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Snagg's RFID Chips Help Catch Thieves and, Occasionally, Murderers

The company's hosted server and microchips, based on animal-tracking technology, enable users to confirm ownership of items recovered by police or identified at a pawnshop.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 05, 2012Two years ago, Ron Wolff sought to formulate a solution that could help identify lost or stolen goods, based on technology with which his dog, Ticky, was all too familiar. Ticky, like many pets, had an embedded 134 kHz low-frequency (LF) passive RFID chip with a unique ID number that could help veterinarians or animal-control officers equipped with handheld readers to locate his owner in the event that the dog became lost. Wolff—who operates Lake Shore Cleaners, a landscaping business in Appleton, Wis.—realized that the technology could be used not only to track pets, but also items, especially valuable objects that often end up missing, such as guitars or construction-site tools.

Wolff set out to learn more about radio frequency identification. His search led him to a company already providing such technology: Snagg, a Palo Alto, Calif., firm founded by a musician who employed RFID to help identify stolen guitars (see RFID and the Arts). Wolff acquired the company, moved its headquarters to Appleton, and began offering the microchips to the mass market.

Snagg sells a handheld device known as the Pocket Reader, shown here reading an RFID tag embedded in a camera.

At its own online store, as well as through various retail partners, Snagg now offers an installation kit for $24.95. The kits consist of a microchip, installation instructions, epoxy glue (to hold the chip in place), a drill bit (in case drilling an item becomes necessary), and a set of stickers indicating the presence of RFID technology, if desired. According to Brian Schuh, the company's chief information officer, the company also sells microchips, in large or small volumes, to product manufacturers, distributors and end users.

The cylindrically shaped chips, measuring approximately a half inch in length and a 16th of inch in diameter, are designed to be attached to a variety of objects, such as on a contractor's tools, a gun collector's firearms or golf carts, in order to help identify any lost items that are recovered. The microchips are custom-made for Snagg by a third-party manufacturer located in India. In addition, Snagg sells a handheld interrogator known as the Pocket Reader, also manufactured for the company by a third party , that can be plugged into a PC or laptop. About a dozen companies, mostly located in Wisconsin and Minnesota, sell Snagg's RFID products, including Joe's Power Center, a lawn, garden and power-equipment business in nearby Kimberly.

Snagg passive LF tags are smaller than a penny.
Snagg's customers include Carvin Guitars, which embeds the chips within all of its instruments at the time of manufacture; Category Five Surfboards, which embeds them within the fiberglass of its boards; and multiple bicycle shops that offer to install the chips within the bikes for a fee. Carvin Guitars also sells Snagg retrofit kits to its own customers, who may opt to add tags to the instruments they already own.

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