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OATSystems Bets on Low-Cost RFID

The startup has developed some of the software the Auto-ID Center needed to make its low-cost RFID network operate efficiently.
Tags: Standards
Jul 09, 2002July 9, 2002 -- In the list of sponsors on the Auto-ID Center's Web site, there is one name that doesn't stand out -- OATSystems. The company joined the center recently, but was never announced. And OAT's Web site provides nothing more than the company's name, address and contact numbers.

Like many of the companies doing pioneering work on low-cost RFID, OAT is virtually unknown. But it has played an important role in developing some of the software systems that will run the Auto-ID Center's global network for sharing electronic product codes.

OAT is now hoping to capitalize on that work. It recently joined the Center as a sponsor, and its representatives sit alongside executives from technology giants like Intel and Sun Microsystems at meetings.

OAT was formed in April 2001 and has been working with the Auto-ID Center for about a year. Just as ThingMagic was hired to develop a reference specification for a low-cost agile reader, OAT was hired to develop the software framework.

The company had a hand in developing Savants, the distributed network software that will manage the flow of data from RFID readers, and the Object Name Service, which directs computers to information on a specific product. It has also worked on the Physical Markup Language servers, which will store data on products.

All of these systems belong to MIT, which will probably license them free of charge to companies that want to use them. Ironically, OAT had to make a donation to become a sponsor so it could get access to the technology it developed.

"We want to develop systems on top of the framework -- tools and applications that are not part of the current framework," says Laxmiprasad Putta, a founder of OAT.

Putta actually worked at the Auto-ID Center while working on his masters at MIT under Prof. Sanjay Sarma, who is a founder of the Auto-ID Center and is now the head of research at its MIT lab. Putta was studying automated manufacturing. He graduated in 1998 and went to work for i2 Technologies.

While at i2, Putta and two others decided to form their own company to offer software that would process large volumes of credit card transactions securely. Auripay, as the company was called, grew from three people to 47 and was sold last year to Cyota, a leading payment and security technology company based in New York.

Putta's knowledge of high-volume transactional systems was something Sarma and the Auto-ID Center could use. "If you look at RFID, it is as high a transaction volume as you can expect," says Putta. "So it made sense for us to work on the Auto-ID Center's transaction systems."

OAT now plans to develop products based on the work it has done for the Auto-ID Center. Putta says he's not sure exactly what form those products will take, but envisions tools that will capture, filter and analyze data and maybe provide alerts.

"We're developing the next layer of the framework," he says. "We are working with a bunch of people to find out what are the applications that companies need."

Putta doesn't see OAT competing with SAP and the intelligent applications it is building with BiosGroup (see BiosGroup's Intelligent Agents Could Hold Key To RFID-Driven Supply Chains). Instead, OAT will focus on developing the software infrastructure companies will need.

"So many companies like i2, Oracle and SAP can take advantage of a clean, real-time data signal from RFID system," says Putta. "What we want to do is develop the infrastructure that enables them to get that signal."

OAT already has 14 customers, and it now has 15 employees, including some doing development in India. But the company's future is closely tied to the success of the Auto-ID Center.

"Like any startup, we are betting on a technology, and standards drive technology towards adoption faster," he says. "So if the standards are adopted, then all the players in this industry like us are going to benefit quite dramatically."
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