RFID News Roundup

By Rich Handley

STMicroelectronics extends NFC reader IC portfolio for digital car keys; Apptricity launches mobile app featuring RFID; BehrTech receives Canadian government grant for IoT sensor technologies; Tompkins Robotics intros micro-fulfillment solution for retailers; Thread Group certifies IoT offerings from Silicon Labs, NXP, Nordic Semiconductor, WideSky; Powercast joins the RAIN RFID Alliance.

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Presented here are news announcements made during the past week regarding the following organizations: STMicroelectronics, Apptricity, BehrTech, Tompkins Robotics, Thread Group, Silicon Labs, NXP, Nordic Semiconductor, WideSky, Powercast and the RAIN RFID Alliance.

STMicroelectronics Extends NFC Reader IC Portfolio for Digital Car Keys
STMicroelectronics has announced that it has extended its portfolio of ST25R Near Field Communication (NFC) reader ICs with the ST25R3920, a new addition to its digital car key line. According to the company, the device includes features for stronger performance, including rapid key response and extended range.

Digital keys let drivers lock and unlock their cars via smartphones, and they support features such as easy sharing and management of access privileges for other users (friends or valets, for instance). They could also enable new vehicle-ownership models, including car subscription services. The Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC)’s Digital Key Release 2.0 offers the ability to use the key while a phone’s battery is too low for normal device operation, according to the company.

With dynamic power output (DPO) and noise-suppression receiver (NSR) technologies, the device increases RF output power and offers an enhanced input-circuit design for rapid car-key response and user convenience. With DPO, the device operates at up to 1.6 watts of continuous RF output power and 2.5 watts of short-term input peak, to maintain reliable NFC connections over distance with a small antenna. NSR is intended to increase immunity to interference from noise sources, as well as simplify EM immunity and ease certification. Automatic antenna tuning compensates for changes in an RF environment to maintain a strong connection to a user’s phone, while low-power key-signal detection with inductive wakeup minimizes load on the battery when the key is not in use.

Suitable for space-constrained locations that limit antenna size, the ST25R3920 can be positioned in door handles, B-pillar or center console. It supports CCC Digital Key Standardization Release 2.0, an architecture endorsed by many carmakers, smartphone manufacturers and electronics suppliers. The chip is also certified by the NFC Forum and can work as an NFC reader or an NFC universal device. Compliance with the Forum’s standards for pairing applications, as well as the EMVCo 3.0 standards, allows for use as an in-car contactless-payment terminal for services such as electric vehicle charging. In addition, a Qi wireless charging NFC-card protection algorithm enables safe wireless charging of portable devices.

Apptricity Launches Mobile App Featuring RFID
Apptricity has announced the launch of its Apptricity Mobile Asset Tracking application, which combines barcode, Bluetooth and RFID scanning within a mobile platform. The company provides asset-tracking and supply-chain solutions offering asset monitoring and data intelligence. The new system is intended to provide an enhanced user experience and the freedom to choose hardware that best serves a customer’s particular asset-tracking needs.

Available for both iOS and Android, the application features location auditing to confirm an asset is at a specific location; hot and cold reading of assets via Bluetooth tags to let a user know how close or far away he or she is from an asset; and asset-movement tracking, with Bluetooth tags set up to represent a specific asset, zone or location, thereby allowing for asset movement to be automated when tags are scanned next to location tags. RFID gun integration comes standard for Zebra and Alien guns, both standalone and Bluetooth-connected.

The system offers the ability to mix and match tagging technologies to fit an end user’s budget, without the need to change applications. Audits and Bluetooth scans can be completed offline and then be sent to a server once network connectivity is reestablished. Bluetooth scanning can be set to continue even when the application is running in the background, the company reports, thus ensuring asset location tracking as often as needed (for Android-based setups only).

“Our new mobile platform is the next generation in mobile tracking. Our solution allows a user the option to track assets or inventory using barcode, RFID or Bluetooth utilizing one mobile application,” said Tim Garcia, Apptricity’s CEO, in a prepared statement. “Our new application gives our end users an end-to-end asset-management solution when paired with IoT hardware devices and mobile software. With it, you can increase the visibility of your assets, where it’s located, maximize its lifespan and gain tracking knowledge. It’s a great blend of web and mobile technologies.”

BehrTech Receives Canadian Government Grant for IoT Sensor Technologies
BehrTech, a provider of wireless connectivity solutions for the Internet of Things (IoT), has announced that it has been awarded more than $3 million from a joint funding program through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

The grant will be used to create and staff an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) lab dedicated to sensors, communications, applied research and integration. Located at BehrTech’s Toronto headquarters, the lab will contain equipment to develop, analyze and integrate IIoT sensors and serve as a trial platform for prototypes ahead of full-scale demonstrations and deployment.

“This grant is testimony to BehrTech’s innovation and contribution to the sensor and communication technologies market,” said Albert Behr, BehrTech’s CEO, in a prepared statement. “The new equipment and infrastructure will enable us to further develop the wireless IoT sensors needed to overcome the connectivity barriers that are currently plaguing Industry 4.0.”

The grant program connects colleges with local companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, to work together on applied research projects that will facilitate the development of new products and technologies for the benefit of local communities and beyond. BehrTech will work alongside Sir Sanford Fleming College and its partners, BGC Engineering, Molok, Ecoation, ioAirFlow and AOMS. According to the company, this partnership will expand the MYTHINGS wireless connectivity product family that leverages the MIOTY wireless protocol to simplify and accelerate the deployment of low-power wide-area networks.

Tompkins Robotics Intros Micro-Fulfillment Solution for Retailers
Tompkins Robotics has announced its latest t-Sort solution for micro-fulfillment operations. The system utilizes the company’s t-Sort autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to optimize operations in a store backroom, a micro-fulfillment center (MFC) or a dark store.

Retail stores, particularly grocery stores, are often not designed to accommodate an influx of surrogate shoppers or “buy online, pickup in store” (BOPIS) orders, the company explains. With that in mind, the t-Sort micro-fulfillment solution is designed to optimize operations by saving space, labor and costs, while increasing speed and accuracy. The flexible modular system can fit in an existing backroom space, the firm reports, and can process all types of products, including ambient, fresh and frozen foods.

“As retailers race to deliver products in a tight timeframe and real estate continues to be costly and scarce in densely populated areas, micro-fulfillment models are becoming a popular trend,” said Mike Futch, Tompkins Robotics’ president, in a prepared statement. “Our t-Sort system can be rapidly deployed in an existing location or a backroom at a fraction of the cost of traditional micro-fulfillment solutions using ASRS technology. This gives our customers options for stores where higher levels of automation are not realistic.”

For customers pursuing a micro-fulfillment strategy using automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) or goods-to-person AMR solutions, the company indicates, a t-Sort system can be integrated to increase value. The solution increases capacity and productivity, Tompkins Robotics says, and t-Sort can be deployed in a dark store or at a standalone micro-fulfillment site. With store-based fulfillment models, t-Sort can fit within an existing backroom space and can work in conjunction with the firm’s t-Rail system to provide overhead transportation of goods to and from the sales floor, minimizing floor congestion and human interaction.

When used in a retail backroom setting, the solution facilitates the inbound sortation of mixed containers to segments of each aisle for faster, efficient shelf stocking. It enhances home delivery and BOPIS order processing by allowing batch picks of hundreds of orders by department or aisle, improving speed, productivity, capacity and efficiency. And it automates order consolidation, increasing customer service levels and decreasing labor requirements.

In addition, the system reduces aisle congestion and shopper interference by minimizing staff requirements. It can be configured to sort large, bulky products on one level and smaller goods on another level to optimize operations and increase productivity. It provides increased capacity, enabling retailers to meet surges in daily customer orders. And it sorts outbound parcels by route, courier or local delivery unit, enabling same- or next-day delivery.

“We can deploy a backroom t-Sort system in as little as two weeks per site during a rollout to multiple stores,” Futch said in the prepared statement. “A system can increase capacity in minutes once additional robots are on site, and an entire system can be moved to another store in a day. The simple, flexible design and plug-and-play elements make t-Sort truly unique for micro-fulfillment applications.”

Thread Group Certifies IoT Offerings from Silicon Labs, NXP, Nordic Semiconductor, WideSky
The Thread Group, an alliance addressing Internet of Things IoT convergence, security, power and architecture challenges at the network layer, has announced that components from Silicon Labs, NXP Semiconductors and Nordic Semiconductor, along with a product from WideSky, have passed its specification compliance and interoperability testing.

The WideSky Hub is the first certified and widely available “Built on Thread” product for commercial buildings, as well as energy and industry applications, the organization repots. WideSky’s wireless hub uses Thread to access valuable data across subsystems, devices and sensors without cables. Thread also ensures scalability and compatibility for future data infrastructure monitoring.

“Thread’s self-healing mesh network gives the WideSky Hub the ability to enable both device-to-device and device-to-cloud communication securely,” said John Meehan, WideSky’s CEO, in a prepared statement. “Leveraging an IP-based wireless standard was necessary because our commercial applications demand reliable, secure and cost-effective connectivity. Thread was the obvious solution for us.”

To ensure that technology from different manufacturers can communicate reliably and securely, the WideSky Hub passed Thread’s tests against multiple vendor configurations, and it joins a list of 33 other Thread-certified solutions. This year, Thread selected Envio Systems as the winner of its innovation enabler program. The board granted the award to support Envio’s smart building-automation solutions.

Powercast Joins the RAIN RFID Alliance
Powercast, a provider of radio frequency (RF)-based long-range over-the-air wireless power technology, has announced that it has joined the RAIN RFID Alliance, an organization that promotes the adoption of ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID technologies. Handheld and fixed UHF RFID readers connect billions of everyday items to the internet, enabling businesses and consumers to identify, locate, authenticate and engage each item bearing an RFID tag or label.

Powercast’s Powerharvester RF-to-DC converter chips harvest RF from 10 MHz to 6 GHz. The Powerharvester PCC110 and PCC114 chips can harvest RF from existing UHF RFID readers and, with up to 80 percent efficiency, convert it to direct current to power applications over the air. RFID readers emit a similar RF signal to the company’s PowerSpot and Powercaster RF wireless power transmitters, enabling RFID to be another reliable source of RF wireless power.

A Powerharvester receiver chip embedded in an electronic paper display tag, such as a retail electronic shelf-edge label, an environmental sensing or logistics tag, or a secure ID card can harvest RF when it comes within range of a UHF RFID reader. That range is application-dependent; most can function up to 30 feet (9 meters) from a reader, while some can work up to 80 feet (24 meters) away. RFID tag or label devices can be designed with batteries that Powercast either recharges or manages, or without batteries since an embedded Powerharvester chip can harvest enough power from UHF RFID readers to operate perpetually, according to the company.

Several applications developed with partner E Ink and deployed during the past two years enable companies to use RFID infrastructure to wirelessly update E Ink’s ePaper screen over the air. These include ViewTag‘s electronic bag tag, launched by British Airways in 2019 as TAG, which harvests RF from airport RFID equipment to refresh the ePaper screen with the passenger’s itinerary; and Powercast’s UHF RFID Retail Price Tag, a batteryless ESL launched in 2018 which harvests RF from retail RFID readers to send over-the-air price updates to its ePaper screen.

“We are delighted to join the RAIN RFID Alliance and look forward to a mutually beneficial collaboration,” said Charles Greene, Powercast’s chief operating and technical officer, in a prepared statement. “RAIN provides an industry forum to promote the benefits of RFID technology and is driving awareness to accelerate growth and adoption across many industries.”

“The alliance welcomes Powercast to our growing membership,” said Steve Halliday, president of the RAIN RFID Alliance, in the prepared statement. “Powercast brings deep experience in defining and executing wireless power solutions to benefit our members and will contribute to our mission of promoting RFID technology.”