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Iotera Develops Active RFID Tag With 4-Mile Read Range

The tag, which has a built-in GPS receiver, will be offered in consumer and enterprise versions, enabling users to identify a tag's location via an Iotera RFID reader and a hosted application.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 24, 2014

California RFID technology startup Iotera will begin marketing a new active radio frequency identification tag that can transmit location- and sensor-based data at a distance of more than four times that of most active tags. The tag—part of Iotera's Wireless Sensing and Tracking Platform—includes a GPS unit, a temperature sensor and an accelerometer so that it can send its longitude and latitude, along with its temperature or movement status, to a reader located as far as four miles away.

The platform, which the company expects to make commercially available during the fourth quarter of this year, will be offered in two versions: a consumer-based model for tracking pets, individuals and personal items from people's homes, and an enterprise-based solution for monitoring assets or personnel at worksites and storage yards. On the enterprise level, Iotera expects several pilot projects to launch sometime during the next few months. A railroad company will use the technology at a rail yard, a school district will use it to track students arriving on campus or traveling to and from school, and a ski resort is considering a test of the system's ability to provide emergency support by identifying the location of a skier wearing the tag in a badge while on the slopes.

The consumer version of Iotera's tag measures 25 millimeters by 40 millimeters by 11 millimeters.
Ben Wild, Iotera's CEO and cofounder, says he began looking into active RFID solutions with a longer read range than those of passive or other existing active RFID systems several years ago. Iotera, he adds, has been developing its tag and reader ever since.

Wild initially cofounded Wirama, a company that provided technology to track passive RFID tags in such locations as warehouses or stores, in 2007 (see Startup Brings Locationing to Passive RFID). That firm was acquired by Checkpoint Systems in 2009. At that time, Wild says, he began researching other solutions.

"After the Checkpoint acquisition, since mid-2009, I decided to start looking at active RFID," he states, noting that passive technology poses problems for users that have a large space in which to track goods or individuals. To ensure the tags are read frequently, a large infrastructure of readers is necessary, which can be expensive. Existing active RFID tags on the market, he says, offered read ranges closer to a few thousand feet, which was still too short for some applications.

What Iotera developed is a 900 MHz battery-powered tag that employs a proprietary air-interface protocol to transmit signals with a low data rate—sending several hundred bits per second—and thereby enabling a longer range. The technology also features a specially designed radio that processes signals in such a way that it can accomplish a very long read range.

To enable users to determine an item's location, the company added a GPS chip to the tag. The GPS chip determines the tag's location to within about 5 to 10 meters (16.4 to 32.8 feet), and the tag transmits that data to the reader. Both the consumer and enterprise versions of the tag come equipped with a temperature sensor, as well as an accelerometer so that the software receiving information from the reader can determine when a tagged object has been picked up or moved.

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