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3DTAC Seeks RTLS Partners for Its Antenna Arrays

The Canadian company has developed low-cost RFID reader antennas that could be installed in arrays to create an RTLS with passive or active RFID tags.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 07, 2014

RFID technology startup 3DTAC says it has developed a specialized, low-cost antenna array, as well as an algorithm to control those antennas, that can provide specific location data related to passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag reads when wired to an off-the-shelf passive RFID reader. Installing these antennas around a facility on walls, ceilings or floors enables a company to read tags in a similar manner to how smart shelves operate, in real time, without requiring a battery for an active tag to increase the read range, or triangulation to identify its location.

3DTAC was founded in Toronto in 2012, but its founders, Eugene Rozumovich and Eduard Levin, began researching RFID solutions earlier. In 2003, Rozumovich founded fixed asset-management company Eracts Inc., which implements inventory-control software for U.S. and Canadian businesses and governments. Rozumovich says he and Levin (who joined Eracts in 2004) determined that there was a need for a real-time location system (RTLS)-based "hands-free" solution to tracking inventory that would create a digital grid for real-time tracking via a user's software. "Attending RFID conferences made clear to us that existing RFID technology has to be improved to get better results in reading accuracy, tag location and reading speed," he says.

3DTAC's Eugene Rozumovich
Once 3DTAC was founded, Rozumovich says, the new company began developing the RFID TAC Floor Tracking and Shelving Tracking modules for locating and recognizing passive RFID tags "in a 3-D environment using 3DTAC's low-cost, high-quality RFID TAC-controlled antennas and antenna arrays." The modules—consisting of conventional RFID readers, 3DTAC's specialized antennas and control devices—are designed for use with passive UHF RFID tags, but can also operate with active 433 MHz tags.

The system's 6-inch by 6-inch antennas (deployed in arrays of four to 16) can read tags at close or long range—up to 30 feet away. "We have downsized the antenna's activation area," Rozumovich says, "down to a [cubic] foot." This activation area constitutes a three-dimensional zone in which tags can be interrogated and encoded. The solution reads tags within a small, very specific "cell," not only horizontally but in three dimensions, thereby reducing the noise of many tags being read within a large area. Such RF interference, he explains, can lead to collision and thereby reduce read quality.

In a typical installation, Rozumovich says, approximately 80 smart-shelf antennas might be required at a store. The 3DTAC system could accomplish the same real-time read capability with eight or 10 antennas, he notes, depending on antenna size (3DTAC can make them in various sizes) and the performance of the reader deployed in conjunction with those antennas.

The technology also works with active RFID tags, Rozumovich says, which would be set to remain silent until awoken by a reader transmission. In this way, he explains, battery life is significantly longer and the system offers greater security since the tags will not transmit data unless they detect an authorized reader transmission.

3DTAC tested its technology at a tire retailer facility in order to track tire shipments, and with the Canadian government as part of the nation's Shared Services project, to consolidate data as well as standardize and consolidate hardware procurement. At the tire company, each tire on the shelf had an EPC Gen 2 UHF passive tag attached to it, and antenna arrays were mounted to the ceiling. The deployment also included a small 3DTAC "antenna-controlling box," an electronic device that acts as an antenna multiplexer, thereby controlling the interrogation area, and then forwards the results to the reader.

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