RFID News Roundup

By Beth Bacheldor

Farsens intros flexible platform for developing battery-free wireless sensors ••• Auburn University RFID Lab launches Tagged Item Certification Program ••• Bluvision, Beam Wallet team on rewards program ••• Aquabit Spirals unveils Smart Plate to deliver content to shoppers ••• RFID Professional Institute announces first official certification exam.

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The following are news announcements made during the past week by the following organizations:
Farsens; the
Auburn University RFID Lab;
Bluvision, Beam Wallet;
Aquabit Spirals; and the
RFID Professional Institute.

Farsens Intros Flexible Platform for Developing Battery-Free Wireless Sensors

Farsens, a Spanish developer of RFID sensor tags, has unveiled the Spider, an evaluation platform designed for developers that want to create ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID battery-free sensors and actuators using Farsens’ ANDY100 chip and whichever microcontroller they choose. With the new Spider, developers can also use the tag’s serial peripheral interconnect (SPI) master module to drive a sensor, without the need for a microcontroller, thus avoiding the extra cost and power consumption. By balancing power consumption against read range, Farsens reports, developers can more easily prototype different ideas and create proof-of-concepts that can later be implemented into final products.

The Spider

The new evaluation board follows Farsens’ release of its Medusa platform in January (see RFID News Roundup: Farsens Unveils Development Platform for Battery-Free Wireless Sensors, Actuators), which includes Farsens’ ANDY100 chip and a MSPG2233IPW20 general-purpose, low-power microcontroller from Texas Instruments. Both the Medusa and the Spider harvest energy from the RF field created by the RFID reader, in order to power up the chip, the microcontroller, and the circuitry and devices attached to it.

The ANDY100 works under standard EPC Gen 2 commands, using any standards-based UHF RFID reader, so no proprietary or custom commands are necessary. It includes an RF front end for UHF RFID power harvesting and communication, an SPI master to drive sensors, and a startup circuit to allow developers to work directly with SPI sensors or connect a microcontroller of their choice for further processing.

“The reason for offering both is the utility for the users,” says Mikel Choperena, Farsens’ product development manager. “Some of the users want to make it easy to develop battery-free tags with external devices. These can be sensors, actuators, displays or basically anything with low power consumption. For them, the Medusa is great because they can program the microcontroller and forget about the rest. However, we have had demands from users that actually want to test and use the ANDY100 chip. Even though the Medusa was good for them, the Spider allows them to not only not be tied to the TI microcontroller, but also to think about different ways to implement their solutions. Effectively, they have access to the pins of the IC, so they are not limited to our understanding of how products should be designed, and they can design their own.”

Farsens designs and manufactures fully passive RFID sensor solutions. Its proprietary UHF RFID IC allows Farsens to develop long-range solutions for asset tracking (via the tag’s unique ID number) and monitoring (via an integrated sensor), without the need for any battery on the tag.

Auburn University RFID Lab Launches Tagged Item Certification Program

Auburn University‘s RFID Lab has established an RFID Tagged Item Certification program designed so that retail product manufacturers can measure the performance of their RFID-tagged items against specific RFID quality measurements outlined in the TIPP test processes as described by GS1 US’s Tagged Item Performance Protocol test methodology, which the lab helped to develop.

RFID Lab’s testing chamber

The GS1 TIPP guideline, released earlier this year (see GS1 Expects Tagged-Item Performance Protocol Guideline to Boost RFID Adoption), includes a scale for grading the performance of EPC ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags when used on specific products and in particular environments, as well standardizing the testing conducted to identify that grade. For the TIPP test process, each grade is defined by a set of values that specify the tagged-item sensitivity and backscatter at various orientations. In order for a tagged item to qualify for a certain grade, its tag’s performance must meet or exceed the tag sensitivity and backscatter power specified by that grade level. The TIPP guideline is intended to make it easier for both retailers and suppliers to test and identify the best tag for use with each product and use case.

Since its founding in 2005, the academic facility has provided testing services so that product manufacturers can determine the proper tags to use, as well as the optimal placement of those tags on products, and to then test the resultant read rates. Under its ARC program, which pioneered many of the testing practices for retail RFID, the lab still offers such services. Auburn’s ARC program was recently adapted and published in the GS1 TIPP Item Level Grading System, making the RFID Lab uniquely qualified to offer the new certification program

“The main difference is that originally, we were helping people to figure out what kinds of tags to use and where to put them. We still do that to this day, but the Tagged Item Certification is a bit different,” says Justin Patton, the RFID Lab’s director. “We’re taking items that are already tagged by a supplier and certifying them against a performance grade. It’s evolution and maturity of RFID. We’re moving toward an industry of interoperability, where retailers can request the type of performance they would like in the language of grades, and suppliers can show their item certification as validation that they are compatible.”

According to Patton, there are currently no commercial labs offering this certification. There may be some in the future, he says, but for now, the Auburn University RFID Lab is using the certification mainly as a research platform. “The data we collect is also used to develop better practices in the future,” he states, “and to help gauge the market and technology readiness for new RFID fields of research.”

Manufacturers of apparel, cosmetics, grocery items, electronics, jewelry and other goods can directly submit their RFID-tagged items to the lab. Interested parties can visit the lab’s Tagged Item Certification website and fill out a certification form for each tagged stock-keeping unit (SKU) to be tested. A certificate will be issued only if the item meets the requested TIPP grade requirements, as well as the ARC quality requirements. The cost of the service is $200 per SKU.

Bluvision, Beam Wallet Team on Rewards Program

Bluvision, a provider of enterprise Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon solutions, has announced its partnership with Beam Wallet, a technology firm based in the United Arab Emirates. The two companies will introduce a Bluetooth beacon solution that provides customer insights for retailers to directly reach consumers before, during and after their shopping experience.

The Beam Wallet app

Bluvision’s BEEKS BLE beacons are designed for large deployments and long-term enterprise use, with a battery life of up to three years when running on Apple‘s iBeacon mode and incorporating multiple real-time sensors—including temperature, light and motion. Beam Wallet is a mobile e-payment and rewards platform that includes a mobile app for both Android and iOS operating systems.

According to Bluvision, the integration with Beam Wallet will enable consumers to shop, as well as earn and redeem rewards, while enjoying specifically targeted offers and promotions, without the need for cash or cards. “We are moving into a new era of enhancing the customer experience and maximizing potential for retailers by tracking and monitoring targeted customer insights,” said Elliot Klein, Bluvision’s CMO, in a prepared statement. “We have our own platform, but can also plug-in seamlessly to any CRM to create customized offers and optimize revenue potential for any retailer.”

According to Nadim Khoury, a co-founder of Beam Wallet, “the combination of Beam Wallet’s mobile commerce platform and BEEKS Bluetooth Low Energy technology from Bluvision provides a unique solution for businesses to establish an effective digital presence to create more meaningful relationships with their customers, without extensive IT investment. We’re delighted to be the first to introduce BEEKS technology to the MENA region.”

Beam Wallet is currently available only in Dubai. However, the company reports that it plans to expand the system’s use into other markets regionally and internationally later this year.

Aquabit Spirals Unveils Smart Plate to Content to Shoppers

Japanese company Aquabit Spirals, a provider of smartphone, Internet of Things and e-commerce products and services headquartered in Tokyo, has announced Smart Plate. The Smart Plate card is designed to deliver varied digital content, such as videos, product information, maps and more, to customers’ smartphones via its embedded Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID tag or the unique QR code printed on its surface. The card works with Smart Plate app, available on Google Play, with which companies can wirelessly manage the card, control and change content, track usage and overwrite it for reuse.

Aquabit Spirals’ Smart Plate card

The NFC tag used in the Smart Plate is the NXP Semiconductors‘ NTAG 203. Each Smart Plate card stores an activation code for copy-protection purposes, enabling its deactivation via the app in order to transfer it and reuse it for other content.

Setting up the card is simple, according to Aquabit Spirals. A retailer, for example, affixes a Smart Plate card to a shelf, a product display or a product itself (the company offers a variety of mounting options). Then, via the Smart Plate app, the company selects the content associated with that card, to be delivered to any smartphone. The content can be pulled from anywhere, such as Facebook pages, websites and more, and is presented to the customer via a Web browser. To receive the content, a customer uses an NFC-enabled smartphone to read the card’s RFID tag or scan its QR code (a special app is required on the smartphone in order to read the QR code). The card provides a unique ID number to the smartphone, which is then redirected to a back-end server that manages the request and directs the content to be sent to the customer’s phone. To access the tracking and analytics data, the retailer uses a smartphone to scan or tap the card, and the data is made available via the Smart Plate app.

The Smart Plate card is now available for sale at the Amazon.co.jp website. Smart Plate cards are available in a generic printed format, but can also be custom-designed. According to the company, an iOS version will be made available soon, as will an iOS app that will be offered at the Apple App Store.

RFID Professional Institute Announces First Official Certification Exam

The RFID Professional Institute, a not-for-profit organization founded to promote professionalism in the RFID industry through standardized certification exams, has announced that it will hold its first formal RFID Professional Institute Certified Associate (RPICA) exam at the RFID Journal LIVE! 2015 conference and exhibition, taking place on Apr. 15-17, in San Diego, Calif.

Formerly called the RFID International Institute—the non-profit officially announced its name change in early March to better reflect its long-term mission and scope—the RFID Professional Institute held its first beta exam at LIVE! 2014 and another at RFID Journal LIVE! Europe 2014. According to the institute, test questions have been refined to ensure that the associate-level certification accurately reflects an exam taker’s knowledge of RFID terms and concepts.

The aim of the associate-level certification, the organization reports, is to show that those who have passed the exam have demonstrated a broad knowledge of all types of radio frequency identification, system components and applications.

Anyone attending this year’s LIVE! conference can take the RPICA exam, which will be held on Apr. 16-17. Training geared toward helping those new to RFID to pass the exam will be available onsite, before the test is administered.