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Precyse Technologies' RFID System Uses Beacons to Extend Reach

The company's iLocate technology enables companies to track assets in remote sites, by deploying multiple beacons that allow an RFID reader to communicate with battery-powered tags thousands of feet away.
By Claire Swedberg
In a typical installation, one reader is installed in the middle of a site, connected to a generator or battery for its power source. If the yard is larger than 6,000 feet across, a second interrogator is required. For a large outdoor yard of many thousands of feet, or for an interior location, multiple beacons would be deployed. The beacon is a small box that can be installed on ceilings, walls or poles in an array, about 300 to 900 feet apart. It uses its own battery, making it independent of power sources. The beacon transmits its unique ID number on a regular, preprogrammed basis.

When a Smart Agent tag comes within a beacon's vicinity, the tag captures that beacon's ID number, then integrates its own ID number with that of the beacon and transmits that data to another beacon, which forwards that information to other beacons until reaches the site's single RFID reader. The tags, beacons and interrogator all transmit at either 433 MHz or 2.4 GHz frequencies, complying with the IEEE 802.15.4 air-interface protocol—the same standard on which the ZigBee protocol is based. The interrogator can then utilize a GPRS or Ethernet connection to send the information back to the server. Tags can also be wired to sensors and programmed to transmit sensor data, such as temperature readings or the amount of fuel in a vehicle's tank.

To determine a tagged asset's general location (such as Zone A or Zone B), the system accesses a database containing each beacon's ID number and location. The tag can be instructed not to transmit information again until it loses transmission with that beacon (if it is being moved out of that beacon's range) or until it comes in range of another beacon. If the beacon transmission does not change, however, the tag does not send any data. In that way, Eizenberg says, it conserves battery life.

"We can send commands to the tag," Eizenberg says, "and remotely update the behavior of the tag by updating the tag's software." The value, he explains, is not only in being able to instruct that tag to change its own behavior—such as the amount of times it beacons, or what sensor data it transmits—but also in security.

Traditional readers, Eizenberg claims, can create an opportunity for someone outside of a site to access the local area network (LAN), by using the reader as a gateway to that LAN. "If the reader takes data from the air and forwards it into the LAN network," he says, "then anyone can use this 'bridge' between the wired LAN and air outside to inject attacks on the network." For example, an individual could send a signal imitating a tag's message that could have a malicious code. That can be avoided, Eizenberg notes, using bidirectional encryption—that is, instructing encryption keys to be exchanged between a tag and reader, so that data can still be safely transmitted, but no information would be accessible to an unauthorized individual trying to access the system.

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