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Venture Research Adds More Intelligence to Its Surface Reader

The latest version can identify not only EPC Gen 2 RFID tags, but also Bluetooth beacons, enabling companies to track tools and other assets in real time.
By Claire Swedberg

If a hospital or another customer attaches both a Bluetooth beacon and a passive UHF RFID tag to each item being monitored, it can not only use the Surface Reader to record when a particular item is placed onto or removed from a specific shelf (by means of that object's passive RFID tag), but also use the item's Bluetooth beacon to track—via triangulation, provided that at least three surface readers are in use—where the item moves outside the RFID range of the refrigerator or cabinet.

In addition, Baker says, multiple Surface Readers can be daisy-chained via a CanBUS interface, so that one will act as a gateway with an Ethernet, cellular or Wi-Fi connection. It could then collect data from the other readers, forwarding it to a server where software would manage the collected information. Each Surface Reader comes with cellular and Wi-Fi functionality, enabling it to transmit data back to a server wirelessly, if configured to do so.

Venture Research's John Baker
The Surface Reader is available in as many as 25 different sizes—some as large as 6 feet by 4 feet, designed for large shelves. The standard size, however, is intended to be small (19, 24 or 27 inches square) and easy to fit into something like a small shelf or table surface.

The company began offering RFID-enabled cabinets to the pharmaceutical and health-care industry in 2011. At that time, Baker recalls, many of its customers were still waiting to determine whether high-frequency (HF) or passive UHF tags would become ubiquitous for tagging drugs, devices and specimens. Venture Research built readers that could support both transmission frequencies, then daisy-chained the devices together so they could better forward data to a server.

The latest version of the Surface Reader is made with a ThingMagic UHF RFID reader module and an antenna designed and manufactured by Venture Research. Several companies are currently using or testing the newest model's Bluetooth and UHF RFID functionality, while other existing users of previous versions are planning to deploy it. None of these companies were willing to comment about how they use the technology.

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