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.

ThingMagic and Partners’ Innovations on Display at MIT Auto ID & Sensing Solutions Expo

Posted by Austin Rand on Wed, Jun 04, 2014 @ 03:43 PM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, RFID tags, MIT

Last week we had the opportunity to be back at MIT, where ThingMagic first was started, to display our latest suite of innovations alongside a number of our partners at the 5th annual Auto ID & Sensing Solutions Expo. Given the size of the show, we didn’t expect any groundbreaking announcements that would shake up the auto ID and wireless industry.  But it but was a good opportunity to connect with partners and other vendors and OEMs leading the RFID industry. It was also good to see MIT students (and perhaps the next generation of RFID professionals) roaming the expo floor as well. Among the roughly 50 exhibitors at the show, a few ThingMagic partners had interesting deployments to demo for the attendees.

Zebra

A leader in cloud printing, Zebra had a few printers displayed, including their ZD500R, which takes advantage of a ThingMagic reader module and is versatile in the applications you’ll find it in – from the manufacturing floor to tagging and tracking for retail, healthcare and government.

The Zatar platform was their main attraction, their cloud-based software service that’s meant to help feed Internet of Things solutions more easily into users’ operations. Zatar makes it easier to configure devices together for smoother connectivity and will soon be compatible with ThingMagic devices, though beta customers like American Barcode.

RF Micron

RF Micron is a newer company with beta users developing solutions that involve their sensors which can adjust to environmental conditions and will involve ThingMagic’s M6 and M6e reader modules. Their innovation will prove to be big in industries like oil and gas and other industrial settings where conditions can often affect technology’s functionality. This could range from moisture detection and knowing when water has leaked into places it is not supposed to be, to pressure detection in tire gauges that will allow us to have smarter vehicles.

Omni-ID

The newest and probably most interesting thing we saw was the Omni-ID View Tags, that use both active and passive RFID to replace paper labels in supply chain operations with an electronically re-writeable surface that’s added to RF tracking technologies. Picture a nurse wheeling a patient around a hospital, where patient information can be pushed to this device telling where exactly that patient needs to be next. Or an operator on a manufacturing plant floor walking up to a particular asset and having information pushed to this rugged handheld based on his particular role.

 

All in all, it’s good to see the variety of industries deploying ThingMagic and other RFID technology continue to grow and expand. We had the chance to catch up with one industry analyst at the show for his impression on everything being displayed and his thoughts seemed to mirror what we and other auto ID companies have been seeing and saying more and more – that connectivity across the board, not just RFID, is going to continue becoming cheaper, more fluid and more accessible; all making the Internet of Things more of a reality. And we were glad to be able to have aided in more than a few of such solutions on display at the Auto ID & Sensing Solutions Expo.

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

Innovating with Embedded RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Dec 02, 2013 @ 11:29 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Embedded RFID, Product Design

ThingMagic Mercury xPRESS PlatformApprehension developers may have with embedding RFID in new solutions does not come from a lack of perceived value – that value has been proven time and time again.

Like many embedded technologies however, RFID has a history of challenging complexities; often requiring a deep understanding of both RF hardware and application software development.

To answer these challenges, we’ve introduced a comprehensive platform that allows developers to build RFID-enabled solutions with the backing of over a decade of ThingMagic RFID technology expertise and resources!

The first of its kind Mercury xPRESS Platform includes hardware, software and reference documentation to enable the rapid development of low-cost, high-performance application specific RFID readers and embedded RFID solutions. By simplifying the integration of RFID into new and existing solutions, the Mercury xPRESS Platform results in unit cost savings, deployments with a stronger ROI, and an overall positive bottom line impact in many deployments.

With the platform, developers can bring up a fully functional RFID reader in minutes and testing and proof of concept using sample applications from the software library can start almost immediately. No longer do developers need to have significant RFID domain expertise. This means rapid integration of RFID with a wider variety of products and complementary wireless communication technologies. And, to support ongoing innovation, the integrated development tools, device drivers and application software of the Mercury xPRESS Platform will be enhanced with updates that expand capabilities and enable development of a wider range of end products.

Key components of the Mercury xPRESS Platform include:

  • Hardware kit with microcontroller-based motherboard, including:
    • Integrated ThingMagic UHF RFID module (Micro, Micro-LTE, or M6e)
    • USB interface
    • Ports for up to 2 additional plug-in data transport interface modules
  • MCU preloaded with sample keyboard wedge application
  • An optional Bluetooth plug-in module
  • Software toolkit and SDK
  • Reference design files including schematics, layout files, Gerber files, bill of material, component data sheets

The growth of RFID has been fueled in part by innovative hardware like our M6e series of modules, which has eroded one major barrier to RFID adoption: having a module that is small enough and powerful enough to fit in readers and other devices that are continually required to be built smaller yet still operate with high performance.

Now with the Mercury xPRESS platform from ThingMagic, developers can focus on designing the next generation of application specific readers, handhelds, mobile devices and more – solutions that could bring innovation, automation and process improvement to markets that until now have not had the resources in place to realize the true value of RFID.

Why RFID Will Drive the Internet of Things

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Sep 17, 2012 @ 09:49 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Internet of Things

SensingPlanetInevitable, open, and inclusive are just a few words Rob van Kranenburg used in a recent article The Sensing Planet: Why The Internet Of Things Is The Biggest Next Big Thing to communicate the growth and adoption of what he loosely defines as the global process to enhance all objects with some form of digital identity. Van Kranenburg, a teacher and consultant on the topic, believes that U.S. industry and government bodies aren’t taking as active a role in its adoption as we are – the people – who are coming to own and drive the movement.

But don’t consider this a mark against it. This isn’t a bad sign for the Internet of Things.  In fact, since its inception, the Internet we’ve seen evolve over the past twenty years has itself functioned a lot like the Wild West, with people driving its progress more quickly than any governing body or private business has. It’s clear that a number of factors will drive our world closer to this connected world, but we believe it’s RFID that will be the unsung hero supporting the people to drive this shift.

Van Kranenburg referred to RFID and the rest of the “ecology” surrounding the Internet of Things as “nothing fancy; mostly radio, quite mundane,” but that’s what we love about RFID. Its wallflower-like characteristics enable it to blend into our lives, and that’s the very reason it will drive this movement. If any technology requires extra steps, behavioral changes, or new inconveniences, it can’t take off.  

We live in a connected world, but in reality it is hundreds and thousands of systems that all operate separately. RFID is the glue that passively, yet intelligently, connects our doctors to their patients, our cars to their parking spots, and our businesses to their products. It will be the connection between the intranets we already have established that forms the Internet of Things we all imagine coming to life.

Van Kranenburg will be communicating how he perceives the Internet of Things at the PICNIC conference this week in Amsterdam. In fact, the theme of this year’s PICNIC is “The Shift from Top Down to Bottom Up,” articulating that it’s the people driving innovation, not the legislators and business leaders up top.

For an idea of what’s possible with RFID growth, Tik Tik, one of the businesses attending PICNIC, is using the example of children checking themselves in and out of daycare with RFID keychains and rating activities they’ve chosen there for their parents to see via a secure Web site. The conference will most likely usher in a new era of understanding just how universally applicable RFID technology has become. I’m willing to bet that in years to follow, RFID will have a much bigger presence at this show because people will have recognized its role in driving the Internet of Things. If you’re not yet convinced, we have an Infographic that could change your mind.

Where Does Your Food Come From? RFID Knows.

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Mar 05, 2012 @ 10:05 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Food Safety, Agriculture, Supply Chain, Cold Chain, Food & Beverage

Each year about 1 in 6 people in the United States gets sick from eating contaminated food, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Salmonella is responsible for many of the reported outbreaks and causes more hospitalizations and deaths than any other type of germ found in food. While E. Coli infections have been drastically reduced, there has been no reduction in people getting sick from Salmonella.

One way to cut down on illness caused by Salmonella is to apply lessons learned from past outbreaks as depicted below.

Farm Table

View larger version of the diagram (source: CDC)

Efforts to educate about prevention can be supplemented by enhancing the traceability of food shipments within the supply chain. The Food Safety Modernization Act calls for the FDA to focus on new food traceability rules to prevent contamination.

A report issued recenlty by ABI Research, “RFID-enabled Food Safety and Traceability Systems,”  reviews the Food Safety Modernization Act and provides forecasts for the use of RFID-enabled devices in cold chain applications. RFID allows the food industry to trace food items and record environmental conditions throughout the entire supply chain.

Sensors in RFID tags monitor the temperature and humidity of products. They can detect if the temperature for a specific food item goes above or below the ideal temperature, at any given time, and record that detail. Tags can be used on anything in the supply chain from the farms, to slaughterhouses, to pallets, to shipping containers, to grocery stores. Even the cows and pigs can be tagged.

You may remember the Orange Juice recall from this past January. CNNMoney noted that if there is wide adoption of a traceability solution in the industry, it could stop the contaminated food from being put onto store shelves in the first place, and help stop outbreaks before they start.

Aside from preventing food borne illnesses, ABI Research also points out that the information delivered by an RFID traceability solution could have a significant impact on the $35 billion a year in wasted produce. With the environment detail captured by the RFID readers during the supply chain, a grocer or manufacturer can determine precisely which containers were exposed to temperatures outside of the ideal range, and discard only those containers instead of discarding the entire shipment.

The prevention of waste or food borne illness is enough to warrant an RFID food traceability mandate in my book. Being able to impact both? I’ll let you do the math.

Ready! Set! Hut! Hut! RFID?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Dec 23, 2011 @ 09:08 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Sports & Entertainment

Sensor HelmetFootball is by far the most popular sport in the United States with much of its success being credited to its sheer brutality and gladiator mentality. Let’s face it; if you watch football on TV, you are likely drawn in by the bone crushing hits.

If you pay attention to the sports scene at all, you undoubtedly have been hearing a lot of discussion around player safety, specifically, the issue of concussions.  What was once referred to as “getting your bell rung” has now been more appropriately diagnosed as a concussion, and has sparked spirited debate over player safety and the ramifications of multiple concussions on a player’s long-term health.

The issue of concussions was largely ignored in contact sports such as football and hockey until the middle of the last decade when former Ivy League football player and former WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski wrote a critically acclaimed book called: Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis, which was published in 2006.  This book and his subsequent research and affiliation with the Boston University School of Medicine has shown a bright light on the issue of sports based concussions.

So what does Football have to do with RFID? 

I’m glad you asked.

Treehouse Labs, a product development firm based in Austin, TX recently announced that they will soon be testing a prototype along with Shockwave Impact Systems of Chicago that allows them to install a sensing system inside of football helmets in order to alert coaches and medical personnel when a player experiences an impact great enough to cause a concussion.  Using RFID, the data is transmitted to a web-based server that can be accessed via smartphones. The transmitters are expected to have a range of approximately 2.5 miles.

These developments have the potential to open up a whole new arena for RFID technology. In addition to football, contact sports such as hockey and lacrosse would seem a natural progression.  Other sports such as auto and motorcycle racing and cycling could benefit as well; information gathered from these sensors could assist medical personnel in diagnosing head injuries quicker and take the appropriate steps for treatment.

These are just the latest examples of how RFID is finding its way into our everyday experiences and improving the quality of our daily lives.

RFID Making Fresh Produce Cool

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Dec 13, 2011 @ 10:22 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Food Safety, Agriculture, Cold Chain, Temperature Monitoring

Cold ChainI have to admit that I buy organic milk, not just because I think it’s healthier for my family, but because I can stock up on it without the risk that it’ll go bad before we use it. Why does organic milk have such a longer shelf-life than regular milk? Maybe they’ve figured out something that the others haven’t. Maybe it’s Intelleflex.

Recently, the company developed what they call the Cool Chain Quick Scan. It helps farmers and shippers identify spots in their temperature-controlled supply chain - or cold chain - to improve freshness. This may sound familiar to you because during our 100 Uses of RFID program, we blogged about RFID enabling temperature tracking in real-time for sensitive, pharmaceutical shipments. Now we learn about it being used to track produce temperatures, which makes a ton of sense. 

The time for fresh produce to be harvested, cooled, processed and shipped can vary by hours and is influenced by several external factors beyond the farm. Air temperatures of refrigerated vehicles add to the complexity because they vary significantly, potentially causing the food to go bad before it reaches the store. That could explain the condition of the avocados I see in my supermarket.

The Cool Chain Quick Scan replaces guesswork, visual inspections and First In/First Out inventory methods, with a snapshot of the cold chain. It identifies, measures and documents the impact of the temperatures on the produce. The monitoring is continuous - from the field, to the pack house, through distribution, and finally the retail store. It sounds tedious, but with RFID, it’s easy and cost-effective.

RFID tags that use light, temperature and humidity sensors, are placed on the produce and processed as usual. For example, tags could be placed with produce in the field during harvest, or in pallets being transported from the pack house to distribution centers. Readers and condition monitoring tags use battery-assisted, passive RFID to read through pallets and containers with precision. The tags are removed at the pack house and mailed back to Intelleflex for analysis that is included in a detailed report, including:

  • Temperature variation that the product is experiencing
  • Amount of shelf life lost due to temperature issues
  • Impact on customer satisfaction
  • Recommendations to improve temperature management

This level of reporting can help farmers, distributors and retailers develop cold chain best practices.

By transforming climate monitoring from trailer-, container- and warehouse-tracking devices to individual pallet tags, RFID can give fresh produce suppliers detailed visibility into the lifecycle of the produce. They can use this new found visibility and resulting best practices to reduce shrink and improve profitability. Every fresh produce supplier’s dream come through thanks to – of all things - RFID.

100 Uses of RFID in Review

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Dec 17, 2010 @ 04:18 PM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, PSFK, ReadWriteWeb, MIT

100 Uses of RFIDWhen we launched our 100 Uses of RFID program earlier this year, we had an overarching goal of raising awareness of the many different types of wireless identification technologies available today.  Looking beyond traditional uses of ID technologies like radio frequency identification and sensors (RFIDS), we also wanted to explore the growing number of solutions where users are naturally interacting with RFIDS and where the technology is so integrated and transparent that it disappears into its environment.

Executing the program was an exciting challenge.  Through the use of our blog, press releases, YouTube and Twitter, we intended to promote innovative yet real RFID applications each business day for 100 days.  At the beginning, some called us out, wondering if we could sustain the pace we publicized.  ReadWriteWeb challenged our planCan they keep this up 95 more times?  That seems like a rough row to hoe.”  Thankfully, we were able to reach our goal on target and benefited from a follow up RWW article: Looks Like There Really Are 100 Uses for RFID and mention in their Top 10 Internet of Things Developments of 2010 round-up!

The visibility favorable editorial coverage has driven isn’t the only positive outcome.  This program has also led to ongoing dialog about innovative uses of RFID and sensing technology with users, prospective customers, business partners, and several industry and business media outlets.

We hope that the content generated for this program continues to be useful others.  For those of you interested in keeping track or guessing about what your peers are interested in, the most popular topics of the program to date are:

Race Timing with RFID

Enhancing the Patient Experience with RFID

The Next Revolution in Wireless and Mobility

Hospital Inventory Control with UHF RFID

The Batteryless RFID Imperative in Healthcare

RFID – The New Future of Retail

Of course we couldn’t have done it alone.  The ThingMagic team would like to gratefully acknowledge those who made this program possible, including our valued customers and partners for their editorial contributions, and the inspirational sources for several of the uses of RFID noted in our program, including RFID Journal, PSFK, the MIT Media Lab and many others.

And in today’s age of social media, we couldn’t have reached the audience we did without our growing community of blog subscribers and Twitter followers.  A special shout out to @AetherCzar for #WirelessWednesday mentions and @ZebraTechnology, @VeryFieldsRFID, @LPP_PR and @zanderliving for the many re-tweets!

Stay tuned for future programs as we continue to blog on the many uses of RFID.  If you have a unique use of RFID and/or sensor technology, let us know and we’ll consider it for a blog post or future marketing activity!

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