RFID: Embedded Everywhere?


You may have come in contact with RFID (radio-frequency identification) at some point in the past year. Maybe you have realized it, attaching an RFID-enabled ID badge to yourself at work or even on your child as you send them off to school. Or maybe it has been more obscure, embedded in a wristband you donned when you hit a theme park or concert this past summer. The trend, as of late, is clear: RFID is blending into our everyday lives.

Consider a utility truck worker. As he is about to go out on a job, he checks his smartphone and immediately sees what tools and replacement items are in the back of his truck. He notices one particular item is missing and is able to restock before he leaves the office. Little does he know, this is enabled by RFID.

This utility truck example is a big one for ThingMagic, a division of Trimble, www.trimble.com, which has been an active name in RFID for years. The company’s Vice President of Business Development Bernd Schoner, explains why: “The mission that we are on is to have RFID be there, but disappear from people’s views and not interfere with their life.”

The challenge of enabling this in the past for the M2M community was the cost of the modules—but this is beginning to change. ThingMagic, for example, announced its Micro-LTE UHF RFID module in August, which provides a means to address a different segment of RFID applications. Schoner says for product authentication or to recognize an object in close proximity, you don’t necessarily need high performance; rather you need something that is inexpensive to enable the application.

He points to the example of a printer, with the ability to know how to use a cartridge, when it is empty, and whether it is the brand the printer expects. “For the printer, that module has to be very, very cheap. If you are buying a $200 HP printer, you can’t sell them a module for $200,” he says.

Therein lies the rub. This emerging market for M2M, where one item is able to recognize another, tends to center on objects—such as a printer—that are rather inexpensive. Schoner says that would be an ideal market for Micro-LTE.

Another market is product authentication and anti-counterfeiting, ensuring merchandise is authentic. “The consumer doesn’t even have to know it … the store operator doesn’t even necessarily have to know about it. You can put (those scanning devices) in POS (point-of-sale) stations, store counters. You can put those readers on the side of conveyer belts somewhere in the supply chain. You can have it at the shipping warehouse. The more readers you deploy, the more secure the system gets.”

From retail to manufacturing, Schoner says embedded RFID readers can also be installed at work stations in an automotive factory to identify the individual vehicle, tracking cars in assembly with UHF RFID.

RFID is beginning to pop up in more places, and soon with a little help from the M2M community, it could be embedded in more places—places you might not even realize.

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June/July 2014
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