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ELA Innovation's Readers and Active RFID Tags Monitor Goods, Tools in Transit

The French company is marketing a tiny RFID reader—small enough to fit on the dashboard of a truck's cab—designed to track tagged items loaded in the vehicle's trailer.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 17, 2014

French RFID technology company ELA Innovation has released a compact RFID reader for its proprietary 433 MHz active RFID tags. The device, known as the Sciel Reader Lite, measures about 3.75 inches by 1.5 inches by 0.75 inch, is designed to fit under or on a truck's dashboard, and plugs into an automatic vehicle location (AVL) device (typically, a piece of equipment that combines GPS technology with a cellular communication unit). The reader would identify the tags attached to goods being transported by that truck, and the AVL would then transmit that information to the company managing the vehicle.

ELA Innovation spent its first four years developing active RFID tags and readers that were smaller than similar hardware already on the market, while offering a longer read range and life cycle. The firm is now focusing much of its business on the cold chain industry, in order to track the locations and conditions of goods being transported.

The Sciel Reader Lite, measuring about 3.75 inches by 1.5 inches by 0.75 inch, is designed to fit under or on a truck's dashboard.
An ELA tag consumes very little power, according to Willy Le Mercier, ELA's commercial business development manager. This, he explains, is because the tag is designed to transmit a low power pulse, via a proprietary air-interface protocol, in the microwatt range as opposed to milliwatts used by other active RFID tags. This low power consumption, Le Mercier reports, results in an average tag battery life of up to 10 years.

ELA's latest reader, the Sciel Reader Lite, is the smallest that the company has developed to date, and is designed to be easily attached to a dashboard so that a user can begin collecting data regarding tagged goods in the trailer—as well as the driver if he, too, is wearing an RFID tag in a badge. The reader comes with an internal RFID antenna. However, Le Mercier says, read range can be boosted from about 15 meters (49 feet) to approximately 80 meters (262 feet) with the installation of an external antenna. Like ELA's other readers, the Sciel Reader Lite model serves as a "hub" for active tags that can also transmit sensor data, such as temperature, humidity and door-lock status. The hub receives the RFID transmissions and forwards the data to a server via an AVL unit's cellular connection.

ELA was founded in 2000 to provide active RFID tags and readers that were compact and offered long read ranges. Compared with passive RFID tags, active tags can generally be interrogated at a greater distance, and their signals can pass more readily through a trailer wall or other materials. However, an active tag's larger size (compared with that of a passive tag) can make it cumbersome to attach to any small item. Engineers at ELA thus developed their own integrated circuit, as well as an antenna design that would allow for a very small form factor, even with the inclusion of a battery. ELA's tags are compact; the company's smallest tag, the Coin ID, measures just 36 millimeters (1.4 inches) in diameter and 10 millimeters (0.39 inch) in thickness, with a read range of up to 80 meters in open air.

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