RFID News Roundup

Trimble updates ThingMagic embedded RFID readers; Identec Group raises $7.5 million in round of private financing; Google unveils NFC-based mobile-payments service; ODIN Labs completes benchmark tests on high-memory RFID tags; Frick offers new RFID floor tags for warehouse operations; HCT USA intros slim PDA with wireless RFID reader; U.K. contactless solutions companies, ACT and sQuid, merge.
Published: May 26, 2011

The following are news announcements made during the past week.

Trimble Updates ThingMagic Embedded RFID Readers

Trimble has announced new capabilities for its ThingMagic Mercury6e (M6e), Mercury5e (M5e) and Mercury5e-Compact (M5e-C) embedded ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID reader modules. Available through a firmware upgrade, the added functionality is designed to provide customers with an enhanced set of tools to develop more innovative and customized RFID solutions for worldwide deployment, according to Trimble. Key enhancements include continuous read capabilities for moving-tag applications in which precise tag reading in dense, fast-paced environments is required. According to Trimble, when operating the RFID reader in continuous-read mode, tag reading runs continuously and is not interrupted by inserting other tag operations between read cycles—a necessity when a high volume of tags are moving at a fast pace. Another feature, BlockWrite, is used when the standard EPC Gen 2 write-one-word-at-a-time mechanism is too slow. On tags that support the BlockWrite command, the feature provides faster writing of data to a tag, by writing more than one word at a time, Trimble reports. Applications that store a large amount of information on a tag will find this feature beneficial, the company indicates—and, in some cases, mandatory. Any application in which information is carried directly by a tag, and not kept in a database indexed by the tag’s Electronic Product Code (EPC), is a candidate for this feature. In internal tests, when using BlockWrite, as many as 20 words were written on a tag in 1/10th of a second, Trimble reports; without BlockWrite, it took 4/10ths of a second to write that many words. Another key feature of the upgrade is enhanced channel hopping, resulting in improved read time. The upgrade also adds custom-command support for newer RFID tags developed with integrated circuits (ICs) from NXP Semiconductors and Impinj. According to Trimble, these custom commands provide for such things as additional anti-eavesdropping security and support for a tamper alarm. Additionally, a Write Tag EPC command can now be applied selectively or non-selectively to all tags within a field with a single command, reducing the time required to encode large tag populations. Support for optional EPC Gen 2 functions, including eXtended PC field and BlockPermaLock capabilities, is also available. In addition, the company has enhanced its ThingMagic MercuryAPI, the universal application programming interface (API) for all of ThingMagic’s fixed/finished and embedded RFID reader products. The updated version adds Java support for M6e application development, as well as C-API support for the M5e. With this upgrade, the MercuryAPI now provides universal Java, .NET and C support across ThingMagic’s entire embedded RFID product line. Lastly, the overall upgrade addresses new regulations for UHF RFID reader operation in Korea, by adding full Korean regulation conformance to the M5e. The firmware upgrade is expected to be made available beginning on May 24, 2011. Existing RFID reader module customers with a current support contract can acquire the upgrade at no additional cost.

Identec Group Raises $7.5 Million in Round of Private Financing

RFID solutions provider Identec Group has announced that it has completed a $7.5 million equity capital round with private investors. The company says the new financing will be used to fuel further expansion in the multibillion-dollar U.S. RFID solutions market, and to fund the organic growth of its member companies. Identec Group holds 100 percent of significant ownership in nine RFID solutions businesses, and maintains substantial sales and marketing operations within the United States, including four U.S.-based RFID companies. “We are gratified by the confidence placed in us by our new investors,” said Dietmar Amann, Identec Group’s CEO, in a prepared statement. “They recognize, as we do, the tremendous potential of RFID technology and solutions across many industry segments. This new financing will not only help escalate our U.S. expansion plans, but also the advance of our customer-facing solutions in key markets globally.” Last month, Identec Group changed its name (it was formerly known as RFID Invest) and announced a new business strategy that it says is intended to promote technology, marketing, and operational and financial cross-fertilization among its RFID companies, as well as fuel the growth of member companies in vertical markets (see Identec Group Adopts New Growth Strategy to Go With Its New Name).

Google Unveils NFC-based Mobile-Payments Service

Google has introduced a mobile-payment application known as Google Wallet, based on Near-Field Communication (NFC) RFID technology. The new solution will allow consumers to pay for goods and redeem coupons simply by touching or waving their NFC-enabled phones near a receiver. Participating retailers include Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, RadioShack, Subway, Toys , and Walgreens. Google’s Nexus S 4G, available through Sprint, will be the first phone to support the new service. NXP Semiconductors is providing the NFC solution for the Google Wallet, leveraging NXP’s PN65 NFC mobile transaction solution that integrates an NFC radio controller, the embedded secure element and NFC software in a single device. The embedded secure element uses advanced cryptography to offer a high level of security for mobile transactions, NXP reports. Google Wallet is currently being field-tested in San Francisco and New York City, according to a blog on the company’s Web site, and will soon be released. With the mobile app, users will be able to store credit cards, offers, loyalty cards and gift cards. When a user taps his or her smartphone near an NFC reader (compliant with the ISO 14443 or ISO 18092 standards) to pay for a purchase, the phone will automatically redeem offers and earn loyalty points for that shopper. Google Wallet will support both a Citi MasterCard and a Google Prepaid Card. Google reports that it plans to develop application programming interfaces (APIs) that will enable integration with numerous partners, and that it will expand to support more phones over time. The firm has been ramping up its NFC capabilities since late 2010. Last November, Google launched its Hotpot service, which it describes as a local recommendation engine. Hotpot lets local patrons report on the businesses they like, by using their NFC-enabled mobile phones to scan short-range passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags embedded in “Recommended on Google” window decals adhered to business’ store fronts (see Google Brings RFID-enabled Hotpot to Portland, Austin). This past March, the company took its Hotpot service to Las Vegas (see RFID News Roundup: Google Takes NFC-enabled Search Service to Las Vegas). Hotpot is an adjunct to Google’s Places pages, which feature Web pages that the search engine’s users can access to find information regarding a particular business’ hours of operation, as well as photos, videos, coupons, customer ratings and reviews. Places pages are initially created by Google, but business owners can edit and update their individual pages, such as verifying Google search and maps information, responding to reviews, adding coupons or offers, and more. The NFC-enabled Hotpot NFC tags in the decals are encoded with ID numbers that instruct NFC-enabled phones to display the appropriate Places pages associated with those businesses.
ODIN Labs Completes Benchmark Tests on High-Memory RFID Tags

ODIN‘s scientific research and testing division, ODIN Labs, has published a new report that compares the performance of high-memory RFID tags designed to comply with SAE International‘s AS5678 specifications for passive RFID tags intended for aircraft use. SAE AS5678 spells out requirements regarding a tag’s ability to withstand specific variations in temperature, air pressure, vibration, shock and other environmental factors (see A Flurry of High-Memory Tags Take Flight). For its High Memory RFID Tag Benchmark report, ODIN Labs employed scientific methods and objective testing to determine the best RFID tag with a memory capability of at least 4 kilobytes, according to ODIN. The benchmark compares six of the industry-leading high-memory tags in the following tests: minimum effective power, orientation sensitivity, read-distance testing, handheld read distance and maximum encoding distance. The six tag models come from five manufacturers: MainTag, Marubeni (which produces two of the tag models tested), RCD Technology, RFID Tag Source and Xerafy. The report provides details regarding each tag model and its performance; the tests found that one area for improvement among all tags relates to orientation sensitivity when attempting to read them. The tags reviewed in the tests have newly developed silicon chips from Fujitsu and Tego. Tags compliant with AS5678 must utilize a data format compliant with Chapter 9 of Spec 2000, a set of specifications administered by the Air Transport Association of America (ATA), and must also avoid being a potential source of radio frequency interference and not be susceptible to RF interference. According to ODIN, AS5678 requires that individual words of data be separately locked and write-protected on the tag itself, rather than on a separate database. This allows for flexible and secure history and maintenance data storage on a part as it travels through its normal life. The amount of memory required to indicate a successfully passed maintenance inspection, for instance, is vastly different from that required to exactly describe the maintenance operations performed on a component that failed an inspection. By using a flexible data-locking architecture, the silicon is able to make the best use of its available memory. High-memory tags also allow uses in the field, where access to a secure database may not always be possible or practical. For benchmark-testing issues specific to the European market, ODIN partnered with French RFID integration firm Frequentiel. The High Memory RFID Tag Benchmark can be purchased at the ODIN Online Store section of the company’s Web site, priced at $750 for an enterprise license (shared among any personnel at a single corporation), $500 for an individual license and $100 for an educational version.

Frick Offers New RFID Floor Tags for Warehouse Operations

William Frick & Co. has introduced a new EPC Gen 2 floor tag that, according to the company, is tough enough to drive over with a forklift. The FLR1 RFID Floor Tag is designed to mark a location within a warehouse or a distribution facility, to aid in automatic data collection and inventory control. Measuring 4 inches by 6 inches, and flat enough to be affixed to floors, walls and similar surfaces, the tag features high-strength, permanent 3M adhesive that, Frick reports, can bond to most objects, including many low-surface-energy coatings, paints and concrete, and is oil-resistant. The tag features a UPM RFID integrated circuit, and offers a read range of approximately 3 feet on metal and up to 30 feet when affixed to other materials. The tag is available in custom colors, features an operating temperature of -40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 degrees Celsius) to +185 degrees Fahrenheit (+85 degrees Celsius) and is resistant to water, solvents and abrasion.

HCT USA Intros Slim PDA With Wireless RFID Reader

HCT USA, the U.S. division of HuaCheng Technology, a solutions provider headquartered in China focused on sensors, monitors and cameras, has introduced a new, slim PDA that includes a 13.56 MHz RFID card and a read range of up to 2 meters (6.6 feet). Weighing 220 grams (7.8 ounces) and measuring about 13 millimeters (0.5 inch) in thickness, the PDA features a 1500-mAh rechargeable lithium battery that can operate for up to 5 hours in normal use, a Microsoft WinCE 5.0 operating system, and an LCD with touch-screen capability and a resolution of 240 by 320 pixels, according to the company. The RFID-enabled PDA is designed for use with applications in pharmaceutical, retail, service, warehousing, banking and other industries that leverage smart cards. HCT USA provides a software development kit, support and application programming interfaces to help developers customize applications for the PDA. The device costs $300 and is available now.

U.K. Contactless Solutions Companies, ACT and sQuid, Merge

Applied Card Technologies (ACT), a solutions provider for transit and tourism, has joined forces with digital payments firm sQuid under a new corporate umbrella, Smart Transactions Group, in a deal valued at $87 million. Both companies currently operate contactless smart-card-based networks, and now share plans to launch solutions in the near future based on Near Field Communication (NFC) and mobile phone technology. ACT has specialized in visitor destination-management systems, retail reward programs and transit solutions for trains, trams and buses, based on specifications from the nonprofit Integrated Transport Smartcard Organization (ITSO), while sQuid has focused on its eMoney prepaid card program. For example, sQuid’s technology is being used by British coffeehouse chain Coffee Republic in an NFC contactless loyalty-card system, to reduce lines and gain customer loyalty at three of its London locations (see Coffee Republic Brews Up RFID Loyalty Cards). The technology was also part of a plan under development in Dundee City Council, in Scotland, to enable pregnant women to blow into a device to verify they have not been smoking, and then present an RFID card to record their success and receive a reward (see RFID Helps Promote Healthy Pregnancies). Joint initiatives include rolling out prepaid travel purses, integrating transit and eMoney cards, and launching NFC and mobile-phone-based payments and ticketing, bypassing incumbent technology solutions that rely on existing expensive and restrictive networks. The group aims to accelerate U.K. expansion plans, as well as launch small-value payment and ticketing services in a number of emerging and fast-growing markets.