Omni-ID Offers New Product Family With BLE, LoRaWAN

By Claire Swedberg

The first two Sense active IoT products to be launched help users locate assets and inventory in large industrial settings—across wide areas such as an outdoor yard, an oil and gas site or a factory—while active sensor tags will be released later this year.

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As Internet of Things (IoT) applications expand, ruggedized UHF RFID technology company Omni-ID has been developing a new family of products that provide long-range transmission, as well as condition monitoring, using low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) transmission—in the form of LoRaWAN technology—and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). The new products are being designed to expand read ranges and provide alerting and sensor data, depending on a customer’s particular needs.

The company is releasing its Sense products in two families: Condition Monitoring and Locate for asset management and logistics. Two Locate products are now being released, with three Condition Monitoring devices expected to be launched this spring, according to Tony Kington, Omni-ID’s CEO. The newly released Sense Locate Kinetic and Sense Locate Position will provide asset management and logistics management in large yards, warehouses or factories.

The Sense Locate Kinetic (top) and Sense Locate Position (bottom)

Sense Locate Position leverages GPS positioning data and LoRa transmissions to provide the locations of assets across large areas. The device’s built-in movement sensor enables it to detect when the asset to which it is attached is being moved, and can then transmit that activity and its position to a server as the device moves. Its read distance of multiple miles means a few access points can cover a large area in oil and gas, defense or construction.

For indoor environments, Omni-ID’s Sense Locate Kinetic employs BLE to serve such applications as warehouse or manufacturing sites. Sense Locate Kinetic transmits data with a battery-powered beacon and includes an antenna that can read and transmit up to a range of more than 200 meters (656 feet).

The Sense Locate Kinetic also contains a movement sensor and accelerometer, and it can detect the presence of metal to allow for a degree of tamper-proofing. For instance, if the sensor device is removed from a metal asset, the sensor will detect that action and the Locate Kinetic can then beacon an alert. Both asset-management devices can be used with a real-time location system (RTLS) platform.

The new products will complement the company’s existing product offerings for the industrial market, such as its UHF passive tags developed with semiconductor company Axzon. Continuing its Axzon partnership will allow Omni-ID to offer temperature-sensing capability in a passive RFID version of the next round of Sense products.

“We continue to see good growth in passive RFID, with new products being released this spring,” Kington says. The new products, he adds, “represent a branching-out from passive UHF, which has been the core of our business. We see a correlation between the open standard in UHF and the need for a similar approach in IoT.”

The Sense Locate Position system has been developed for customers that require outdoor, wide-area yard management. For instance, oil and gas companies with assets spread across large and remote locations can view where those assets are specific to a particular yard, construction site or zone. LoRa connectivity can be accomplished at a low infrastructure cost, Kington notes, since the long range enables just one or two gateways to cover an area measuring 4 to 8 miles.

Manufacturers, logistics providers and other companies could employ the Locate Kinetic BLE version to identify assets or inventory within a range of a few yards. The location granularity would depend on the number of beacon gateways deployed around a site. Both Locate devices could come with UHF and NFC functionality if a customer requested it. NFC, for example, could be used to configure the device with a smartphone. If a company’s use cases required several different read distance functionalities, UHF could provide benefits as well.

“In the majority of cases,” Kington says, “there is a spectrum of technologies being deployed, depending on where people are in the workflow.” In some cases, barcode scans are sufficient, while other cases require short-range RFID data capture of conditions at a distance. In fact, he adds, Omni-ID’s customers commonly take advantage of barcodes, passive RFID and active RFID to manage assets that move through a variety of locations or operations. “These technologies are, 90 percent of the time, complementary and rarely competitive.”

Omni-ID provides the sensor and transmission hardware built into its Sense devices, with the exception of the BLE and LoRa radios. The company partners with solution providers or can supply the technology directly to end users. The Locate products are being released first, the company reports, since they are likely to be adopted by businesses in the industrial market Omni-ID already serves. On the other hand, Sense Condition will reach a wider audience—the device could be used to track everything from bridge integrity (by detecting strain) to preventative maintenance (for tracking and cold chain applications).

The Condition Monitoring family will feature three new products: Sense Condition Temperature, Sense Condition Alert and Sense Condition Distance. The first will leverage passive UHF RFID to transmit captured temperature data without requiring a battery, while the other two are battery-powered and employ LoRa with a long read range requiring less infrastructure deployment.

All active Sense products are designed to have a long battery life, according to the company—typically, up to five years. The products that use LoRa transmission will be able to transmit a signal up to 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) away in flat open spaces, the company reports, and between 3 and 4 kilometers (1.9 and 2.5 miles) in an urban environment. If GPS and accelerometer features are included, the location accuracy is about 3 to 5 meters (1.9 to 3.1 miles).

“These are complementary technologies to our core UHF RFID products,” Kington states. “BLE and LPWAN have the opportunity to further solve tough problems in the same way we have with passive UHF. I see this as broadening of our offering to the market.”

Axzon is currently developing a sensor-based chip that will be built into the Condition Temperature device. “Were excited to be part of their portfolio of products,” says Shahriar Rohksaz, Axzon’s CEO. “We will work closely together to launch our passive sensing product into their system.” The Locate Kinetic measures 95.2 millimeters (3.7 inches) in length and 34.2 millimeters (1.3 inches) in width, with a height of 21 millimeters (0.8 inch). The Locate Position is larger, measuring 114.5 millimeters (4.5 inches) in length by 58.3 millimeters (2.3 inches) in width and 24.3 millimeters (1 inch) in height.