Oct 23, 2009Mark Roberti
The Big Idea that came out of the original Auto-ID Center was to put a serial number on a low-cost radio frequency identification tag and then store data related to that tagged object on the Internet. The Software Action Group of EPCglobal, which succeeded the Auto-ID Center, developed the EPC Information Service (EPCIS)—a set of interfaces for allowing computers to share RFID data in a standardized manner.
Most companies have not deployed an EPCIS repository, because they employ non-standardized communication protocols to exchange Electronic Product Code (EPC) data within their organization, or with partners. But that might be changing. Christian Floerkemeier, associate director of the MIT Auto-ID Lab, says Fosstrak's open-source EPCIS module has been downloaded more than 2,000 times.
The EPCIS standard allows companies to associate information to tag reads. When there is an "event"—say, a pallet passing through a portal, and the pallet tag being read—the EPCIS standard enables businesses to append additional information to the tag ID, such as the date and time, as well as the reader's location. For instance, a firm can indicate whether the pallet is being received or shipped. This enables software systems to interpret, for instance, if a tag is read at a receiving bay but isn't read after a certain period at the doorway between the back of a store and the retail floor. If that occurs, an alert can be generated, to have someone bring the product to the retail floor. Associating individual tag reads with a business context is also essential for offline EPC data-mining that can identify inefficiencies and trigger business process changes.
The Fosstrak open-source software suite provides core components for RFID applications, and includes an EPCIS Repository, a Tag Data Translation (TDT) Engine, Application Level Events (ALE) middleware and a Low-Level Reader Protocol (LLRP) Commander.
The EPCIS Repository provides a convenient way to store EPC event data. Companies can link the EPCIS to existing applications, so EPC information can be easily accessed by, say, a firm's warehouse-management system. A user interface also enables a user to query the EPCIS database directly.
The TDT Engine provides flexible translation (encoding or decoding) between different representations of an EPC. For example, the TDT Engine can turn a binary string of ones and zeroes into a Uniform Resource Identifier (a string of characters used to identify or name a resource on the Internet).
The ALE middleware communicates with readers using the LLRP standard for enabling software to interact with EPC interrogators. This middleware allows a user to filter and collect data from RFID readers. For instance, you could ask a reader to report how many tags are from a particular manufacturer, then filter out redundant tag data. The LLRP Commander is a graphical user interface to control and manage LLRP-compliant RFID interrogators.
People all over the world are downloading the Fosstrak system, Floerkemeier says. It's interesting to note that there's significant traffic from countries that have few EPCglobal subscribers, such as Brazil and India. "Based on our Web site statistics," he says, "we estimate that we currently have around 1,000 active users."
It's encouraging that companies are beginning to explore the benefits of the EPCIS, because the real benefit of an RFID system is not its ability to collect data automatically, but rather to make use of that information in an automated way. For instance, it's valuable to be able to read a tag at a dock door without human intervention—but it's much more valuable to have software systems that can interpret the tag-read information, automatically update inventory and perhaps create a work order for how arriving parts need to be handled.
You can download a free copy of the software at www.fosstrak.org.
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 or click here.