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RFID News Roundup

Metro Group expands RFID program in Asia, India; ThingMagic unveils Gen 2 readers for fleet, trucking applications; TOP Food & Drug expands RFID-based loyalty program; Rush Tracking Systems acquires patents from International Paper; Nice RFID-enabled bicycle rentals; IDTronic launches new readers.
Jul 24, 2009The following are news announcements made during the last week.

Metro Group Expand RFID Pilots in Asia, India
Checkpoint Systems, a provider of RF- and RFID-based solutions for merchandise identification, tracking and security, has announced it is working with retailer Metro Group to further expand the retailer's "Tag It Easy!" RFID program into China and India. Checkpoint first began working with Metro Group to expand the retailer's RFID program in 2007, during several pilots conducted in those regions (see Metro Group Expands RFID Pilot in Asia). Checkpoint reports that the next phase of its work with Metro Group will involve more than 75 Chinese and Indian consumer goods suppliers, in addition to the 100 manufacturers already in the program from Hong Kong, China and Vietnam. Participants will apply ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID labels to shipments bound for Metro Group's distribution centers (DCs) in Germany. As an exclusive third-party solutions provider, Checkpoint will provide pre-printed RFID labels and services to the participants. The Checkpoint-supplied RFID labels store the Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC), which is then read at several points along the supply chain between the Asian and Indian regions and Germany. Metro Group receives an electronic advance shipping notice detailing the contents of each shipment, and the participants receive automatic proof-of-delivery notifications. Metro Group also utilizes UHF Gen 2 tags and interrogators to track pallets of goods it ships from its DCs to its stores (see Metro Group Says New Tag Helped It Meet Its RFID Goals and Metro Fleshes Out Its RFID Plans).

ThingMagic Unveils Gen 2 Readers for Fleet, Trucking Applications
ThingMagic, a privately held supplier of RFID readers, has announced its new Vega RFID interrogators, designed for use in commercial fleets, long-haul trucks, service vehicles and other vehicles carrying cargo. ThingMagic has also announced a developer's kit for the new readers. The Vega In Vehicle (IVR) and Vega Rugged Service (RS) interrogators leverage ThingMagic's Mercury5e embedded module, which is optimized for EPC Gen 2 tags and employs the RFID reader R1000 chip developed by Intel and now manufactured by Impinj. The Vega interrogators can be connected, via a serial interface, to on-board PCs, laptops, GPRS modems and telematics systems so that the readers can be extended to and integrated with custom PC and back-end tracking applications. For example, ThingMagic says, the Vega IVR might be used to expand visibility of shipments and cargo beyond the warehouse and yard to help companies reduce inventory shrinkage, maximize vehicle usage and improve delivery and service call rates. The Vega RS provides customers with an RFID reader that can operate in harsh environmental conditions, the company notes, such as manufacturing, forestry, mining, utilities and more. The North American and EU versions of the ThingMagic Vega RS and Vega IVR readers are available now from ThingMagic and its partners, with additional international versions expected to become available in the near future. The price is $745 for the Vega RS, $695 for the Vega IVR and $1,495 for the Vega Reader Development Kit. Volume and other discounts are available.

TOP Food & Drug Expands RFID-based Loyalty Program
TOP Food & Drug, a retail chain in Washington State, has announced that it has extended its RFID-enabled customer relationship program, known as TOP Connection, to all 18 of the chain's locations. TOP Connection leverages RFID-enabled loyalty cards, which work in conjunction with an Internet-based system that doles out such benefits as recall notifications, refunds of prices that drop following a purchase, and refund credit for items shoppers were dissatisfied with (see RFID Is TOP Priority for Store Loyalty Cards). The system, designed by Bellingham, Wash., software company Accelitec, also enables customers to manage their shopping experience on the store's Web site, where patrons can input a shopping list, track previous purchases and sign up for discounts later provided at the point of sale. Customers receive RFID-enabled key tags that contain 13.56 MHz passive RFID inlays compliant with the ISO 14443 standard and encoded with unique customer identification numbers. The retailer has also mounted RFID interrogators at its stores' payment terminals. TOP Food & Drug launched the RFID-enabled program at four of its stores in September 2008. "We've had an incredible response from our guests," said Becky Skaggs, VP of strategy and consumer at Haggen Inc. (the operating company of TOP Food & Drug), in a prepared statement, "because they see the value and benefits we offer are not available anywhere else in the grocery industry."

Rush Tracking Systems Acquires Patents from International Paper
RFID systems integrator Rush Tracking Systems has announced its acquisition of a portfolio of patents and intellectual property—all related to automated scanning technologies—from paper and packaging products company International Paper. Rush Tracking Systems plans to leverage the patent portfolio for VisiblEdge, its RFID-enabled lift-truck solution. VisiblEdge is designed to help identify and track the status and location of goods and assets in manufacturing and warehouse operations. The solution consists of VisiblEdge software, RFID data-collection devices, load-detection sensors and optical sensors for determining location. The acquired patents are designed to support the use of technology that combines automated load-scanning devices and a location-identification system. The technology can be incorporated into material-handling devices so that the units can automatically track physical inventory and other material-handling assets. According to Rush Tracking System, International Paper developed the technology in the late 1990s to track paper rolls at its manufacturing plants and finished goods warehouses; International Paper's RFID venture, Smart Packaging (later renamed Asurys), further enhanced the technology in the early 2000s (see Smart Packaging Sells Forklift Readers). "With the acquisition of this intellectual property," said Scott Andersen, Rush Tracking's VP professional services, in a prepared statement, "Rush Tracking can now provide the market-leading functionality and reliability of VisiblEdge, as well as the customer confidence that the solution is backed with significant patent protection provided by this robust portfolio of intellectual property." Andersen is also a former member of the Asurys team that developed the technology referenced in the patent portfolio.

Nice RFID-enabled Bicycle Rentals
Tourists and citizens in Nice, France, can use an RFID-enabled self-service program managed by the city to rent bikes and ride along the French Riveria. The new service, known as Vélo Bleu, was launched by Nice transport operator ST2N. Nice is the 18th city to use ASK contactless smart cards or contactless paper tickets for self-service bike rental. The French city of Lyon launched the first such service in 2000 (see Bike Rental Program Peddles Smart Cards), and similar operations are now being run in 11 other metropolitan areas in France (Paris, Plaisir, Cergy, Nantes, Amiens, Nancy, Aix en Provence, Marseilles, Besançon, Mulhouse and Toulouse), Spain (Sevilla and Santander), Luxemburg (Luxemburg City), Belgium (Brussels) and Ireland (Dublin). The bike rental program leverages smart cards and kiosks utilizing 13.56 MHz contactless technology from ASK that customers can use to rent bikes. When a customer utilizes the kiosk to purchase a paper-based pass or add credit to an already purchased plastic smart card, the kiosk will provide a code number and the rack number of the bike being issued. The customer can then locate the bicycle in the rack and enter that code number to unlock the bike's lock.

IDTronic Launches New Readers
IDTronic, an RFID hardware provider based in Germany, has rolled out a new RFID handheld interrogator called I-Prog, available in three different versions: low-frequency (LF), high-frequency (HF) and ultrahigh-frequency (UHF). The company has also announced the new Evo UHF USB stick reader for interrogating and encoding ISO 18000-6 Part B and C tags. The I-Prog supports either 125 kHz transponders, 13.56 transponders compliant with the ISO 14443 and ISO 15693 standards, or UHF transponders compliant with the ISO 18000-6B/C standards. It has a RAM capacity of 8 megabits and a flash memory range of 2 megabytes, and is equipped with a monochromatic LCD and 27 keys. The reader has an IP54 rating, and is resistant to water, shock and dust, so it can be used in harsh industrial environments. According to IDTronic, the mobile device's low-power consumption enables it to run continuously for up to 10 hours without the need for battery recharging. It supports both USB and Bluetooth communications, with Wi-Fi connectivity available as an option. The interrogator does not have an operating system, but is fully programmable via C++ and C# programming. The new Evo UHF USB stick reader, designed for use with USB-equipped terminals and laptop computers, comes with integrated configuration software, enabling it to operate with all common UHF frequencies in Europe, the United States and Asia, from 840 to 960 MHz. The device can operate at temperatures of up to 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) and has a built-in antenna that enables a maximum read range of 80 to 100 centimeters (31.5 to 39.3 inches). It includes a multicolor LED indicator for monitoring the reading status. The Evo UHF USB stick reader is available now, and includes a software developer's kit and demo software for Windows and Linux environments.
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