RFID News Roundup

By Beth Bacheldor

AmerisourceBergen launches RFID-enabled medications packaging system ••• Scientists use Microsensys RFID technology to study pesticides' effects on bumblebees ••• EasyJet trials Estimote Bluetooth beacons at three European airports ••• Palos Community Hospital puts Versus RTLS in its operating rooms ••• PINC announces next-generation enterprise yard-management solution ••• Toshiba announces new RFID chip compliant with NFC Forum Type 3 specification ••• Trimble intros Apple iOS support in ThingMagic Mercury API.

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The following are news announcements made during the past week by the following organizations:
AmerisourceBergen;
Microsensys;
easyJet, Estimote;
Palos Community Hospital, Versus;
PINC;
Toshiba; and
Trimble.

AmerisourceBergen Launches RFID-enabled Medications Packaging System

FastPak Elite

AmerisourceBergen, a global pharmaceutical sourcing and distribution services company, has launched FastPak Elite, a tool designed to help pharmacists by automating the packaging of oral solid medications, as well as improving the accuracy of the storage or dispensing of medications in the plastic pouches or packets provided to patients. According to AmerisourceBergen, FastPak Elite automates the packaging and storage of oral solid prescription medications and uses lockable and factory-calibrated smart canisters that can accurately accommodate, count and dispense nearly all sizes and shapes of oral solid medications.

Each canister is equipped with an RFID tag and bar-code label to ensure that the correct medication is contained in the proper canister. Pharmacists can insert the canister into the FastPak Elite, which has an internal RFID reader that documents the canister’s RFID chip. The chip’s ID number is correlated with the correct medication for packaging. The machine’s associated software features a specially designed user interface that, according to AmerisourceBergen, simplifies the production process. Pharmacy technicians can queue batches of medications that are selected, counted and dispensed into unit-dose and multi-dose pouches at the rate of up to 60 pouches per minute.

An in-line pill cutter allows for dispensing half-tab medications, which AmerisourceBergen says lowers the costs associated with pill cutting and minimizes the amount of time workers spend loading trays. In addition, a detachable table adjuster tray (DTA) has a capacity of 63 cells and allows the dispensing of irregularly shaped or slow-moving medications not packed in canisters. Reeves-Sain Family of Medical Services, in Tennessee, has been using automated packaging systems from AmerisourceBergen for more than 15 years, and is now utilizing the new RFID-enabled system.

“Our experience with previous models has given us a good perspective on what the new Elite machine has to offer,” says Lee Golden, Pharm.D, Reeves-Sain Family of Medical Services’ VP of long-term care/home infusion. “We have already been able to take advantage of several new efficiencies, including improved package print, a reduction in errors that includes skipped and/or empty packets, a reduction in tray items that is the result of having the capability to utilize 100 percent Smart Fill Canisters supported by RFID, the ability to bypass medications that are unavailable within cycle fills (back orders, stock outs, etc.), and the option to queue batches and eliminate interruptions that waste valuable time. We are excited about the potential savings in time and money that these enhancements have to offer us over the next several years.”

Just a few months ago, RxSafe unveiled a similar RFID-enabled medication-dispensing system (see RxSafe’s Machines Use RFID to Automatically Dispense Medications).

Scientists Use Microsensys RFID Technology to Study Pesticides’ Effects on Bumblebees

Tagged bumblebee

Researchers recently completed a study leveraging radio frequency identification to learn the effects of long-term exposure to a neonicotinoid pesticide on bees’ ability to forage for pollen. The research, conducted at the Royal Holloway University of London monitored 259 bumblebees from 40 colonies throughout a four-week period. and measured the impact of two pesticides, neonicotinoid (imidacloprid) and pyrethroid (lambda cyhalothrin). The study was designed to accurately examine long-term exposure.

The study, published in the British Ecological Society‘s journal Functional Ecology, was carried out by Dr. Richard Gill, in the Department of Life Sciences at the Imperial College London, in Ascot, Berkshire, England; and Nigel Raine, with the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada.

The bees were tracked using 13.56 MHz Microsensys‘ mic3-Tag 64-bit read-only passive transponders compliant with the ISO 15693 standard, Gill reports. The tags measure 2 millimeters by 1.6 millimeters by 0.5 millimeters (0.8 inch by 0.06 inch by 0.02 inch) and weigh just 4 milligrams (0.0001 ounce). The tag ID codes were recorded using a handheld USB pen reader, the Microsensys iID PEN mini USB, while the RFID readers were Maja IV reader modules with optimized antenna for mic3 transponders from Microsensys, Gill adds.

By fitting each bumblebee with an RFID tag, the researchers were able to track, in detail, when individual bees went out and returned to their colony throughout the four-week experiment. The bees were housed in wooden boxes within a temperature-controlled, naturally lit laboratory, but were also connected to the natural environment via an outlet hole, so that they could forage outside the laboratory at will. All colonies were provided with artificial nectar (sugar water) in feeders that they could choose to visit—hence, bees collected all of their pollen and some nectar from real flowers in the field.

To expose the colonies to pesticides, the scientists provided neonicotinoid in the sugar water, while pyrethroid was sprayed onto filter paper that the bees could walk over to reach the feeder. The study found that bumblebee colonies that had been exposed to the neonicotinoid pesticide brought back significantly reduced amounts of pollen in comparison to untreated colonies, suggesting that persistent exposure weakens the bees’ foraging performance. To compensate for the lack of pollen being brought back by each individual bee, the scientists suggest that neonicotinoid-treated colonies also sent out more foragers.

When scientists considered the color of collected pollen, they found evidence to suggest that exposed foragers preferred different flowers on which to forage. Results also revealed that pesticides are preventing bees from improving their pollen foraging ability as they age. Foragers in untreated colonies carried larger pollen loads as they got older and more experienced. The study was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust under the Insect Pollinators Initiative, which is managed under the auspices of the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership. The scientists are urging for environmental policy-makers to consider reforms of the risk-assessment guidelines for pesticide use. Previous research has tended to focus on the impacts of short-term pesticide exposure over a period of 48 hours.

EasyJet Trials Estimote Bluetooth Beacons at Three European Airports

easyJet app

European airline operator EasyJet, which flies more than 600 routes across more than 30 countries with a fleet of 200 Airbus aircraft, has begun testing Bluetooth Beacons to trigger alerts and notifications to passengers’ mobile phones during their airport journey. The trial is being conducted at London Luton, London Gatwick and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports. The beacons, provided by Estimote, are indoor proximity tags that utilize Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to transmit signals to trigger actions on smartphones or other BLE-enabled devices.

EasyJet says its trial currently supports only Apple iPhones, in conjunction with easyJet’s iOS app, available for download from Apple’s iTunes store. However, the airline will review the possibility of adding other mobile phones as the trial progresses. The beacons are activated to send notifications as passengers approach the bag-drop and security areas, and the notifications prompt them to open their boarding pass at the proper time so that it is ready to be scanned, as well as advising when passports need to be presented.

Palos Community Hospital Puts Versus RTLS in Its Operating Rooms

Palos Community Hospital, a health-care provider servicing Chicago’s southwest suburbs, has extended its use of Versus Technology‘s real-time locating system (RTLS), a solution that combines readers, badges and tags for tracking individuals and assets. The hospital is now using Versus’ Advantages OR patient-flow system to track surgical patients in its 12 OR procedure rooms.

The solution tracks patients from pre-op all the way to post-op, and that data is shared with nurses and doctors, as well as with loved ones in the hospital waiting rooms. The system uses infrared (IR) signals, as well as RFID as a backup solution, in the event that the IR signal is blocked or not operating properly. When a tag’s IR signal, emitted every three seconds, is received by the IR reader at a particular location, the interrogator transmits its own ID number, along with that of the tag, to the Versus software. In the event that the IR signal is not being received (if, for instance, a blanket is covering the tag and its infrared beacon), the RFID system will provide a backup by emitting a 433 MHz RFID signal—which also beacons every three seconds—using a proprietary air-interface protocol. The tags and badges communicate with Versus’ wireless, battery-powered V-Link sensors (readers).

At the hospital, both patients and personnel wear a Versus Clearview badge to identify their locations; the location information, along with integrated data from Palos’ Meditech EMR, is relayed to the Advantages software. The technology gives Palos real-time visibility of patient locations and status (waiting for anesthesia, in surgery and so forth), delivers prompts so staff members know where to go next (patient ready for surgeon, room ready for turnover, etc.), and provides passive data collection for historical reporting to help with process-improvement initiatives.

“Anesthesiologists can use the system to easily locate a patient to conduct a pre-consultation, for example,” says Matthew Schmidt, Versus’ national sales director. “Patient numbers can be published to a screen in a waiting room so family can track the patient’s progress.”

According to Versus, the RTLS is helping Palos Community Hospital ensure that staff and patient interactions occur in the correct order and in a timely manner, and can ultimately help improve the flow and care of patients through surgery. The Advantages OR solution was added to the hospital’s existing Versus RTLS, which was installed to track 1,400 IV pumps across a span of 400,000 square feet. The solution helps reduce loss, tracks utilization and helps ensure that each department is properly stocked with ready-to-use pumps, Versus reports.

The RTLS also automates Rauland-Borg‘s Responder 5 nurse-call system for the hospital. When a patient calls the nurse for assistance, the Clearview badge identifies her presence in the room, automatically canceling the call. This allows the nurse to immediately focus on the patient instead of searching for the cancel button. Interstate Electronics Co., a 10-year veteran Versus systems integrator serving the Chicago area, installed and maintains both the Responder and Versus systems.

PINC Announces Next-Generation Enterprise Yard-Management Solution

PINC’s Advanced YMS

PINC Solutions has announced the availability of a new version of its ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID-enabled yard-management system. PINC’s Advanced Yard Management System (YMS) Version 4.5 is cloud-based, delivered via AmazonWeb Services, and includes dynamic dock door scheduling, spotting optimization, tasking algorithms and analytics.

The Advanced YMS is designed to provide real-time visualization of a yard, as well as automated trailer check-in and identification, and real-time trailer location tracking using RFID and yard truck-mounted readers. Highlights of version 4 include an extensible Internet of Things (IoT) sensor platform supporting multiple sensor types.

According to Pradeep Bhanot, PINC’s marketing director, the IoT sensor platform is achieved by instrumenting a customer’s sites and trailer assets with passive RFID tags, fixed and mobile RFID readers (including include Motorola SolutionsFX9500 RFID reader) and GPS sensors. Made with an Omni-ID Dura 1500 on-metal passive EPC Gen 2 tag, PINC’s RFID tag is encased in ABS plastic designed to resist heat and cold, and earning it an IP 68 rating, signifying it as dustproof and waterproof.

“We enable these sensors to communicate to the PINC software solution, over cellular or wired broadband, which is cloud-based using the Amazon Web Services platform,” Bhanot says. “Each site is a sensor in our enterprise-wide view, and every trailer is a tracked asset on our yard map view.”

Other new features in Advanced YMS Version 4.5 include real-time dock door scheduling, apps for smartphones and tablets, the ability to track trailer shipments across multiple facilities and a reefer monitoring option for recording temperatures, fuel levels and cooling cycles. This option, Bhanot explains, is designed to help collect attributes about reefers at gates, and periodically reminds yard truck drivers to check and record the readings.

By collecting and providing various real-time sensor data to existing supply chain systems, PINC reports, it establishes a system of record, eliminates duplicate data entry, accelerates gate velocity and increases the value of warehouse-management system (WMS), transportation-management system (TMS) and enterprise resource-planning (ERP) investments. The continuous collection of operational data allows PINC’s customers to quickly identify exceptions, the company adds, so that they may take appropriate actions.

Toshiba Announces New RFID Chip Compliant With NFC Forum Type 3 Specification

Toshiba has announced the T6NE7, a tag IC compliant with the NFC Forum‘s Type 3 specification for Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. The Type 3 tag spec is based on the Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) X 6319-4, also known as FeliCa (most other NFC tags on the market comply with the NFC Forum’s Type 2 specification, which is based on the ISO 14443A standard).

According to Toshiba, because standard NFC-enabled mobile phones are compliant with the NFC Type 3 spec, it can communicate with the T6NE7 RFID chip. The new chip comes with a wired interface that communicates with a host microprocessor, and can connect with wireless products by writing and reading the necessary data onto embedded non-volatile memory in the tag. This, according to the company, avoids the complicated data input and operation previously required. The chip can be integrated into standalone products that typically have no communications interface, Toshiba reports, such as calculators, clocks and health-care products.

The small chip integrates 2 kilobytes of non-volatile memory that it can allocate to the available memory area in the wired mode, Toshiba says, and that can also be used as an external memory to store information to control the host microprocessor in the wireless device. It supports three communication modes: tag standalone wireless communication mode, wired mode, and through mode to connect the host from wireless.

Security features include mutual recognition using the Triple DES Message Authentication Code (MAC). Various wired interface options (UART, I2C and SPI) are available. The T6NE7 will be marketed worldwide, the company reports. Sample shipments are available now, as is sample software to control the host microprocessor, with mass production scheduled to start in August 2014.

Trimble Intros Apple iOS Support in ThingMagic Mercury API

Trimble has announced the addition of Apple iOS compatibility enhancements to ThingMagic’s Mercury API software development kit. According to Trimble, new enhancements to the Mercury API address the growing demand from end users that want to use consumer mobile devices—smartphones and tablets—as an alternative to handheld computers for RFID applications. The addition of iOS support, the company reports, represents the next step in expanding the breadth of application uses for Mercury API.

Systems integrators and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) developing solutions with ThingMagic readers and embedded modules will now benefit from support of a greater breadth of operating systems, according to Trimble. The software development kit (SDK), which contains the components necessary to begin reading and writing RFID tags and developing RFID-enabled applications, also comes with the Mercury API, which includes code examples and a graphical read-write demonstration program.

The Mercury API enables developers to design and test reader and tag commands, advanced read functionality (such as setting antennas, protocols and filtering criteria), advanced tag operations (such as killing and locking tags’ privacy and security features), and performance and memory optimization.

In addition to the iOS support—which comes with a sample iOS application, along with a sample Xcode project that the company says results in an easy, out-of-the-box solution for developers—new features in the Mercury API version 1.23 include enhancements to the Java API’s support for Android. This enables developers to more easily build Android applications for Mercury 6e Series embedded modules using USB and TTL/UART interfaces, and includes a sample Android application, along with NetBeans projects and makefiles. It also includes enhancements designed to support the easy addition of different back-end interfaces to directly communicate with Mercury 6e Series and Mercury 5e Series modules, including communicating directly with the modules through a serial-to-Ethernet adapter using an Mercury API.

“Feedback from RFID end users has shown an increased demand to use the most popular mobile devices and operating systems. We first responded with Android support in the last release of our Mercury API and have now added iOS support,” said Tom Grant, ThingMagic’s general manager, in a prepared statement. “By adding iOS support to the Mercury API we are expanding the population of devices that can manage and control ThingMagic embedded modules and finished readers to implement an RFID solution.” Mercury API version 1.23 is available now and can be downloaded from the ThingMagic website.