Zebra Launches Zatar ‘Internet of Things’ Service for RFID Readers, Networked Devices

By Claire Swedberg

The service lets users track the location and manage the operation of RFID readers, printers and other networked devices, via a cloud-based server.


Several companies are currently testing a new application from Zebra Technologies, known as Zatar. The new app, according to Zebra, enables the firms to manage printers, RFID readers, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and other networked electronic devices remotely.

Although businesses can already purchase software to receive and display data from wireless devices—such as RFID readers or printers, forklifts or thermostats—such software can be costly and is typically installed at a single site rather than shared across multiple locations that may be in separate countries or on different continents. The Zatar app is designed to be a low-cost alternative that allows a company to manage an unlimited number of devices at an unlimited number of sites, for a monthly fee of approximately $2 per device, says Phil Gerskovich, Zebra’s senior VP of new growth platforms. Users can either download the app for use with an iPhone or iPad, or simply sign onto the Zatar Web site via any browser device and then manage devices remotely.

The Zatar Remote Device Management (RDM) application for the iPhone and iPad.

Development of the Zatar app began about three years ago, Gerskovich says. At that time, he notes, “We were becoming aware of the ‘Internet of Things’ concept. We sell a lot of devices, and were interested in what the Internet of Things might mean for our company.” In 2011, Zebra launched an initiative to develop the Zatar solution for use not only with Zebra printers, but with any device that may have an Internet connection, either wired or wireless.

Some non-RFID Zebra printers (one mobile, two desktop and four industrial) are now compatible with the Zatar service. Once connected with the Internet, these seven Zatar-compatible printers communicate directly with the Zatar server, when instructed by the service to do so, using the Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP). Zebra does not intend to directly support CoAP on its RFID printer-encoders at this time, but the new service will support these devices using the Zatar Gateway for now. Other devices that are not compatible with CoAP would require a Zatar Gateway. The protocol is being widely adopted for the Internet of Things and machine-to-machine (M2M) devices. The gateway would receive transmissions from the device via a USB, Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection; convert that data from the protocol used by the device, such as TCP-IP, to the CoAP; and forward that information to the Zatar server via the Internet.

In either scenario, users wishing to access data from the Zatar system need only have an Internet-connected PC or other device with a browser in order to visit the Zatar site, input a user ID and password, and obtain an update regarding the devices for which they are responsible. Zatar also offers a Remote Device Management (RDM) application for the iPhone and iPad that can be downloaded from Apple’s iTune AppStore, and users could then receive alerts or manage devices from their smartphone or tablet. The app is not currently available for Android devices.

A logistics firm, for instance, may have an inventory of bar-code scanners, handheld RFID readers and PDAs or printers at multiple centers worldwide. A user would input each device into the Zatar system by signing onto the Zatar Web site and then creating a profile for that device. The profile is intended to mimic a Facebook page, by collecting and storing information about that device, including its activity, based on the type of data being collected. The user would also need to install a Zatar Gateway in order to communicate with any non-CoAP devices (a single gateway supports dozens of devices).

Depending on how a user configures the devices’ profiles, the data collected could consist simply of each device’s unique identifier, thereby providing managers with information about which devices are on the company’s multiple sites, as well as when a particular device is removed. However, the system could also collect other information, such as each device’s battery life, whether it is in operation or powered off at any given time, or the mode in which it is operating. The user could then make adjustments to the device remotely, such as changing a setting or power level.

Currently, Gerskovich says, many companies send personnel around a site (such as a logistics center or an assembly area) to locate devices, and to confirm that each is present and functioning properly. The Zatar solution could reduce the need for such manual checks, he reports.

Zebra Technologies’ Phil Gerskovich

What’s more, for companies operating RFID readers, the Zatar service could enable them to better manage which tags have been interrogated, and thereby determine when additional tags need to be printed and/or encoded, or when more inventory must be ordered. For example, tag data captured by a fixed or handheld reader could be collected on the Zatar server and then be accessed by authorized users with a password. Management could know, for example, when a large volume of goods passed through the dock doors for shipping at multiple or specific sites.

Users could also employ an application programming interface, provided by Zebra, to create their own apps to work in conjunction with the Zatar service and the device data it collects.

Non-Zebra devices, such as the Raspberry Pi credit-card-size computer, Intel‘s NUC computer, and Texas Instruments‘ Sensor Tag, use the CoAP protocol and can thus be managed by the Zatar service, provided a Zatar Gateway device is present. Impinj Speedway Revolution RFID readers currently employ CoAP, and will support Zatar once Zebra finishes beta-testing the service and the app for iPhones or iPads. The Zatar Web site claims Motorola‘s FX9500 reader will soon not need a Zatar Gateway as well, but a Motorola spokesperson says that the company’s readers do not support CoAP at this time.

While in beta mode, Gerskovich says, the Zatar service and the RDM app are being tested by multiple Zebra customers that are tracking devices within their facilities, with full commercial release expected to occur in January 2014. As part of the beta phase, users can sign up at Zatar.com for a free account that will support up to five devices. Beginning in January, Gerskovich expects the monthly fee to be $2 per device, though that price could increase if usage creates a high amount of data traffic.