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Motorola Embeds RFID Tags in Its Handheld Computers

The MC3100 series comes with a built-in EPC Gen 2 passive UHF tag, enabling users to keep tabs on the devices, as well as prevent their unauthorized removal from a company's premises.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 11, 2009Starting with its newest bar-code scanning handheld computers, the MC3100 series, Motorola will be embedding an RFID tag in the handle of every portable handheld computer model it releases. The tags will enable the company's customers to use an RFID reader to determine each device's location in a store's backroom, or at a distribution center (DC). In this way, if a computer is misplaced, a handheld reader could be carried through a warehouse to locate the device—or , if someone takes a computer through an RFID portal installed at exit or dock doors, a user could be notified that it is leaving the premises.

One of Motorola's MC3100 series handheld computers
The built-in EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tag is one of several features added to the MC3100 series, which became commercially available this month. The RFID tag was incorporated in response to the needs of consumers, says Sheldon Safir, a Motorola director of product marketing. The MC3100 follows the company's MC3000 series, he says, of which 750,000 units have been sold since 2004. The device was built for scanning the bar-coded stock-keeping unit (SKU) numbers printed on products on the retail sales floor, or in a stock room or DC, for price or stock management, inventory control, returns processing, shipping and receiving, baggage tracking and asset management.

The MC3100 series was designed to be small and easy to use, Safir says. "Workers use it because it feels good in their hand," he states. Although the size of the MC3000 made the device convenient to use, it was also easy to misplace. The newer version is intended to offer features that make it simpler to control. One concern users had expressed, Safir notes, was how to find the tool after it has been set down in a busy warehouse, or in a store's backroom. Motorola addressed this problem by embedding an RFID tag into the handle of the MC3100 model.

To locate a misplaced computer, a person would need to walk around a site while holding a handheld RFID interrogator, such as Motorola's MC9090-G RFID model. When the reader comes within read range of an MC3100 unit, it would read the ID number encoded in the computer's tag. Typically, the read range of a UHF RFID tag within a warehouse environment is 10 to 20 feet, Safir says. However, he adds, read range performance can be further reduced if the MC3100 is placed on a metallic item. The MC3100 does not include an RFID reader itself, nor is there an add-on RFID interrogator available for the device—at least, not at present.

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