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NFC Hype, the Future of Bluetooth Beacons and Ultracode 2-D Color Bar Codes

At the fall meeting of AIM's German branch, members debated the current and future state of auto-ID technology.
By Stefan Leske

Günther Trautzl, the key account manager for industrial solutions at software developer ICS, sees it similarly, and discussed the AIM SI (system integration) team during the meeting. The interface to transfer auto-ID data to merchandise-managing systems needs to be simplified and facilitated, he said. Therefore, the AIM SI team has worked together with the OPC Foundation to develop a software specification that will be published under the description Companion Standard at next year's Hannover Messe industrial fair.

The Ultracode
Regarding Optical Readable Media (ORM) technology, Pepperl+Fuchs' Wolfgang Weber talked about a revolution: the creation of the rectangular Data Matrix code. Previous Data Matrix codes were too big to fit on pharmaceutical packaging. Now, there are 13 new rectangular formats to address this problem. Up to 175 alphanumeric characters can be encoded to the new rectangular Data Matrix codes, whereas only 60 could be accommodated by the old version. Weber then described two new code types that can accommodate even more data: the Han Xin Code, developed by AIM China, and the Ultracode, created by Clive Hohberger with support from Zebra Technologies.

With the Ultracode—currently a draft specification developed by the AIM Technical Symbology Committee (TSC)—data can be encoded by means of colors, with many application possibilities afforded through the interpretation of these colors. While the classical industry scanner lacks a color camera, smartphones already have one.

Riding the Bluetooth Beacon Hype Cycle
"Summed up, Beacons (Android) and iBeacons (Apple) are based on Bluetooth wireless technology, which can contact software in the smartphone without starting up a specific app," explained Bernd Gruber, a cofounder of indoor positioning and navigation technology provider indoor.rs. Through this localization technology, for example, visitors to a trade-show booth can use their smartphones to ascertain which areas of that booth might be of interest. Another application involves automatic mapping: Through an intelligent network of several beacons, inside area maps can be automatically applied, without requiring a worker to measure the premises. Gruber cited San Francisco International Airport as an example of the advantages. "Such an airport is a construction site 365 days a year—there are frequent changes to the premises. With beacons, the mapping works automatically and in real time."

With this technology, you can also implement smartphone-based guides for blind people, for example (see San Francisco Airport Tests Beacons for Blind Travelers). The problem is that beacons are in hype mode at this point, and everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon for this new technology. Therefore, there are a lot of companies that manufacture low-quality beacons, which harms the technology's reputation.

"Let's take a look how the beacons will develop," said Frithjof Walk, AIM-D's CEO and FEIG Electronic's OBID sales manager, at the event's conclusion. "We already experienced a similar hype with the introduction of RFID technology. In the end, there were only a few left from many providers who used the technology profitably."

Stefan Leske is the head of PR and marketing at advanced PANMOBIL systems GmbH & Co. KG.

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