Where RFID, Sensing, and RTLS Meet
New developments bring together RFID and sensors — and add location-identification capabilities.
Two announcements touting recent RFID advances stood out among many. SecureRF's new RFID tag with security and cold chain management features (including a temperature sensor), claims to actively authenticate and encrypt reader/tag communications—an industry first. It will help pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors provide a tamperproof record—right down to the item level—that will prove the packaged drug is authentic, and ensure privacy by allowing only authorized readers access to sensitive information. (www.sensorsmag.com/1206/SCrfid1)
Another developer, AirGATE Technologies, says its surface acoustic wave (SAW)-based RFID tags passed tests for operation at extremely high temperatures. The tags were heated to 700°F (371°C), and then successfully read with AirGATE's SAW reader. SAW devices make accurate temperature sensors and also work well in the presence of liquids and metals. (www.sensorsmag.com/1206/SCrfid2)
Location, Location, Location
Kris Pister, who developed "smart dust," the self-organizing wireless network of tiny sensors commercialized by Dust Networks, points out in a recent eWeek article that current technology doesn't necessarily tell you where your RFID-tagged object is right now. Instead, it tells you where your object was the last time it was in range of an RFID reader. But RF Time of Flight, the next phase of Pister's sensor network development, would give active RFID tags/motes the ability to discern their location based on triangulation with other RFID motes. So reports Melanie Martella in a recent Today at Sensors commentary on the Sensors homepage (www.sensorsmag.com). "This presents a radical shift in how RFID is implemented," she writes—and then observes that this development continues the trend to combine data from mobile assets with location. (www.sensorsmag.com/1206/SCrfid3)
Other reports corroborate Martella's assertion. For instance, high-accuracy positioning is one goal of a partnership between Nanotron Technologies GmbH and semiconductor giant STMicroelectronics that will focus on real-time location systems (RTLS) development. The partners' new solutions will operate on emerging low-data-rate networks that comply with the IEEE 802.15.4a wireless standard, and promise robust communication and precision ranging along with positioning. (www.sensorsmag.com/1206/SCrfid4)
Here's another example: A new, patent-pending wireless tracking and sensing technology called the Enterprise Dot (Figure 1) is, according to maker Axcess International, the world's lowest cost and smallest multifunctional wireless device for delivering previously unavailable data in real time. It's intended for supply chain visibility, mobile asset management, physical security and access control, and industrial condition monitoring.
Figure 1. Axcess International's new Enterprise Dot bridges sensing, RFID, and RTLS
The Dot promises to solve the reliability issues of passive RFID and the connectivity problems of sensors, provide interoperability between standards, enable a data store-and-forward capability, and reduce the cost and tag size of active RFID/RTLS while enabling new applications. Axcess's first Dot-based product will be a software-definable, battery-powered Dot-OEM module for product manufacturers to embed into such items as test and medical equipment, credential cards, and cartons. (www.sensorsmag.com/1206/SCrfid5)
Try By Year End
Need incentive to toe-dip in RFID? Savi Technology is offering a licensing program covering its intellectual property for active RFID. Savi launches the program with a Quick Start plan, available through Dec. 31, 2006, that involves lower up-front fees as encouragement for early participation. (www.sensorsmag.com/1206/SCrfid6)
Stepping Up Large-Scale Security
New developments are advancing security capabilities for large facilities. For example, Vidient Systems, developer of intelligent video surveillance and analysis software, is partnering with Intergraph Corp., provider of spatial information management software, to integrate Vidient SmartCatch with Intergraph's integrated command-and-control system. The partners plan to enable public security personnel with a single, simplified visual security picture of their entire facility, including perimeters and access points. The integrated solution provides incident command, spatial awareness, advanced behavior recognition, and incident management. This new capability promises real-time detection of security breaches, accelerated response times to incidents, and streamlined coordination and management among the full range of safety and security agencies involved. (www.sensorsmag.com/1206/SCsec1)
Along similar lines, Siemens Building Technologies has acquired VistaScape Security Systems, developer of automated video analytic technology designed to protect critical structures (e.g., airports) from an array of threats. The deal promises to substantially expand VistaScape's potential. "VistaScape provides a platform to deliver integrated surveillance applications that enhance the value and effectiveness of the entire security infrastructure. This is a core enabling technology for security integrators globally," says Jens Michael Wegmann of Siemens. (www.sensorsmag.com/1206/SCsec2)
Software Enables Manufacturing Integration
UGS Corp. says its Tecnomatix Production Management portfolio, a family of manufacturing shop-floor applications, is the first software to integrate production management with overall product lifecycle management (PLM) process. UGS says the software effectively expands the value of PLM by bridging the gap between product design and production processes, enabling manufacturers to accelerate product launches, streamline regulatory compliance, facilitate lean manufacturing, and implement continuous process improvement. (www.sensorsmag.com/1206/SCmfg1)
Also working to leverage manufacturing data for business benefit, Rockwell Automation has added two new tools to its FactoryTalk software suite. The new FactoryTalk Integrator allows manufacturers to more easily connect their plant-floor applications with higher-level business systems for more responsive and informed decision-making. And FactoryTalk Portal helps manufacturers increase productivity by allowing them to consolidate their Web-based interfaces into one manageable and configurable launch point. Both products incorporate IBM's WebSphere middleware for increased application-to-application connectivity with performance and scalability. (www.sensorsmag.com/1206/SCmfg2)
Border Chief Says . . .
The federal government is spending billions on new Border Patrol agents and on sensor and radar networks in remote areas of the U.S.-Mexico border. The new commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Ralph Basham, recently discussed border security with reporters. (www.sensorsmag.com/1206/SCborder)
Dawn Helton was the fifth patient in the world to try the new Geodesic Sensor Net (GSN), a "high-tech cap" made of electrodes, reports News 14 Carolina. The GSN records brain waves and lets doctors see epileptic seizures as they happen. Use of the cap is intended to replace the current invasive method, where surgeons place electrodes directly on the brain before removing the problem area. (www.sensorsmag.com/1206/SCseizure)