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)

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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
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)

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