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The Real World of Active RFID Tags

Here's how the technology is being used today to solve real problems, and what's in store for the future.
By John Shoemaker

Recently, mobile readers of active RFID tags have been introduced into the ecosystem. Some are small enough to be plugged into a laptop, just like a USB memory stick. Another option is a battery-powered UHF RFID mobile reader that can be hung from a holster, with data transmitted to the PC or tablet via a Bluetooth connection. Using a Bluetooth-capable interrogator provides flexibility in operator use, especially in bad weather, in vehicles or in environments in which dangling wires are unacceptable, including those requiring i-SAFE or ATEX certification. Wireless mobile data capture provides a new level of efficiency when attempting to cover thousands of tags across large, open expanses.

Software Applications
RFID hardware can sense and deliver identification data, but the software can move and manage relevant information in the context of the application, creating actionable intelligence. Having software collect the RFID reads, monitor reader performance and provide certain alerts is the foundation. Above this is the need to feed data into other modules and the "cloud" that can analyze and present the proper data at the right time, with a user interface that makes sense of it all and then presents the information in a form that drives relevant and timely decision-making.

Customers are demanding application-specific, cloud-based integrated software solutions that can be fed by multiple data-capture devices, including active, passive, Wi-Fi, HF and low-frequency (LF) RFID technologies. Furthermore, automated systems not only provide analysis, trends and graphs, and issue alerts and alarms when necessary, but also offer predictive analytics that can be used to anticipate future needs and potential problems. The "predictive actioning" takes us to the next dimension for operational decision-making.

Real-Time Location Systems
For the past few years, there has been growing adoption of real-time location system (RTLS) technologies by hospitals to track and monitor medical equipment. In the future, this will expand to include the tracking of clinicians, patients and other personnel, to aid in managing all hospital resources.

Recently, Apple has endorsed the use of iBeacons, which will proliferate in retail applications. Smartphones provide GPS and location data with hundreds of thousands of apps. Rugged tablets have achieved ubiquitous use, even supplanting PCs in many cases. The industry will see a new wave combining tablets and smartphones with battery- and/or USB-powered RFID readers with Bluetooth capability that provides valuable real-time visibility. We will increasingly want to know where assets and people are located, even while both may be on the move.

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