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An RFID World of technology

Technology showcased at RFID World ranged from portable RFID readers to sensor-equipped RFID tags the size of credit cards.
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There was a whole world of technology on display at the exhibition portion of the RFID World 2006 event held in late February in Grapevine near Dallas, TX, at the Gaylord Texan resort. With 199 exhibitors, this year's event (see A first read on RFID World 2006) drew about 50% more vendors than in 2005. We offer the following sampling of developments at the show.

The "Strap on Box" featuring embedded RFID tags was one of the highlights at the booth of Texas Instruments RFID Systems.

The electronics company is working with Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. to embed RFID as part of the inner liner of corrugated cases (see image 1) . Smurfit-Stone has developed an innovative process for attaching TI's Tag-it[tm] EPC Gen 2 Straps straps to printed antennas directly on corrugated boxes.

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TI RFID Systems' Bill Allen (shown) says embedding protects the tag's electronics, yet does not lessen the read capability through the fluting and outer liner.

For more on embedded RFID in packaging, see Trend toward embedded RFID.

"We're seeing pilots with a purpose," declared Symbol Technologies' director of product marketing Justin Hotard. Hotard referred to a trend that takes the technology beyond a slap-and-ship approach to meet a retailer mandate into a value proposition for end users. Hotard showed off a prototype of Symbol's new portable, industrially hardened Gen 2 UHF reader (image 2). The 6"x8"x3" sealed UHF reader offers Bluetooth wireless communications. The standalone device can be mounted on fork lift trucks or manual pallet jacks. "We drove a truck over it, and not only did it survive, it didn't lose performance," said Hotard.

Hotard also noted industry developments to having product pretagged in Asia before shipping to the United States for visibility on the import side.

Wearable RFID devices

There are even potential plays on the intriguing comment made by Carolyn Walton, Wal-Mart's vice president, information systems, noting the retailer's interest in wearable RFID readers that could read the tags as boxes are unloaded from truck. "What if our associates were alerted as they unloaded trucks to know that this box needs to go right to the store floor?" she asked rhetorically.

Coincidentally, exhibitor Skyetek has joined forces with ADASA to develop what is billed as the world's first wearable Gen 2 RFID encoder (image 3). The battery-powered unit went into beta testing March 1 with consumer packaged goods customers and will begin shipments in volume later in the year, according to a press release. ADASA's PAD3500 draws information from centralized data stores and uses it to program Gen 2 tags that can then be attached to cases.

Another company's products that come close to such a space-age answer to Walton's vision was Sirit, which boasted a pendant-sized UHF Plug-n-Play USB 2.0 RFID device. It can be connected via USB port to "transform virtually any device" such as PDA or laptop PC into an RFID reader-antenna. Sirit was also promoting an RFID Module that functions similarly via an electronic device's Secure Digital interface.

Another innovation is a temperature sensor-equipped RFID tag the size of a credit card (see image 4) from KSW Microtec. The company has had an HF version available for two years, according to Eitan Avni, KSW's director of business development, and is now working on a Gen 2 UHF version. Avni expects to have the Gen 2 UHF devices available by early 2007. In volumes, Avni believes the sensor cards can be as low as $4-$5 each; he also pointed out that they can be reusable.

Other offerings

ODIN Technologies' booth displayed a motorcycle complete with biker lady to promote its RFIDdeployer EasyReader Module. Odin's chief operating officer Bret Kinsella explained that the kit comes with software (see screen capture, image 5) and special portal probe to make implementation easy for technicians through 10 easy-to-follow steps. Loaded on a laptop, it permits users to tap into Odin's expertise in RFID implementation in a do-it-yourself format, though Kinsella expects integrators to be the main users of the kit.

Omron's "One Day" RFID Compliance package is the latest "all inclusive" starter kits that have grown in popularity. It offers all hardware, software, installation, and training. It includes a UHF reader/writer and antenna, RFID printer (Printronix or Zebra models), middleware, Gen 2 firmware, stack light, accessories, and on-site setup for under $20ꯠ. Omron is offering 10ꯠ free labels if ordered before March 31.

We'll be taking a look at more from the RFID World show next month.

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