This year's Fifth Annual Auto-ID & Sensing Solutions Expo at MIT provided one more confirmation that RFID is thriving, with a more diverse set of devices, systems, and applications than ever. Here's a sampling of some really interesting up and comers at the event.
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This year was MIT’s Enterprise Forum’s fifth Annual Auto-ID & Sensing Solutions Expo. It has grown every year and continues to attract a very diverse set of participants including business executives, students, entrepreneurs, investors, consultants, professors, engineers, and more. The exhibitors range from the smallest, ‘one man band’ startups to some of the largest corporations.
The value of art, especially top-tier art, keeps going up—by some estimates averaging 10% appreciation per year. ArtTrac helps protect art work from theft or other types of damage (e.g. detecting water). Customers include museums, art storage facilities, private collections/estates, universities … basically anyone that has valuable artwork. They also track other high value assets such as tools, jewelry, pharmaceuticals, and weapons. Their “Art Protection System” uses motion sensors attached to the painting or sculpture (or other asset) to send a real time alert if it starts to move. They can integrate with ERP, WMS, or art management systems to provide a record of the chain-of-custody. They have various other solutions as well, including in-transit visibility, entry/exit monitoring, and environmental sensors to protect against flooding and other kinds of damage.
Keeping Track of Pharmaceuticals
The Intelliguard Kit and Tray Management System from MEPS is used to dispense pharmaceuticals in a hospital setting. Pharmaceuticals tagged with UHF tags are stored in trays or kits within MEPS’ Automatic Dispensing Cabinet. The cabinet is able to read exactly what is removed and put back in, eliminating a large amount of time-consuming and error-prone paperwork, providing much more accurate and reliable tracking. It can help in tracking expired, open, or used medicines, critical shortage drugs, support first-expired-first-out methods, track re-order points, and more.
Lowering Auto Insurance Rates—Beyond Geckos
True Mileage developed a device that plugs into the standard onboard diagnostics interface (OBD-II) that has been mandatory in all cars in the US since 1996. It collects information such as mileage, hard braking, and other driving-related information. This data can be accessed by tapping the device with an NFC-enabled phone, which displays the data to the driver on their phone and transmits it to their insurance company. Users can then qualify for discounts on their insurance premiums, based on good driving habits and verified mileage. This is one of those innovative uses that will help NFC succeed, more so than the NFC-based payment systems that have been promised for years.1
We Need More Engineers!
NerdOnyx is an e-Learning company for engineers. We met their founders, a couple of University of Lowell grad students, who had the idea of encouraging students to become engineers and to stay on the engineering track. In fact, they won the award for ‘best pitch’ during our event. (They also won my personal award for hippest business cards—jet black with Zen-like simplicity). I didn’t get to see their platform/solution (I think it’s still in development), but I am looking forward to seeing this company progress.
Internet-of-Things is ‘the Thing’
The term “Internet-of-Things” has a close association with MIT since it was first coined by Kevin Ashton during the early days of MIT’s Auto-ID center. Recently the use of the term IoT has really taken off, much in the same way that the use of the term ‘cloud’ really took off about 10 years after SaaS platforms started appearing. And as much as the wave of attention around ‘cloud’ propelled billions of dollars of investments and implementations, it appears the same may be happening with IoT, which is really just a moniker for the M2M, RFID, and sensors that have been around for decades.
One of the IoT platforms shown at the Expo was Zebra’s Zatar. This allows integration with any device or sensor. These connected devices, or a collection of them, are represented by an ‘Avatar’ (hence Zatar), which corresponds to a real-world object or device, like a vehicle or a phone/person. Zatar also includes workflow capabilities. We will write more about Zatar and other IoT platforms in upcoming articles.
From Proximity to IoT
Radius Networks offers proximity services, via small inexpensive Bluetooth LE beacons and proximity software. They also sell an IoT offering that includes a Raspberry PI based device, and a higher horsepower device that can be used as a proximity server. On top of this, they are selling specific applications for locating and managing assets.
High-Memory RFID Chips
Right next to our table at the MIT event was Tego, maker of high-memory UHF RFID chips. Tego’s largest chip has 24Kbytes of memory,2 over 2,000 times the memory of the commonly used EPC-96 tag. The TegoChip is in an altogether different league than the standard RFID chips, not just because of memory size, but also ruggedness, security, and sensor capabilities.
A Tough and Secure Chip for Extreme Environments
Tego told me that they make the only high-memory chips that can survive high temperatures and intense radiation such as used in gamma sterilization. These attributes are important for many of these applications in harsh environments, such as the factory floor, high flying aircraft (exposed to radiation and temperature extremes), or the Cobalt-60 sterilization chambers used for medical equipment. Because the data can be confidential, TegoChip has security features such as encryption, tamperproof memory, long-length serialization, and read/write memory protection capabilities. The chip has an I2C interface, which allows it to integrate sensors and other devices.
High-Memory, Flying High
Tego has been at this for almost a decade now and their hard work and persistence seems to be paying off. Their chip volumes are ramping up and they expect to see a lot of growth this year and next, largely driven by their success in aerospace. Airbus and Boeing are both committed customers of Tego. Airbus decided they will start using RFID on all seats and life vests across all their aircraft, requiring about 160,000 tags per year. Airbus is already tagging all repairable parts—on average about 3,000 per plane. They are starting to use RFID Integrated Nameplates (See “Airbus to RFID-Tag and Track All Parts Made In-House”)—a durable human-readable and barcode-scannable nameplate containing a TegoChip-based tag, providing traceability of parts as they flow through the supply chain. Tego is seeing success in other industries such as in Life Sciences, Nuclear Energy, Chemicals, Oil and Gas, Industrial, Automotive, Rail, and Building Systems (e.g. HVAC)—anywhere you need to maintain large and complex assets.
The Total Package
In addition to chips, Tego sells tags in a variety of forms, including inlays, ruggedized metal mount tags, metal-embedded, chemical-resistant, and high-radiation tags. They offer TegoView asset tracking software and TegoDrive reader software. Over the years, Tego has built up experience of the whole solution and have honed their devices to work well across these challenging environments and use cases.
This is just a small sampling of the companies we saw at the MIT event, which itself is a small subset of the RFID universe. It seems that RFID is just hitting its stride and the best has yet to come.