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New System Marries RFID Location Data With Item Info

Cisco announced its new Cisco Motion vision to simplify integration of mobility technologies. The centerpiece is the Mobility Services Engine, which can supplement RTLS location data with sensor information about an item's status and condition. RTLS, RFID, and enterprise IT companies are supporting the initiative with software development.
May 28, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

May 28, 2008—A new mobility initiative from Cisco Systems includes support for features that enable real-time locating systems (RTLS) to go beyond just reporting location to include information about a tagged object's work status, motion alerts, temperature, and input from other sensors.

The Cisco Motion vision that the Silicon Valley giant announced today includes the Cisco 3300 Series Mobility Series Engine (MSE), a network appliance that supports software for adding sensor input and other "contextual" information to location data for WiFi-standard RTLS tags and other mobile devices. The MSE includes the AeroScout Location Engine developed by AeroScout of Redwood City, California, for its own RTLS solutions. The integrated AeroScout product has been re-branded as Cisco's "Context-Aware Software" and enables a single MSE appliance to provide location and other data for up to 18,000 active RFID tags.

The MSE supports both the received signal strength indication (RSSI) and time difference of arrival (TDOA) methods of location calculation, which are advantageous for indoor and outdoor use, respectively. Many RTLS systems use only one of the technologies, and thus are best suited for either indoor or outdoor use, not both. The tags can also receive input from integrated sensors or those that communicate via telemetry technology.

"What this product means is organizations can go one step broader for location," AeroScout director of marketing Josh Slobin told RFID Update. "Companies are getting a broader set of information about their assets."

Many hospitals use RTLS systems to track IV infusion pumps. AeroScout said customers report that about 25 percent of the time a technician goes to collect a pump for service, the pump can't be removed because it is being used. Functionality supported in Cisco's MSE can solve this problem by using a sensor to report whether the pump is on or off when giving its location.

"We've been seeing a lot of incremental interest, particularly in manufacturing healthcare, to have sensor data and input for their RTLS systems," Chris Kozup, Cisco's senior manager of mobility solutions, told RFID Update. "They want the ability to source intelligence from the network. For us the question became: 'How do we make that intelligence available in a consistent way?'"

The company responded by developing the Cisco Motion vision and Cisco MSE product. The MSE appliance includes an open application programming interface (API) to encourage application development by software firms, integrators, and device makers. Cisco said several of its partners are already developing new applications for the MSE. These companies include IntelliDOT and OATSystems in the RFID space, and HP, Nokia, and Oracle at the enterprise level. Cisco is offering an API toolkit for application developers, according to Kozup.

"Cisco should not be the only company providing applications," he said.

No third-party applications have been released. The Context-Aware Software is one of four software packages Cisco is originally releasing with the MSE. The others are:
  1. Mobile Intelligent Roaming -- which lets wireless devices switch between WiFi and cellular networks.
  2. Adaptive Wireless IPS -- a wireless network security program that provides intrusion detection, authentication, network analysis, and performance monitoring.
  3. Secure Client Manager -- which centralizes and simplifies mobile device provisioning.
The Mobility Services Engine has a list price of $19,995, exclusive of application software. The appliance and Context-Aware Software are scheduled for release in June. Cisco plans to release the roaming and network security software in the second half of 2008, and the Secure Client Manager in the first half of 2009.

The unifying theme to the Cisco Motion vision is to make networks easier to integrate and manage, and to support more functions. Kozup said RTLS and RFID systems are evolving from niche, standalone uses and must be supported by enterprise IT structures.

"If you look at the user organizations out there, they tend to have siloed networks and siloed applications for RFID, RTLS, wireless LAN, etc.," he said. "To really enable broad-based solutions for our customers, we have to deliver them the tools to unify these networks and break these silos."

Cisco and AeroScout already jointly marketed RTLS systems before they co-developed technology for the Mobility Services Engine (see Cisco, AeroScout Team to Market WiFi RFID). AeroScout said it has certified its WiFi tags and MobileView application software to work with the MSE through the open API. These supporting products will be available to Cisco's channel through Cisco, and through AeroScout's existing distribution channels.

See AeroScout's announcement
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