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Alien Software Adds Context to Tag Reads

A free firmware upgrade will enable owners of Alien fixed readers to determine the direction, distance and speed of an EPC Gen 2 UHF passive tag.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
The ITR distance function is slated for use in an unlikely military application, though it was not developed specifically for this purpose, Stelter says. "When a military helicopter hovers over a load that it will transport, it uses a laser range finder to measure the distance between the cargo and the helicopter," he says. "But in desert or arctic environments, the rotors on the helicopter blow up enough sand or snow to interfere with those laser readings."

As an alternative, Stelter says, the military has tested utilizing the ITR software on a reader mounted within the helicopter, used to read a tag attached to the cargo in order to determine its distance from the aircraft. With this information, he explains, the pilot can quickly maneuver the helicopter in such a position the person standing atop the cargo can grab the cargo hook extended from the helicopter to that cargo.

Outside the military, Stelter says, there are a number of other beta testers who have evaluated ITR as well, including RFID systems integrator Xterprise. "The functionality [that ITR provides] is pretty exciting, because knowing the direction and velocity of a tagged object allows you to add context to reads," says Dan Ahearn, Xterprise's VP of alliances and partnerships. "The more granularity I can get on each tag read, the better."

Stelter also notes that the ability to singulate tags makes ITR attractive to airlines and airports employing RFID to track luggage, because it can reduce the number of physical barriers they must install on baggage-handling equipment to ensure that only the luggage directly in front of a particular reader antenna is detected.

Alien is not the first vendor to introduce a platform designed for adding additional context to EPC Gen 2 tag reads. Three startups—Los Angeles-based Mojix, RF Controls, in St. Louis, and Silicon Valley's Wirama—have introduced products in recent months that provide not only a tag's distance from a reader, but also its location in three dimensions (see New RFID Technology Helps Kraft, P&G, Kimberly-Clark Go the Distance and RFID 2.0). All three companies' systems use advanced phased array antennas to determine location. Mojix, Wirama and RF Controls have not yet released pricing, though their systems are likely to cost significantly more than conventional UHF readers.

Alien is offering its ITR software for free. Beginning June 30, existing users of the company's ALR-9900, ALR-9800 and ALR-8800 readers can download the software as a firmware update from the Alien Web site, along with a software developers kit and application notes. This will be available to those who purchase new ALR-9900, ALR-9800 and ALR-8800 readers as part of the Alien Reader Protocol software, which comes preloaded on the interrogator and also includes tag data filters and reader configuration settings.

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