SensThys Releases $49 RFID Antenna

The new product is part of the company's effort to drive down the cost and complexity of RFID installations, which also includes the acquisition of IoT software company Dígame Systems, enabling software development to aid in that effort.
Published: August 27, 2018

In an effort to drive down the cost and complexity of radio frequency identification installations, SensThys has released its SensRF-101 antenna, priced at $49—which, the company claims, is between a half and one-third of the cost of most other antennas offering the same performance. The firm has been expanding as it releases new products as well. In July 2018, it acquired Dígame Systems, an Internet of Things (IoT) software company that will enable SensThys to provide software solutions with its RFID technology.

The SensRF-101 antenna is intended to make RFID more affordable, the company reports. Since a SensArray reader with a built-in antenna costs $689, an installation of a single SensArray with three external SensRF-101 antennas would bring the cost of each RFID read point to about $215 (in quantities of 200). That, according to SensThys, is down from a previous low of $250 for a read point with a SensArray reader and three other standard RFID antennas.

The new antenna is part of the company’s drive to reduce the cost of RFID installations, says Neil Mitchell, SensThys’s sales and marketing VP. While RFID technology providers have been striving to bring the cost of UHF RFID tags down, he notes, there has been little corresponding downward movement of the cost of readers or antenna hardware, or the installation of those reader infrastructures. “Our strategy evolves around three concepts,” he states: economics, simplicity and aesthetics.

The economics of an RFID installation have continued to be a barrier for many companies, both small and large, looking to deploy RFID. In the case of large companies, such as chain retailers, the sheer volume of RFID readers and antennas required could lead to excessive cost, in terms of hardware, installation and cabling. Smaller businesses may simply not be able to afford the hardware at all.

Mitchell cites the simplicity of the SensArray reader, released in 2017, as another strategy aimed at making RFID deployments more desirable. Because the readers can be daisy-chained and powered over Ethernet, users or solution providers can simply connect one reader to a power supply and then cable others to it or each other. The SensRF-101 operates with the SensArray, he reports, as well as with other standard UHF RFID readers.

There is also the consideration of aesthetics, Mitchell says. The new antenna is designed to be low-profile, he adds—it measures 0.8 inch in thickness and 10 inches by 10 inches across, and can be mounted on ceilings or walls so as to remain unobtrusive. The antenna is sized exactly the same as the SensArray reader, Mitchell notes, and can come with custom logos or graphics, or with a fabric exterior if so required by a customer.

According to Mitchell, the engineers developing the new antenna leveraged a choice of materials that were low in cost and made manufacturing processes less expensive. The device is IP68-rated, which means it is robust enough to be submerged under water, and can also sustain exposure to temperature extremes, dust, dirt and other hazards of some environments.

With a standard reader and antenna configuration, Mitchell says, an 80-read-point system could require 20 RFID readers, each with four antennas, as well as 1.2 miles of Ethernet cable and an installation cost of $44,000. On the other hand, he says, the same number of read points with SensArray readers would require just three antennas per reader (sine the reader comes with an internal antenna) and about 500 feet of cable, for a cost of $21,000—less than half.

Up to this point, the cost of reader infrastructure may have been a cause of many pilot failures, says John Price, a co-founder at Thinkify, who also worked at Alien Technology before founding Dígame. At present, he says, Price is driving the software user experience at SensThys.

In many cases, a company piloting the technology will be too conservative in deploying readers and antennas just to stay within budget. As a result, there might not be enough read points to properly cover a specific space or the number of tags located within that space. When end users or installers skimp on read points, Price says, the technology simply won’t work. “It’s the first problem: ‘Can I see the tags?'” he states. “We believe we’ve solved that problem,” by bringing the cost of the read points down enough that users will be more likely to install as much reader and antenna hardware as is needed.

SensThys will begin shipping the SensRF-101 to customers during the coming weeks. The firm also sells the SensRF-10 reader—which has a slimmer form factor (about a half-inch thick) and is priced at $115—and provides solutions using software tools from Dígame, which are available now. SensThys says it focuses on solutions designed for specific customer requirements.

According to Mitchell, SensThys is continuing to develop technology that can further reduce the cost and complexity of RFID installations. “We’re not resting on our laurels,” he says. Part of that effort will include software development. The acquisition of Dígame will make it possible to develop more solutions that can be easily deployed, the company believes. “John [Price] comes to us with the same focus on making systems easier to use. They have the same sensibility with software that we have with infrastructure.”