Enabling the Internet of Things

By Mark Roberti

EPCIS provides a way to share information regarding objects with corporate software, making the IoT a valuable tool.

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This year, there has been a lot of hype about the Internet of Things. There are many different visions of the IoT, and many different definitions. But in its strictest sense, the IoT is about linking objects to the Internet. Passive and active RFID systems provide connectivity for a multitude of low-cost items, containers, tools and other assets. Still, for the IoT to be valuable, there must be a way to share information about objects with corporate software systems. The EPC Information Services (EPCIS) offers that.

EPCIS is a set of software protocols that allow a company to share data captured by bar code, RFID and other systems with various internal software applications. The same protocols also allow machine-to-machine communication and sharing of data with business partners.

As our cover story in this issue explains, EPCIS bridges the physical and business worlds. Data from RFID tags and other IoT devices is stored in a database called an EPCIS repository. The EPC Core Business Vocabulary provides common definitions for all the data that populates EPCIS events, to ensure that departments within a company and business partners speak the same language. The EPCIS repository interfaces with internal and external systems via a second component, an EPCIS Accessing Application.

While all this might seem complex and ultra-technical, it is essentially a set of standards for sharing information via local-and wide-area networks—a layer that sits atop existing Internet standards that enable global communication. EPCIS also provides context about data captured—the what, when, where and why related to a tag read or some other IoT data captured.

This is an exciting development for businesses. Just as the Internet made sharing computer data cheaper and easier, EPCIS and IoT technologies will make capturing and sharing data about products in the supply chain, work-in-process and other activities easier and less expensive. One area in which this could have a big impact is the cold chain. Our Vertical Focus story in this issue reveals that more companies are using RFID sensors to monitor the condition of food, pharmaceuticals and other products. EPCIS allows for the sharing of this condition data so companies can make smart decisions.

Passive sensors may well proliferate into many other areas as innovators find new ways to harvest energy from ambient RF energy. This issue's Product Developments story looks at some of the advances in energy-harvesting techniques and how they are being used to power RFID tags and sensors.

Many businesspeople still have a hard time grasping exactly what the IoT is. The concept is likely to evolve over time, but imagining a world in which RFID transponders and inexpensive RFID sensors capture information about everything happening in the real world—and share the data via the EPCIS—is a pretty good way to grasp the power of the Internet of Things.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.