RFID News Roundup

By Beth Bacheldor

Thinfilm announces new U.S. high-volume fabrication facility ••• Custom BioGenic Systems intros VersAlert wireless temperature-monitoring system ••• Virtual beacon company Mist closes on $28 million funding round ••• GAO RFID unveils enhanced hands-free advanced parking solution ••• NFC Forum announces new technical specifications ••• AIM publishes standard for evaluating RFID's effects on medical devices.


The following are news announcements made during the past week by the following organizations: Thin Film Electronics; Custom BioGenic Systems; Mist; GAO RFID; the NFC Forum; and AIM.

Thinfilm Announces New U.S. High-Volume Fabrication Facility

Thin Film Electronics (Thinfilm), a provider of printed electronics and Near Field Communication (NFC) smart packaging solutions, has announced the acquisition of a fabrication facility in Silicon Valley to house a new high-volume, roll-to-roll manufacturing line. Thinfilm says it expects the new roll-based production process to increase its front-end production capacity to five billion NFC OpenSense and NFC SpeedTap tags per year, yielding up to $680 million in annual revenue.

The site, formerly occupied by a Qualcomm division, will support ultra-scale production of Thinfilm’s NFC products and serve as the company’s new U.S. headquarters, with the relocation planned for the first quarter of 2017. In the near term, the facility upgrade enables Thinfilm to scale existing sheet-based manufacturing of its NFC, electronic article surveillance (EAS) and sensor label products. Thinfilm says it expects operations to move into the new facility in March 2017, with roll-to-roll production expected to be operational for EAS by the end of next year, and for transistor-based products in 2018.

“Given the growing market demand for NFC smart packaging, it was vital that we secure a facility that enables us to ramp capacity to ultra-high volumes through roll-to-roll production,” said Davor Sutija, Thinfilm’s CEO, in a prepared statement. “Thinfilm’s NFC smart labels allow brands to address authentication and anti-tampering needs while empowering them to engage with consumers through the simple tap of an Android smartphone. As the digital marketing arena becomes more fragmented, brands see NFC as a way to eliminate intermediaries and connect directly with their customers.”

Located in San Jose, California, the building was formerly used by Qualcomm MEMS Technologies for operational-display production until the last spring. More than $80 million had been invested previously in the 93,000-square-foot facility, which sits on 5.4 acres of land and features a 22,000-square-foot cleanroom (Class 10 to Class 10,000).

Custom BioGenic Systems Intros VersAlert Wireless Temperature-Monitoring System

Custom BioGenic Systems, a manufacturer of patented liquid nitrogen freezers and inventory systems, has announced a new remote-monitoring system, known as VersAlert, to track laboratory freezers and other temperature-sensitive equipment, and to issue alerts if thresholds are crossed.

VersAlert is a cloud-based system that features sensors communicating via the IEEE 802.15.4 standard for low-rate wireless personal-area networks (LR-WPANs). The platform is designed to remotely monitor valuable temperature-sensitive inventory, according to the company, and to aid in regulatory compliance, such as 12 CFR Part 11. With the system, health-care companies can monitor and record the temperatures, from -200 degrees to +50 degrees Celsius (-328 degrees to +122 degrees Fahrenheit), of liquid nitrogen freezers, mechanical freezers, refrigerators, incubators and more, via a smartphone, tablet or PC, and receive text or email notifications in the event that parameters suddenly exceed defined limits.

Custom BioGenic Systems’ VersAlert wireless sensor

The VersAlert system is designed to automatically generate alarms and collect data without human error or the need for reminders. According to the company, it reduces labor costs and the amount of time employees waste on manual methods, and can be connected to health-care organizations’ existing building-management systems.

The solution includes an 802.15.4-compliant gateway to wirelessly network a mesh of sensors that can deliver up to 4,000 feet of line-of-sight tracking. The gateway generates a secure wireless network using the mesh-network implementation of the MiWi Pro protocol operating at 2.4 GHz, explains Sam Ian, a Custom BioGenic Systems spokesperson. This sensor can scan for the cleanest of 16 radio channels, and supports up to 1,500 feet of line-of-sight communication between two devices. The gateway is connected cable to the local network via an Ethernet; therefore, only one IP address is required to support as many as 300 sensors.

The gateway requires no software, computers or monitoring fees, the company reports, and is FCC-, IC- and ETSI-certified. It is powered by a 6-volt power supply and features a four-hour battery backup system. The system also includes a repeater that can be used to extend a gateway’s or sensor’s range, by creating another node on the network to which sensors can connect. The mesh network is intelligent; sensors are able to choose their path back to the gateway, whether via another sensor or a repeater, or directly to a gateway.

A sensor’s memory allows data to be stored in the event that it loses its gateway connection or power. The sensors are able to report signal strength, which makes finding weak spots in the network easy, the company reports. Each sensor is powered by two lithium-ion batteries and measure 5.5 inches in length by 5.5 inches in width and 1.75 inches in height. Each sensor has a jack for the provided thermocouple, as well as for the following connections: 0-5V or 4-20ma input, a dry contact input and a global alarm output.

Virtual Beacon Company Mist Closes on $28 Million in Funding

Startup Mist, a provider of virtual Bluetooth beacons, has announced the close of an over-subscribed $28 million Series B financing, bringing the total investment in the company to approximately $43 million. The round was led by GV (formerly Google Ventures), with additional funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Norwest Venture Partners and Cisco Investments. With the latest round of financing, Karim Faris, a general partner at GV, has joined Mist’s board of directors.

Mist reports that it plans to use the additional investment to grow its sales and marketing resources. It also intends to continue investing heavily in engineering and product development, develop a robust channel of managed service providers (MSPs), and collaborate with leading ecosystem and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners.

The Mist platform is designed to let customers think centrally and act locally through a combination of cloud-based intelligence and on-premises enterprise-grade Access Points, according to the company. It has developed a solution that creates so-called virtual Bluetooth Low Energy (vBLE) beacons, by using software algorithms and steerable antennas to identify the location of a user’s BLE-enabled mobile phone (see Mist’s Virtual Bluetooth Beacons Get a Try-out). The system features what Mist calls a Dynamic BLE Array, incorporated into a device that functions as multiple BLE beacons. The device, which the company refers to as a BLE access point, can typically cover a 2,500-square-foot area—which, the firm has indicated, equates to the same amount of coverage provided by eight physical beacons within the same area.

New features recently added to the Mist platform include expanded Service Level Experience (SLE) metrics and the ability to set SLE thresholds for critical attributes that impact wireless performance, which now include throughput, latency and jitter parameters, in addition to connection, coverage, capacity and roaming. It also features one-click root-cause analysis that uses machine learning to convert data into meaningful and actionable insight. For example, IT administrators can easily determine which wired, wireless and device issues are affecting which users, thereby enabling quick problem identification and remediation.

The platform offers administrators a real-time view of the RF environment from the mobile device’s perspective, and provides deep analytics on both Wi-Fi and BLE using a single converged platform. What’s more, the new Mist BT11 is an enterprise-grade access point for BLE that comes with a 16-antenna element steerable directional antenna and a single omni-directional element array to provide high location accuracy. In addition, the company reports, the BT11 has a dedicated radio for collecting data and sharing it with the Mist cloud, for the purpose of detailed location analytics and high accuracy indoor location services—with accuracy of 1 meter (3.3 feet) or better and sub-second latency.

GAO RFID Unveils Enhanced Hands-Free Advanced Parking Solution

GAO RFID, a provider of RFID hardware, software and systems designed to improve operational efficiency, reduce costs and heighten personnel safety, has released an enhanced hands-free parking-control solution aimed at enabling a faster, safer, more convenient parking experience.

The GAO RFID Parking Control System is a control and monitoring system designed for use at residential condominiums, gated communities, business parking garages, university parking areas, and hospitality or retail centers. According to the company, the solution now can sense an authorized incoming vehicle and automatically open the gate, allowing the vehicle to pass through without completely stopping. The new parking solution includes small, durable tags that can be attached to the windshield or license plate, or be hung from the rearview mirror, GAO RFID reports.

The company’s accompanying GAO Parking Control software provides insight into parking lot usage by tracking access history specifics, including entry and exit times, as well as driver details. The solution includes GAO RFID readers installed at entry and exit points within a parking facility. When vehicles approach, GAO RFID explains, the readers capture IDs transmitted by those vehicles’ RFID tags. The tags transmit their IDs to the RFID readers, which forward that information to the solution’s software—which, in turn, tells the system to grant access to the vehicle, records their activity, and can trigger surveillance cameras at the entry and exit points, or log and bill back parking charges to the customer. To make installations easy, the company adds, the system is designed to be integrated with existing parking gates, with an option to make the parking lot unmanned.

NFC Forum Announces New Technical Specifications

The NFC Forum has announced a new specification to ensure interoperability between Near Field Communication (NFC) devices and existing RF infrastructure and cards based on the ISO 14443 and ISO 18092 standards, as well as four candidate technical specifications.

The newly approved Analog 2.0 Technical Specification is particularly relevant for transportation, payment and internet-of-things applications, according to the forum. It delivers new capabilities designed to improve RF communication and ensure interoperability between standard NFC devices, independent of antenna size, and existing RF infrastructure and cards. The specification also adds NFC-V technology and Active Communication Mode.

Active Communication Mode is an alternative to the Passive Communication Mode defined in previous NFC Forum specifications. This mode is compatible with the Active Communication Mode of ISO 18092, the NFC Forum indicates, and thus enhances interoperability with other NFC devices that use this communication mode. In Active Communication Mode, each peer device, in turn, generates a field when sending information to the other end of the link, thereby balancing power consumption between the devices and enhancing link stability. NFC-V technology supports reading ISO 15693-based cards and NFC Forum Type 5 tags, further enhancing NFC device interoperability, the organization adds.

The NFC Forum Type 1-4 tag candidate specifications, currently open for industry comment, allows for enhanced communications between an NFC-enabled device and different existing tag hardware. Examples of use cases for the tags include opening a website, initiating a telephone call, SMS text or email communications, opening a video or social-media link and reading a URL, as well as reading and storing business card data within an NDEF message when an NFC-enabled device is held near the embedded tag. NFC Forum Type 1-4 tags are all based on existing contactless products, the NFC Forum reports, and are commercially available.

The NFC Forum Type 1 Tag candidate specification defines how an NFC-enabled device in reader-writer mode detects, reads and writes an NDEF message on an NFC Forum Type 1 Tag, which communicates via NFC-A Technology, based on the ISO 14443A standard.

The NFC Forum Type 2 tag candidate specification defines how an NFC-enabled device in reader-writer mode detects, reads and writes an NDEF message on an NFC Forum Type 2 tag, which communicates via NFC-A technology.

The NFC Forum Device Type 3 tag candidate specification defines how an NFC-enabled device in reader-writer mode detects, reads and writes an NDEF message on an NFC Forum Type 3 tag, which is compatible with the Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) X 6319-4.

Finally, the NFC Forum Device Type 4 tag candidate specification defines how an NFC-enabled device in reader-writer mode detects, reads and writes an NDEF message on an NFC Forum Type 4 Tag, which communicates either by NFC-A or by NFC-B, which is based on the ISO 14443B standard.

All five specifications are available at the NFC Forum website.

AIM Publishes Standard for Evaluating RFID’s Effects on Medical Devices

AIM, a worldwide industry association for the automatic-identification industry, has announced the release of its latest standard, known as Medical Electrical Equipment & System Electromagnetic Immunity Test for Exposure to RFID Readers. The new standard provides specialized guidance regarding the testing of non-implantable medical devices to determine if they are immune to emissions from RFID systems.

The standard is designed to provide medical device manufactures and end users with guidance on how to evaluate their devices for immunity to emissions from RFID systems. The test procedures in this document are based on experimental results from several AIM members. Test protocols are included for the major commercial implementations of RFID as standardized by ISO, including low-frequency (LF), high-frequency (HF) and ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID. Both active and passive ISO RFID standards are covered.

In the early 2000s, AIM reports, members of its Healthcare Initiative Work Group (HCI) were made aware of a need for a specialized standard regarding the interactions between RFID systems and non-implantable medical devices. An ISO technical report, “ISO/IEC TR 20017,” was published in 2011 that provides information about interactions between RFID and implantable medical devices. However, that document does not provide any guidance for non-implantable medical devices. The new standard developed by AIM provides that guidance for non-implantable medical devices and how to test for immunity to emissions from RFID systems.

“Publication of this standard is an important milestone. A standard methodology to evaluate medical device immunity to RFID exposure has been a need for some time,” said Seth Seidman, a research electrical engineer with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a prepared statement. “This standard is currently under consideration to be recognized by FDA to help medical device manufacturers evaluate potential susceptibility to RFID exposure.”

Peter J. Hawrylak, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Tulsa, who led the effort within AIM’s Healthcare Initiative Work Group, added in the statement that the process of creating this standard has been a three-year journey “that relied on an experienced and dedicated group which consisted of experts in the fields of medical device testing, RFID system design and manufacturing, RFID system integration, as well as end-users. Thanks to their efforts, external medical device manufacturers, end-users and RFID equipment manufacturers will benefit.”

To learn more about Medical Electrical Equipment & System Electromagnetic Immunity Test for Exposure to RFID Readers, or to download a copy of the publication (which costs $200), visit the AIM Marketplace, an online resource located at AIM’s website.