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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
Jul 05, 2016

Passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID alone does not always provide the reliability or read range required to track the movements of individuals and items within a large space. Active RFID tags (typically 433 MHz, 915 MHz or Wi-Fi) can be expensive to deploy when many tags are needed, while Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons are not designed to identify the location of a person or an object with a high degree of granularity. Bluetooth beacons are low-cost, however, and because they have a battery, they can be used in environments in which personnel or materials need to be read from up to 100 feet away, according to John Baker, Venture Research's president.

Based on the premise that hybrid solutions can often solve the numerous challenges that companies face in tracking tagged items or individuals, Venture Research has released a new generation of its Intelligent Surface Reader, incorporating UHF RFID and BLE technologies into a single device (when the Surface Reader was first launched in 2011, it supported only UHF RFID). The reader, measuring only a half-inch in thickness but available in a variety of lengths and widths, comes with an integrated antenna array and is designed to capture the ID numbers of passive EPC Gen 2 UHF tags located up to 2 feet above its plastic surface. However, it can also capture a signal emitted by a Bluetooth beacon as far as 100 feet away, depending on the transmission range set for that beacon.

Lining the four sides of the new Surface Reader is a strip of LEDs that illuminate green if the device reads the tags that are expected, and red if items are missing.
A strip of LEDs lines the four sides of the new Surface Reader, which illuminate green if the device reads the tags expected, or red if any problems occur, such as an item missing. This latter feature enables a company to install a Surface Reader on a shelf for storing tools, and to program the device to shine red anytime even one tool is missing, thereby ensuring that all tools are accounted for at the end of each shift or day.

Traditionally, Venture Research has offered RFID solutions for logistics, supply chain and material-handling applications, to track the locations of items and individuals. However, Baker says, there are numerous applications in which UHF RFID cannot solve a customer's problem. For one thing, RFID tags lack the long read range offered by beacons, and they can be blocked by the presence of fluids or metal, as well as the human body. At a portal, for instance, if a vehicle's driver has a passive RFID tag in his or her back pocket while driving through a gate, that tag will likely remain unread. If the tag is attached to a laptop, Baker adds, it can be very difficult to read, especially if an individual has his or her hand over the tag while carrying the computer through a portal, or if it is packed in a bag or satchel.

On the other hand, the shorter range of passive RFID can prove advantageous in other use cases. In a refrigerator or on a tool bench, for example, the Surface Reader can detect, via RFID, when a tagged item is removed from and returned to the shelf or cooler.

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