New RFID Readers Share Power, Easing Installation Complexity

By Claire Swedberg

SensThys is releasing five new reader devices designed to be networked together, with up to 90 watts of Power-over-Ethernet, that can be used to cover up to 100 read points with a single gateway and a PoE connection.

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RFID technology company SensThys is releasing a family of UHF RFID reader and gateway products aimed at making deployments simpler, less expensive and more effective. The new readers employ Power-over-Ethernet (POE), the company reports, and can receive up to 90 watts of power that can be forwarded to other readers within a network, thereby reducing the need for cabling and driving down installation costs. SensThys demonstrated its new products at this week’s RFID Journal LIVE! conference and exhibition, held in Phoenix, Ariz.

The portfolio includes the SensX Extreme, which serves as a rugged gateway reader with numerous internal sensors; the SensArray Enterprise, with 90 watts of power and the ability to output its power for up to 25 readers and 100 read points; the SensArray Pro, with 30 watts of power and 16 read points; the SensArray One Pro, with the potential for four read points; and the SensArray One, designed for commissioning with a single read point.

Neil Mitchell

Last month, the company announced a partnership with Microelectronic Technology Inc. (see RFID Technology Companies Team for Product Development) to enable the design and production of products such as those the company is releasing this spring, according to Neil Mitchell, SenThys’s sales and marketing VP.

The release was driven by customer feedback about the RFID products currently available on the market, and the complexity that comes with them. For instance, says Jo Major, SensThys’s CEO, they tend to require numerous independent readers and sources of power to cover large areas. PoE reader networks are often low in power, which reduces performance, with a limited number of read points. “We wanted to absolutely address any questions our customers had around performance,” Mitchell explains, “or the number of readers that can be networked together.”

Many of the shortcomings are centered around power, Mitchell notes. So while standard PoE readers typically accept 15 or 30 watts of power, the SensArray Enterprise can receive 90 watts. The device then shares that power with its neighbors (other SensArray readers). Up to 24 readers could be powered by the Enterprise device when RFID tag read points are time-sliced, the company reports—that is, cycling between antennas. That enables more than 100 read points within an environment in which periodic read captures are required. That, according to SensThys, could enable coverage of a 10,000-square-foot building.

If users have deployed readers at portals and require that all readers operate full-time, Major says, “There could be six portals running full-time, all the time,” power-sourced via a single SensArray Enterprise device. The reader also comes with a general-purpose input-output (GPIO) connection to enable the addition of such peripheral devices as a light stack or a motion detector. That means spot lighting at a portal, or a stack that illuminates to indicate a read event, could be powered directly by the reader. A motion detector to prompt the reader to begin interrogating tags could also be connected via the GPIO.

The SensArray Enterprise is designed for use at large locations, such as factory environments or warehouses. The system could also work in retail environments, with a single reader such as the SensArray Pro installed within each fitting room. The Enterprise is priced at $1,099, and since it can be networked with low-cost readers, the price of an RFID deployment is relatively low. That is not just because the hardware is inexpensive, the company notes, but also due to the low installation expense.

The SensX Extreme, another PoE device, is designed for use in rugged, outdoor or other extreme environments, including those that may not be permanent, such as in an agricultural or racing environment. The device has been developed to have an IP67 rating, with robust connectors, as well to withstand extreme conditions. “This is the first reader out there that’s really capable of running outside in a place where you’re exposed to the elements,” Major states. “This product is designed to go there and do just fine.”

The unit is also designed to be easily installed in temporary deployments, Major says, and can be deployed and put into use within a day. Other readers require a NEMA box to protect them from the elements, he notes, which requires additional configuration, such as routing power through that box and ensuring proper seals to protect the reader from the weather. That matters, he adds, since many agricultural or race-timing installations are temporary.

Jo Major

The Extreme system includes passive UHF RFID, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons and Bluetooth tags, and supports Wi-Fi, GPS and three sensors: an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a pressure sensor. It comes with support for four external antennas, but has no internal antenna. The SensArray readers all have the ability to forward data to other reader devices in a daisy-chain fashion. Because of the high-power functionality of the SensArray, Mitchell says, the power is also forwarded to each device. “Our readers can input and output power almost like it’s data,” he states.

One use case for the Extreme is the management of data at construction sites, at which a reader can identify where assets or workers are located. If the device is mounted in the cargo hold of a truck with antennas, for instance, it could temporarily follow a high-value payload. For that application, the SensX Extreme could identify not only what was in the vehicle and where that vehicle was located, but also such information as shock exposure. What’s more, the device could be installed on construction scaffolding in order to identify which individuals or items were within the vicinity, of if someone was on the scaffolding, based on accelerometer measurements.

The system is currently being tested in the agriculture market, in which RFID-tagged sheep pass through a chute to be weighed. As the animals run across a weight scale, data is collected at the same time that each sheep’s unique ID number is captured, thereby linking each weight measurement with a specific animal.

The SensArray One, One-Pro and Pro are three subset versions of the SensArray Enterprise readers. The One and the One-Pro feature 90-watt inputs and serve as entry-point reading or four-read point solutions, while the Pro serves as a gateway to power neighboring readers, like the Enterprise, but with fewer maximum read points. The SensArray Pro and Extreme are being released this month, while the One-Pro, One and Enterprise models are expected to be released on May 1. The company will also offer SensArray Kits that have been upgraded to include the new products.