RFID News Roundup

By Rich Handley

Alien Technology to host workshop about RFID in Latin America ••• NFC Forum inks agreements with Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association, Wireless Power Consortium ••• Inmarsat finds skills gap could limit IoT innovation in energy sector ••• STATSports selects Taoglas to monitor sports performance ••• Telink Semiconductor releases SDK compatible with new Bluetooth SIG standard ••• Cortet By CEL launches ZigBee extender for wireless sensor network, M2M and Internet of Things applications ••• Fathom intros new industrial Bluetooth beacon.

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The following are news announcements made during the past week by the following organizations:
Alien Technology;
the NFC Forum, the Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association, the Wireless Power Consortium;
Inmarsat;
STATSports, Taoglas;
Telink Semiconductor;
Cortet By CEL; and
Fathom.

Alien Technology to Host Workshop About RFID in Latin America

Alien Technology, a provider of ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) radio frequency identification products and services, has announced that it will hold a Latin America RFID Academy workshop on Aug. 22-25, 2017. The workshop will take place in Miamisburg, Ohio.

According to Alien, the demand for RFID solutions is on the rise in Latin America and worldwide. Adoption of the technology has been rapid in retail, health care, transportation and manufacturing, the company reports, for real-time tracking of items in the supply chain to improve customer service.

The Latin America RFID Academy workshop will discuss how RFID operates in different environments. Presenters will offer best practices, showcase the latest technologies, and explain how to solve challenges in real-world settings and how to maximize a return on investment (ROI). Attendees will receive hands-on experience in break-out lab sessions and see RFID in action at the RFID Solutions Center, a 15,000-square-foot simulated supply chain and retail facility.

The company is offering a free seat at the event with a developer’s kit purchase of either its ALR-F800 or ALR-H450 handheld reader. Alien has also added training on its new ALR-F800-X with Emissary solution, which is being implemented by numerous companies worldwide to reduce the cost and complexity associated with installing, configuring and managing a network of RFID readers.

NFC Forum Inks Agreements With Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association, Wireless Power Consortium

The NFC Forum has announced liaison agreements with the Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPIA) and the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC). These alliances will allow for the adoption and usability of Near Field Communication (NFC) in packaging and wireless charging. NFC technology can add intelligence and new capabilities to packaging in order to provide information, lower costs, reduce waste and increase profitability, the organization reports. In the area of wireless charging, NFC technology will act as a key enabler by supporting greater interoperability and more compact and cost-efficient charging interfaces.

“These collaborations were established in order to promote, educate and increase interest in the use of NFC,” said Paula Hunter, the NFC Forum’s executive director, in a prepared statement. “Our liaison relationships are focused on unleashing innovations and removing barriers to interoperability for industry and consumers so that businesses and people everywhere can take advantage of NFC technology.”

For businesses and consumers, the NFC Forum explains, these liaisons signal a step forward in ensuring that homes and workplaces will benefit from the greater ease, simplicity and enhanced security that NFC can deliver to product packaging and wireless charging. The partnership agreements, the organization adds, pave the way for accelerated NFC adoption.

AIPIA and the NFC Forum will focus on developing the latest technological innovations in intelligent and active packaging solutions. AIPIA believes that the implementation of new technologies in packaging is key to growth, enhanced efficiency and security, reduced waste, and better control in sales and marketing. Early applications of NFC technology in smart packaging include smartphone-enabled interactive tags and labels, as well as time-temperature monitors. This will be the fastest-growing segment, the NFC Forum predicts, increasing at a double-digit annual rate as NFC becomes more commercially feasible for mass-volume consumer products, following earlier NFC adoptions by higher-value goods.

The partnership of WPC and the NFC Forum will allow for greater education in the industry regarding use cases and standardization for products in wireless charging. WPC has created an interface specification, known as Qi, for wireless power transfer. Qi is a global standard that makes all smartphones that support wireless charging compatible with wireless chargers used at home, in the office and in vehicles. WPC operates a certification program to ensure that products, like NFC Forum devices, supporting Qi-based wireless charging can transfer energy seamlessly.

This program will include requirements and test methods for Qi wireless transmitters to protect NFC Forum devices and tags. The end goal, according to the organization, is to have open interoperability with the Qi standard. The implementation of NFC and wireless charging, the NFC Forum indicates, will create more compact and cost-efficient charging interfaces for portable devices, mitigate the problem of the gap between battery capacity and device power consumption, and create opportunities for integrating NFC-based services into charging applications.

Inmarsat Finds Skills Gap Could Limit IoT Innovation in Energy Sector

If energy companies are to successfully deploy Internet of Things (IoT) technology to drive innovation, efficiency and increased productivity, they must upskill current employees and/or embark on recruitment drives, according to independent research commissioned by Inmarsat. The study found that while the vast majority of energy companies have their sights set on the IoT, a significant proportion lack the skills required to take advantage of the technology.

Market research specialist Vanson Bourne interviewed respondents from 100 large energy companies across the globe and found that while 88 percent expect to deploy IoT technologies within the next two years, many currently lack the skills required to do so effectively. Thirty-five percent of respondents said that they lack the management skills to make the most of the IoT, while 43 percent lack the skills to do so at a delivery level. Fifty-three percent of respondents indicated that they would benefit from additional skills at a strategic level to take full advantage of the IoT. Digging deeper into the specific IoT skillsets that energy companies lack, the research found that 54 percent have a shortage in cyber security personnel, while 49 percent lack skills in technical support, with analytical and data science skills also in high demand.

“Whether they work with fossil fuels or renewables, IoT offers energy companies the potential to streamline their processes and reduce costs in previously unimagined ways,” said Chuck Moseley, Inmarsat Enterprise’s senior director for energy, in a prepared statement. “Smart sensors, for example, can facilitate the collection of information at every stage of production, enabling them to acquire a higher level of intelligence on how their operations are functioning and to therefore work smarter, more productively and more competitively. But fully realizing these benefits depends on energy companies’ access to appropriately-skilled members of staff and it is clear from our research that there are considerable skills gaps in the sector at all stages of IoT deployment. IoT is set to have a similarly transformative effect on a whole swathe of industries, so it’s likely that the pressure on skills will only increase. Energy companies who currently lack these capabilities in-house will find themselves in a heated recruitment battle for this talent, with Silicon Valley in particular offering an attractive alternative.”

Moseley cited the role that partners can play in helping energy companies to address their IoT skills deficiencies, adding, “There are undoubtedly steps that energy companies can and should take to upskill their staff and attract fresh talent with the appropriate skills, but the growing demand in the market for these skills means that bottlenecks will be hard to avoid altogether. This will make partners, who have greater economies of scale and more concentrated expertise on their side, critical for those looking to exploit IoT technologies, and it is here that energy companies should focus their efforts to supply the skills that they lack.”

Those interested can view the research microsite and download the full report at research.inmarsat.com.

STATSports Selects Taoglas to Monitor Sports Performance

Taoglas, a provider of automotive and Internet of Things antenna products, has announced that STATSports has selected Taoglas to provide antenna solutions for its new Apex line of GPS-based sports performance monitors.

STATSports provides GPS player-tracking and -analysis solutions for some of the world’s largest sports franchises. Teams in the English Premier League, La Liga, the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA) and other professional sports leagues use STATSports’ performance trackers to gather and analyze real-time player and team data during training and games. This helps them to improve performance and strategy, as well reduce injuries.

The company’s Apex system consists of the Apex Pod, Apex Software and Apex Live Streaming. STATSports evaluated several GPS antenna options before selecting Irish company Taoglas. The AGGBP.25B, which measures 25 millimeters by 25 millimeters, is a two-stage 28 dB active GPS patch antenna module that provides positional accuracy in a small form factor. According to the company, it is suitable for a performance-monitoring solution like Apex, which embeds the antenna in a fist-sized device called the Apex Pod, in or under a player’s jerseys.

“A wearable device with accurate GPS location measurement is of paramount importance to monitor player performance, and the Taoglas antenna is a key component delivering this,” said Arthur McMahon, STATSports’ CTO, in a prepared statement. “We have found the Taoglas antenna gives us the best performance in GPS reception in the demanding environments of elite player performance analysis. The accuracy, reliability and robustness of their antenna in our harsh operating environments were key factors in choosing Taoglas.”

The Apex utilizes multiple channels and synchronized mesh networking to deliver data streams from all players on the field to the Apex Software for analysis. The Apex system provides GPS speed and positional data, heart rate variability, digital compass, gyroscopic and accelerometer data. It transmits more than half a million numbers every minute during training and games, for a squad of more than 30 players.

Taoglas was able to help STATSports deliver location accuracy within 1 meter. However, the company reports, with that many antennas and transmissions in close proximity to one another, interference can become an issue. Taoglas’ solution includes a front-end SAW filter in front of the two-stage LNA to reduce out-of-band noise, such as signals from nearby cellular transceivers.

Telink Semiconductor Releases SDK Compatible With New Bluetooth SIG Standard

Telink Semiconductor, a developer of integrated low-power radio-frequency and mixed signal system chips for Internet of Things (IoT) applications, has announced the availability of a software development kit (SDK) that is compatible with the new Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) specification supporting mesh-networking capability, announced last month. This complements the company’s own proprietary Bluetooth mesh-networking protocol that Telink previously offered to customers, with additional features such as real-time updates and synchronized control for lighting, health-care and industrial-control applications.

Bluetooth has traditionally been used for point-to-point communications—pairing devices with each other so that they can communicate. But mesh-networking support, the company notes, opens up the use of Bluetooth for “many-to-many” or multicast traffic device communications, making it suitable for implementing mesh networks in beacons, robotics, industrial automation, energy management, smart-city applications and other Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and advanced manufacturing solutions.

According to ABI Research, 48 billion internet-enabled devices are expected to be installed by 2021, nearly one-third of which will include Bluetooth capability. The Bluetooth SIG expects that Bluetooth mesh networking will make the largest initial impact in commercial lighting and industrial applications.

Telink Semiconductor has been offering its own proprietary Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) mesh-networking protocol for several years. Last year, the company announced that its BLE system-on-chip and mesh-networking technologies are being used in connected LED light bulbs from GE Lighting, in its C by GE product family.

Now, the company also provides an additional SDK compatible with the new Bluetooth SIG mesh-networking specification. In addition to meeting the standard spec, Telink’s devices can update in real time, with presence information sharing on the network to reflect multiple nodes’ status automatically. In addition, the system supports a synchronized control mechanism within multiple or large mesh networks—which, in a smart lighting application, for example, can guarantee a large number of lights to be on or off, or controlled at the same time.

These features are suitable for applications that use many-to-many device communications, the company reports. In smart home control, for instance, BLE mesh technology can support multiple terminals to control several smart devices simultaneously in real time. Telink’s network traffic control technology enables the system to update and reflect the status of multiple smart devices on every control terminal in time and automatically. Without this capability, the company explains, inconsistent control could result, which might lead to devices and controllers not being in synch.

Telink Semiconductor provides customers with a number of mesh development kits, according to their design requirements and capabilities, either as a turnkey solution or as a reference design. This includes development tools for Bluetooth mesh applications, such as reference schematics and layouts, an integrated SDK, tool chains and reference application source codes.

Cortet By CEL Launches Zigbee Extender for Wireless Sensor Network, M2M and Internet of Things Applications

Cortet by CEL has announced the availability of its Cortet Z10 Range Extender (CGW-Z-010) for use in various wireless sensor network (WSN), machine-to-machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) applications. The Z10 Range Extender has been optimized for RF performance, the company reports.

The device is designed to extend the range and capacity of a ZigBee network within large facilities or those with a poor RF environment. It is capable of distances greater than 325 feet in interior environments, according to the company, and its built-in software makes it easy for users to set up the extender and commission it into a ZigBee network.

The Z10 Range Extender is an HA 1.2-compliant repeater and range extender for a ZigBee network. It requires a ZigBee coordinator, such as the Cortet E100 Gateway. The Z10 Range Extender is also REACH- and ROHS-certified and has been tested to work well with a wide range of industrial lighting controllers, luminaires, lamps and other accessories from such companies as Leviton, ILLUMRA and Magnitude.

“The Z10 acts as a relay for ZigBee messages between ZigBee devices that are otherwise out of range,” said Erik Davidson, Cortet’s director of marketing and product management, in a prepared statement. “For example, a Cortet Z10 Range Extender can be used to relay messages between ZigBee end nodes and an otherwise out-of-range ZigBee coordinator, such as a Cortet E100 Gateway. The Cortet Z10 Range Extender can also be used to increase the total number of ZigBee devices that a ZigBee coordinator can communicate with.”

Fathom Intros New Industrial Bluetooth Beacon

Fathom has announced the launch of its new industrial Bluetooth beacon, known as the Fathom Tag. The tag is designed to be integrated with the company’s Fathom Hub and Fathom Control system, and to deliver accurate positioning for industrial environments. The Fathom Tag has been developed specifically for location applications. Its rugged design and five-year battery life, along with remote configuration and management capabilities, make it suitable for a variety of indoor and outdoor industrial use cases, the company reports.

“The Fathom Tag is unique to the market in that it has been designed specifically with location in mind,” said Guylain Roy-MacHabée, Fathom Systems’ founder and CEO, in a prepared statement. “Most Bluetooth tags are designed for non-industrial uses, typically retail environments, and are meant to simply trigger mobile apps by proximity; as such, less attention is paid to their antenna and radiation patterns. By contrast, our Fathom Tag has an optimized radiation pattern that ensures accurate positioning and a rugged design that is essential for reliable operation in warehouses, factories, and other industrial environments. While Fathom can detect and locate nearly all third-party Bluetooth beacons, Fathom optimally detects, locates and manages Fathom Tags to help address the needs of customers who require this additional level of performance.”

The Fathom Tag includes an omnidirectional antenna that provides a consistent radiation pattern for determining its location; remote monitoring and configuration management via Fathom Control, including firmware updates; the ability, through Fathom Control, to remotely update groups of Fathom Tags to the same profile, such as changing power or transmit levels; concurrent iBeacon and Eddystone beaconing; a rugged industrial design suitable for use in both indoor and outdoor environments; IP67 certification; a replaceable battery; and an onboard accelerometer with board-level expansion ports.

“The Fathom Tag was designed from the ground up to work seamlessly with Fathom Hubs and Fathom Control in order to provide all the technical components that customers require to integrate accurate location data into their existing asset tracking, business intelligence or control system,” said Haris Afzal, Fathom’s CTO, in the prepared statement. “We also worked closely with a number of industrial users, to incorporate their feedback, in order to provide flexible installation options and increase reliability, while integrating the Fathom Tag with Fathom Control.”

The Fathom Tag is sold as part of the company’s location-as-a-service (LaaS) system. This includes the Fathom Hub and a subscription-based Fathom Control system and application programming interface.