang true:  The exceptionally small size and powerful performance of the Micro yields increased efficiency, reduced development costs and time-to-market advantages for RFID applications.  In case you didn’t have the chance to visit our booth, below are some of the materials we presented at the show:

> Embedded RFID brochure

> Micro webinar (produced with RFID Journal)

> Watch an RFID Journal LIVE! 2013 ThingMagic Booth Interview (produced by our partner Atlas RFID!)

 

 

While the Micro and other small form factor, high performance RFID modules from ThingMagic are set to usher in a new era of embedded RFID for device manufacturers and solutions providers, it’s our customers’ products that end user organizations rave about.  Here are a few that were demonstrated at RFID Journal LIVE! 2013 we thought were worth noting –

Zebra Technologies

Long a provider of innovative marking and printing technologies, Zebra used this year’s conference to introduce their new UHF desktop printer, ZD500R. Developed for retail, healthcare, and government deployments, the printer has an embedded ThingMagic Micro module, as it is designed for space-constrained environments that require accurate, on-demand printing and encoding. Available later this year, it will be Zebra’s smallest and lowest cost UHF RFID printer to-date.

VerdaSee

VerdaSee’s big news of the conference was the announcement of their new mobile 1-Watt UHF Gen2 RFID reader. The company offers fixed and mobile solutions that enable recognition and tracking of assets in a variety of environments.  This latest development was financed in large part by the Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center unit of the United States’ Department of Defense, as VerdaSee’s solutions are often used as a GPS solution for first responders and military logistics. As these deployments commonly require that readers be both portable and ruggedized, the ThingMagic M6e module was chosen for use in these units because of its small form factor and the versatility its multi-port capability offers.

Keonn Technologies

Winners of the Coolest Demo Contest last year at RFID Journal Live 2012 for their RFID-enabled AdvanFitting fitting rooms for retail stores, Keonn was back again this year with more to show. Keonn embeds ThingMagic modules in several of their solutions for retail, healthcare, libraries, and enterprise logistics sectors. The Keonn AdvanPanel, for instance, has the ThingMagic Micro embedded to read tags in Kanban cards, allowing Just-in-Time inventory systems to function properly. Retailers that want inventory information in real-time and a reduction in out-of-stocks use Keonn’s solution to process this information, and the Micro allows them to maintain a high level of performance while still keeping costs down.

ACURA Global

Headquartered in Brazil, ACURA Global's RFID systems are used in many applications in the commercial, utility and industrial sectors. In addition to being a valued ThingMagic reseller, ACURA integrates ThingMagic RFID modules into finished reader form factors.  For example, the ACURA EDGE-50 is based on the ThingMagic M6e module, supports up to 4 monostatic antennas, and is ideal for vehicle identification, logistics and transportation applications.

Venture Research

In the logistics, supply chain and healthcare space, Venture Research offers RFID solutions to companies that can leverage added visibility as a competitive advantage. Because their deployments can vary greatly, Venture has found value across multiple ThingMagic embedded RFID development platforms.

Award-Winning Partners

An exciting part of each year’s RFID Journal Live event is seeing which products and deployments have pushed the envelope far enough to be considered for top honors at the industry’s leading event. We were fortunate to have partnered with two award winners this year:

Keonn for the second year in a row came away the winner of the Coolest Demo Contest for its RFID-enabled robot, AdvanRobot, which performs automatic inventory in spaces like retail stores. The battery-operated robot is comprised of an RFID subsystem, a mobile platform and a navigation system that allows it to move about and read RFID tags and take inventory without colliding or interfering with humans. AdvanRobot can not only provide highly-accurate inventory information, but can also give tag location of inventory items more frequently and with fewer errors and costs than humans, freeing them to focus on customer service and other more valuable activities.

The City of Grand Rapids, Michigan took home the RFID Green Award for their RFID-enabled recycling and refuse-collection system. The deployment optimizes recycling truck pickup routes and scheduling by collecting and analyzing data from tagged disposal bins. The system even incentivizes residents with programs that reward the most frequent recyclers with offers from area merchants. With residents recycling instead of putting everything in the trash, the city was able to lower refuse by 15%, increase recycling by more than 50%, and save $75,000 in the system’s first seven months – not to mention the intangible benefit of using RFID to rally a community around sustainability.

Congratulations to RFID Journal for producing another valuable RIFD Journal LIVE! 

For more information on the advantages of ThingMagic embedded RFID, please email sales@thingmagic.com.

Embedded RFID: Why we got excited about passive RFID in the first place!

Posted by Bernd Schoner on Wed, Oct 24, 2012 @ 01:21 PM

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

Embedded RFIDFifteen years ago my ThingMagic co-founders and I worked as research assistants in the MIT Media Lab’s Things-That-Think consortium. Our main agenda was to embed intelligence in everyday objects such as clothing, toys, and furniture. We quickly realized how important passive RFID would be for implementing the vision of smart and networked objects and ultimately the Internet-of-Things. Today, passive UHF RFID outperforms any other technology in applications where a large number of tags are attached to inexpensive objects and where readers are embedded in the environment to quietly understand the objects around them without human intervention.

In the years since, we haven’t always been true to this insight into the sweet spot of RFID applications. In fact, my co-founder Ravi Pappu and I like to pride ourselves in having proposed the use of RFID for just about any imaginable scenario. In our enthusiasm for the technology and our eagerness to help customers, we have put tags on people, retail shelves and vehicles of all types including fighter jets, locomotives and racecars. None of these applications deal with millions of inexpensive objects; most of these applications require expensive, portal-type reader set-ups; and none of these applications helped the RFID industry develop its full economic promise.

On the other hand, when we deployed embedded RFID reader modules, usually with the help of OEM customers, our efforts resulted in scalable projects generating long-term repeat-business. This success can only partially attributed to our market leading position in UHF modules. Embedded RFID readers quite simply outnumber their fixed reader cousins by an order of magnitude, much like WiFi-enabled devices outnumber WiFi access points.

The most successful embedded RFID applications continue to be RFID-enabled printers and RFID-enabled handheld terminals. RFID-enabled label printers, for example those made by Zebra Technologies, are a necessary ingredient of any high-volume RFID application. Labels have to be encoded, no matter what you use them for.

RFID-enabled handheld terminals have become the workhorses for the majority of workflow applications. In logistics, retail, or construction alike, workers need to truly interact with the objects they are handling. They require a user interface to fill out forms, collect the electronic signature of a customer, or record the geo-location of a particular object. RFID-enabled handheld terminals offer these capabilities: at the low-end, terminals include Bluetooth and a single-button user interface; at the high-end, terminals include every imaginable wireless capability in addition to RFID, along with a full keyboard and a big screen. For example, see Trimble Announces New RFID Accessory for Nomad Handheld. All of these devices include one common element: a ThingMagic embedded RFID reader module. 

More recently, other exciting embedded applications have emerged: Keurig is embedding RFID readers in their single-cup coffee machines. The machine recognizes the RFID-enabled coffee container and optimizes its settings to produce the best coffee possible.

Intel is enabling its OEM customers to embed RFID tags with every Windows 8 tablet computer at the time of manufacturing. This will enable embedded readers track the devices during the manufacturing process and into distribution. Retailers will be able to offer customized licensed features and configure the tablets using embedded RFID readers at the point of sale. Service centers will be reading out information about a device without even taking it out of the box or powering it on. How will they read out the information? They will be using RFID-enabled handheld terminals or other embedded readers.

In conclusion, once in a while we should remind ourselves why we got excited about passive RFID in the first place: we saw the opportunity to make inexpensive, small, but pervasive objects part of the networked world. Embedded RFID readers continue to be key to realizing that vision.

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