RFID News Roundup

By Admin

MET Labs announces program to test medical devices for susceptibility to RFID interference; Ekahau adds combination IR and Wi-Fi asset tag to RTLS portfolio; Schreiner LogiData RFID polices guns and ballistics vests; UPM RFID peddles NFC inlays via NFC-Hub.com, intros NFC app with Hansaprint; Omnitrol launches next-gen RFID retail app; Recall adds item-level tracking to its services; Thinfilm unveils rewritable printed CMOS memory.

The following are news announcements made during the past week.

MET Labs Announces Program to Test Medical Devices for Susceptibility to RFID Interference

In early December 2011, MET Labs plans to launch a new program designed to help medical-device manufacturers determine whether their electronic medical devices are susceptible to any potential adverse events of RFID emissions. The program was developed in cooperation with AIM Global's AIM Healthcare Initiative (HCI) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Work actually began on the initiative two years ago, and included the Georgia Tech Research Institute (see Team to Develop Standards for Testing RFID in Health Care). The initiative will validate a draft test protocol using actual medical devices. According to MET Labs, the increasing use of wireless monitoring devices in RF-rich environments (from RFID, wireless LANs and other devices) makes this research critical in the prevention of potential adverse effects from RFID emissions on patient safety. The validation process will be used to ensure that the protocol works. "Each medical device will be tested for susceptibility against several radio frequencies and parameters as defined in the test protocol. The protocol may be refined based on the experience acquired during testing. MET will then present the report, protecting vendors' anonymity, and the final protocol to AIM for review and acceptance," explains Barnaby Wickham, MET Labs' marketing director. "The protocol has undergone extensive review by MET, the FDA and AIM. However, it is still in draft mode. It has to be validated by an independent test house against medical devices to prove that it is effective. The protocol is based on scientific principles, and for each frequency it identifies RF parameters that might cause interference. A medical device vendor present during testing will determine if a device is affected or not. If a device is affected, MET labs will assist the vendor with finding a solution that will mitigate or eliminate susceptibility." AIM will review the MET Labs findings and the final version of the protocol. Upon completion and acceptance by AIM, the final test protocol will be submitted to recognized national and international standards organizations, so that it may be made publicly available. This is expected to be completed sometime during the third or fourth quarter of this year, Wickham says. The program will be introduced during a free informational webinar on Dec. 6, and medical-device manufacturers are invited to participate in the program by submitting representative devices to MET Labs for testing, which will take approximately one day to complete for each submitted device. Eligible medical devices are those covered by the IEC 60601 family of standards, the product safety standard for electrical medical equipment, which covers everything from defibrillators to EKG machines—pretty much anything electrical used within a health-care setting, Wickham says. According to Met Labs, there are several benefits to participation. Submitted equipment will be tested at several different RFID frequency bands, and participants will receive a confidential test report. If equipment is found to be susceptible to RF interference, MET Labs will assist manufacturers with strategies for minimizing or eliminating interference effects. The confidentiality of manufacturer participation and individual test results will kept be strictly maintained, according to MET Labs, which will share or publish only aggregate, unattributed data related to the validation and/or further development of a final test protocol with the AIM RFID Experts Group. MET Labs will not share or publish any results without the explicit, written consent of the medical-device manufacturer.

Ekahau Adds Combination IR and Wi-Fi Asset Tag to RTLS Portfolio

Wi-Fi-based real-time location systems (RTLS) provider Ekahau has added a new Wi-Fi asset-tracking tag—the A4—which leverages both active Wi-Fi and infrared (IR) technologies. The A4 tag supports precision location of less than 1 meter (3.5 feet), using existing enterprise Wi-Fi networks and IR micro-zone technology, according to Ekahau. Previously, Ekahau's asset tags only supported Wi-Fi technology. The company has long offered RFID badge and wrist tags that employ Wi-Fi and IR technologies for tracking individuals. A Pennsylvania hospital uses those tags to share patient location data with visitors and staff members (see Butler Hospital Uses RFID Linked to Voice-Over-IP). Ekahau's Wi-Fi-based RTLS supports the use of IR location beacons, each of which emit an IR signal encoded with a unique serial number, and tags that capture the serial number of the IR beacon within its range. The tags then transmit a Wi-Fi-compliant 2.4 GHz signal containing that beacon's serial number, as well as its own unique ID number, to a back-end system. According to Ekahau, the new A4 tag is the first Wi-Fi RTLS asset tag in the industry to provide location accuracy of less than 1 meter (3.3 feet), which it accomplishes by detecting both standard Wi-Fi network signals and those emitted by Ekahau's IR location beacons. The beacons can be placed within areas in which micro-zone accuracy is required, or in areas where Wi-Fi coverage is inadequate, while still maintaining enterprise-wide visibility over the existing Wi-Fi network, the company says. Now, the Ekahau RTLS can automatically detect, for example, which assets are near a particular hospital bed or patient in a semi-private room. Such granular information allows employees to find assets more quickly, as well as track equipment for more accurate billing. The A4 offers battery life of up to five years, and includes an optical tamper sensor that issues alerts to notify that the tag has been removed from the object to which it is attached. The tag also contains two configurable buttons, which can be used for sending alarms or notifying users of events, such as asset availability. With a small form factor that is dust- and splash-proof, the A4 tag can be attached to small and odd-shaped objects, using a variety of mounting options. And unlike traditional RTLS tags, the A4 leverages the bidirectional communication capabilities of Wi-Fi to allow administrators to manage and reprogram thousands of tags anywhere on an enterprise network. The A4 is available now from Ekahau and its distribution partners.

Schreiner LogiData RFID Polices Guns and Bulletproof Vests

Schreiner LogiData has announced that it has developed an RFID-enabled solution allowing the Hamburg Police Department, in Germany, to mark firearms and ballistic vests in a way that they can be clearly allocated to the officers to whom they have been personally issued. The RFID tags' and labels' unique identification numbers are correlated with the officers' identities to ensure that each officer receives his or her correct weapon and vest. According to Schreiner LogiData, the integration of RFID labels in the weapons and protective vests also avoids errors that can occur when serial numbers are manually entered into a system, making the administration and management of weapons and vests more efficient, while also saving time. In addition, the company reports, the reliable and clear allocation of a piece of equipment to the appropriate officer enhances safety. According to Johannes Becker, the head of Schreiner LogiData's Competence Center, the company developed passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 labels that have been custom-designed to work in the presence of the weapon's metallic components, and have been integrated into the guns' grips. The labels are designed to withstand the extreme loads acting on them when the weapon is fired, throughout its service life, the company reports, and to help the department document that every officer has received the proper weapon, and has returned it to the arms room upon going off-duty. The automatic identification of each firearm, when checked in and out, saves the force valuable time, Schreiner LogiData explains. The ballistic vests are tagged with high-frequency (HF) versions of Schreiner LogiData's ((rfid))-DuraTags, which are suited for use in textiles applications in which high wear resistance and durability are required during repetitive washing processes. The vests are customized to fit a wearer, and the tagging and automated identification mean the vests can be quickly allocated to the correct individual at the time of check-out, and to reliably identify the officer in case of an accident. Due to its flat design, with a thickness of just 0.75 millimeter (0.03 inch), the ((rfid))-DuraTag can be attached to the vest without impairing wearing comfort. The RFID tag is completely encapsulated, making it highly resistant to moisture. It can withstand the temperatures that occur during regular cleaning of the vests—up to 90 degrees Celsius (194 degrees Fahrenheit). What's more, data regarding scheduled cleaning cycles can be stored on the RFID tag. Schreiner LogiData first delivered the labels for the weapons in late 2009 to Walther. The tags for the ballistic vests were provided to Schreiner LogiData's customer (which it is not at liberty to name) in late 2010, to begin integrating the tags into the vests. Schreiner LogiData indicates that it does not know when either the tagged guns or vests were first delivered to the police, Becker notes.

UPM RFID Peddles NFC Inlays Via NFC-Hub.com, Intros NFC App With Hansaprint

UPM RFID and digital agency Bolser have announced they have partnered to sell UPM RFID's Near Field Communication (NFC) inlays via the NFC-Hub.com online netstore. Launched in July 2011, NFC-Hub.com is an online service in the United Kingdom aimed at offering new opportunities for low-cost marketing, especially for small businesses and individuals. It was developed by Bolser, and commissioned by Nokia. Nokia has indicated, however, that it wanted to take a "Powered by Nokia" approach to the site, rather than launch it as a Nokia-branded initiative. The online store provides ready-to-use customized products with integrated NFC tags and a custom-made campaign service built with a back-end system to host open NFC campaigns. NFC-Hub.com netstore users can select and create NFC tags and printed products, such as stickers, business cards and smart posters, with attached or integrated NFC tags incorporating all of the relevant encoding and printing. The NFC-Hub.com site also enables users to set up and manage NFC tag-based promotional campaigns, according to UMP RFID and Bolser. Users can order NFC tags preprogrammed with URLs linking to individual mobile Web sites, Facebook and Foursquare check-ins or Twitter follows. The encoded address can be changed and redirected to another address, and controlled remotely to check in, for example, on the campaign voucher download page. The campaigns can deliver other promotional material as well. "NFC-Hub.com represents an enormous shift in power away from big financial corporations into the hands of small businesses and individual consumers," said Ashley Bolser, the company's managing director, in a prepared statement. "The open nature of the technology means anyone can now set up and manage their own campaigns and make great use of NFC as it grows in importance." UPM RFID and Finnish-based printing house Hansaprint are unveiling a new NFC mobile application known as TagAge Mobile, designed to let users create NFC tag content and graphics using their own photos stored on a smartphone. TagAge Mobile has creator functionality for NFC smart stickers and business cards, according to the two companies, and includes access for sourcing blank tags in low volumes. Users need not have NFC phones for tag encoding; they can simply create the content in the application, and order printed and encoded tags for delivery to the desired address. Content creation supports all NFC NDEF formats. A wide variety of stickers can be created using TagAge Mobile, covering social-media promotion stickers and direct-call tags, as well as stickers for posters and postcards. In addition to consumers, TagAge Mobile targets application developers seeking small volumes of custom-printed and encoded tags. According to UPM RFID and Hansaprint, TagAge Mobile for Nokia Symbian smartphones will be available to the public free of charge via Nokia Store during November 2011. The two companies designed the concept; the software is designed and developed by Tieto, an IT services, research and development (R&D) and consulting firm. UPM RFID is the exclusive provider of NFC tags for both the TagAge.net Web shop and TagAge Mobile. Via TagAge Mobile, users will be able to purchase starter kits, including blank UPM's BullsEye, Circus and MiniTrack NFC inlays. Credit-card payments will be accepted when customers order NFC tags via the app, and the tags can be delivered anywhere worldwide. "With TagAge Mobile we are removing the last barrier to making NFC tags easily available to consumers," said Mikko Nikkanen, UPM RFID's business development director, in a prepared statement. "We expect that great, undiscovered ideas and concepts will start to flow rapidly now that consumers have all the required tools, NFC tags and smartphones available."

Omnitrol Launches Next-Gen RFID Retail App

Omnitrol Networks a provider of real-time sensor-driven operational intelligence and item-level traceability solutions, has announced an upgrade to its Retail Smart-Store software application, which provides inventory traceability and inventory management using RFID item-level tags. The Omnitrol Retail Smart-Store is designed to show the retailer not only know what is on its shelves, but also which items its customers are interacting with at the store, and which of those they purchase. These types of analytics can help retailers improve the way they merchandise their stores. The new Smart-Store release now provides real-time insight into asset movements and customer activity by shelf location within a store. These activity metrics are measured by tracking asset movements automatically using RFID and sensors. When correlating that information with point-of-sale (POS) data, retailers can view, in real time, which areas are "revenue hotspots" so that they can better manage the layout of their merchandise. "This will result in improved sales of items and related accessories in these activity hotspots," says Raj Saksena, Omnitrol's CEO. In addition, Omnitrol has added a new store-specific metric to the software that tracks "Touch-vs.-Buy Rate" by stock-keeping unit (SKU) and SKU group. "Retailers can now track customer behavior by tracking actual item-level movements that can not be seen by the point-of-sale," Saksena adds. The software lets retailers track the movements of the most active items—such as those taken to dressing rooms to be tried on—and compares those movements with POS information, such as sales data on specific items. This "interacting," or activity meter by SKU, provides insight into customer behavior and customer interaction with items by location within the store. Traditionally, retailers have used historical data gathered across multiple store locations to plan product stock levels within their retail outlets. However, because shopping trends vary by location, this has resulted in unnecessarily lost capital, due to overstocked items being marked down as clearance. With the Omnitrol Retail Smart-Store solution, customer behaviors—such as product touch rates on shelves, as well as fitting room activity—are correlated with purchase rates, thereby enabling the retailer to shift inventory dynamically based on real-time customer behavior information for a particular location, rather than relying entirely on POS information. The software can be installed on a store-by-store basis, and can be integrated across multiple stores. It includes a distributed business-analytics engine that provides retailers with the ability to process item-level inventory tracking in real time at the store level, and also aggregates the information on cloud-based, centralized business-intelligence servers, to provide near-real-time reports regarding exception trends across multiple stores.

Recall Adds Item-level Tracking to Its Services

Recall, a provider of document storage, secure document destruction, digital document management and data protection, has added new capabilities to its RFID program, leveraging EPC Gen 2 technology, that allow for the tagging and tracking of individual files and media tapes. Since 2007, Recall has been offering its RFID program for the inventorying and document management of cartons containing files (see Recall Corp. Uses RFID to Recall Cartons). Currently, the company has RFID tags on tens of millions of Recall cartons, and can scan and audit more than 300 cartons in less than 30 seconds. The new capabilities allow for the item-level tagging of files within the tagged cartons, as well as the tagging of media tapes. The capabilities are enabling new services, according to Jonathan Poole, Recall's RFID manager. Recall now offers Content Validation, a service that confirms the contents of a carton without a worker having to open the carton's lid, but leveraging RFID readers to cull the information from the tags in the individual files stored within. "This is a significant advancement in the security of our customer's records, and the rapid reading of tags makes it economically viable to confirm each item," Poole says. "During the initial receiving process, we confirm the contents twice—once during the tagging and placement of files into the cartons, and again before the items are moved into permanent storage. By using RFID to confirm the contents during the second step, we can correct human error which may have occurred during the packing process. Once the carton has been placed into storage, it is available for the customer to request it back to their offices, and this presents another touch point for human error, when the carton is at the customer's office, as the customer may remove or add files. As the carton is returned to us again, we scan it as it enters our secure facility, to again verify the contents are still accurate." He adds that "active files"—those that customers need access to on a regular basis (as opposed to archived files that typically aren't accessed regularly)—are stored directly on shelves within Recall's facilities. The item-level tagging enables the ability to perform a 100 percent inventory audit in a fraction of the time required to perform the same audit manually using bar-code scanners, Poole says. "The audit is the key," he states, "either as the carton arrives in our facility, or while the file is on the shelf in our active file storage. The ability to provide an inventory audit of either active files or whole cartons simply did not exist prior to Recall's introduction of RFID tagging."

Thinfilm Unveils Rewritable Printed CMOS Memory

Thinfilm Electronics, an Oslo, Norway, provider of nonvolatile-memory products, together with PARC, a Xerox company, have announced that they have produced a working prototype of a printed non-volatile memory device addressed with complementary organic circuits—the organic equivalent of complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) circuitry. According to the two companies, this marks a significant milestone toward the mass production of low-cost, low-power ubiquitous devices that are a key component of the Internet of Things, in which everything is connected via a smart tag. These smart tags will require rewritable memory, and will need to be low-cost, support integration with sensors and other electronic components, be environmentally friendly, and be able to be produced using high-volume, roll-to-roll printing. The demonstrated prototype and rewritable memory with logic circuitry will meet all of these requirements, the companies report. The new printed non-volatile memory device leverages Thinfilm's Addressable Memory, which combines Thinfilm's polymer-based memory technology with PARC's transistor technology, using complementary pairs of n-type and p-type transistors to construct the circuits. The addition of the integrated circuits makes the roll-to-roll printed Thinfilm Memory addressable by printable logic, the firms add. "Fundamentally, transistors are the building blocks of all electronic systems. They are the devices that make all modern integrated circuits (ICs) possible. They are the logic that make it possible for devices with different functions to be put together into systems," explains Jennifer Ernst, Thinfilm Electronics' VP for North America. "With this demonstration, we, with PARC, have proven that printable transistors can be used to read and write to our printed memory. This is an important milestone in enabling integrated systems built by printing. Integrated systems mean printed devices with different functions, such as sensors and displays." According to Ernst, Thinfilm's current memory stickers are passive. "The addressing logic—the part that controls reading and writing to any individual bit—is all in our custom ASIC." This prototype, he says, shows that "that we can use organic transistors to move that addressability to the printed tags. It will make integration with conventional electronics a bit simpler, but much more importantly, it shows really the first building block for a commercially valid and scalable design that will support integration of different printed components." Companies have been developing printed memory for a while. Approximately a year ago, Kovio, a California-based company that launched from the MIT Media Lab, announced that it was working on printed memory in RFID tags (see Printed-Electronics RFID Tags Debut). Back when it announced its tags, Kovio reported that its thin-film transistor (TFT)—a component of an IC, containing multiple TFTs that control various functions on the chip—is printed with proprietary nanosilicon ink. The high-frequency (HF) tag holds 128 bits of memory, has a read range of nearly 5 centimeters (2 inches) and is compatible with the ISO 14443 air-interface protocol standard used globally for transit systems. Based on the public information Ernst has seen, it appears that Kovio's tags have printed read-only memory. "Like most RFID, it's write-once, with a big serial number stored in memory," he states. "Smart tags—e.g., sensors that write to memory—require rewrite-ability, as will NFC tags. The major difference is that RFID is a really big number, because you need a unique identifier that can be looked up in a database somewhere. Thinfilm memory stores data locally. It can, of course, be read out later to a database or other system, but when talking about 'the Internet of Things,' rewritable memory is what allows you to cache data at the edges of the network—which, in this case, are the physical objects that surround us. Also, Kovio uses a silicon ink. It is my understanding that such inks have to be handled under special processing conditions. All of our materials are processable in open air. We have no silicon, no heavy metals." Currently, Thinfilm Electronics offers low-cost, low-power printed electronics for high-volume consumer applications, with two main products: Thinfilm Memory and Thinfilm System. Thinfilm Memory products include 20-bit memory, and is presently in production for consumer applications, such as toys, games, loyalty cards and information kiosks. The Thinfilm Addressable Memory, still under development, is expected to be made available in 2012. The development of the Thinfilm Addressable Memory, the company reports, was partially funded by an industrial development grant from Innovation Norway.