Mae : Wireless Mobility Blog
| News and views on everything wireless and mobile, from WiFi and WiMAX to 3G and fixed-mobile convergence (FMC).


RFID Useful for Tracking Spinach?

September 21, 2006

One of the biggest news items this week was that spinach tainted with E. coli was endangering the health (and in some cases, lives) of Americans. The problem was first identified by authorities almost two weeks ago, and since then has affected people in at least 23 states.

Health authorities tracked the E. coli outbreak to bags of spinach distributed by Natural Selections Foods, LLC, and sold under a variety of brands including Dole. Last Friday (Sept. 15) Dole recalled bags of spinach thought to possibly be involved (with Best-If-Used-By dates from August 1-October 1, 2006).

Despite the detective work, as of this morning CBS reports that authorities have only been able to narrow the source of the tainted spinach down to one of nine California farms.

Okay, so it’s been almost a fortnight since the problem was first detected, and all we know is that the spinach came from one of nine possible farms in California ?! In this day and age of high-tech, it seems to me that the source should have been traced a lot quicker than that.

Perhaps spinach distributors should consider using RFID tags to prevent such a drawn-out PR nightmare in the future.

For those of you not familiar, RFID tags are small devices that can be attached to people or objects for identification purposes. The tags contain stored data that can be read by scanners using radio waves and transmitted to computers for analysis.

According to RFID Journal, this technology has been around since the 1970s, but only recently has it become cheap enough to be practical for commercial applications.

More on RFID and Spinach

September 22, 2006

Yesterday in this blog, I suggested that RFID tags might have been useful in containing the recent spinach-borne outbreak of E. coli. Apparently I’m not the only who had this idea. On Wednesday, an entry on the RFID Law Blog (published by McKenna Long & Aldridge, LLP Attorneys at Law) covered the same topic.

In the blog entry, the law firm suggested that the E. coli outbreak represents an opportunity for the RFID industry to proactively advocate for use of the technology, “instead of always being on the defensive.”

The entry also noted that “RFID tags on produce would make it much easier for public health officials to identify the specific source of the E. coli infestation.”

Using RFID tags in this way, the blog says, would be beneficial to consumers, retailers, and farmers. Make sense to me.

RFID vs. WiFi for Hospital Inventory Tracking Systems

October 23, 2006

We’d all like to believe that the medical equipment found in hospitals is efficiently managed, so that if we need it, it’s readily available. But apparently, that’s not always the case.

In a new report out today, ABI Research says that, at any given moment, much of the expensive equipment owned by hospitals—everything from low-tech wheelchairs to high-tech machinery—is hard to find because it’s either already being used, or is in storage. The result is that hospitals tend to over-purchase this type of inventory, and then not utilize it efficiently.

RFID Robots Invade Library

January 9, 2007

In a former life, I worked as a librarian. So, an article about the use of radio frequency ID (RFID) chips at Chicago State University’s library, in the January, 2007 issue of Wired Magazine, caught my eye. At this particular library, students have been banned from the stacks, because robots now are installed to quickly retrieve any item that is desired.

Here’s how it works: every item in the library (books, CDs, DVDs) is tagged with an RFID chip.

RuBee Fills in Where RFID Fails

February 2, 2007

An EE Times item in the Jan. 27 edition of Information Week reported on the potential uses of RuBee, a new wireless networking protocol announced by Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) last June.   IEEE describes RuBee (a.k.a. IEEE 1902.1) as “a bidirectional, on-demand, peer-to-peer, radiating, transceiver protocol operating at wavelengths below 450 Khz. This protocol works in harsh environments with networks of many thousands of tags and has an area range of 10 to 50 feet.”   EE Times reporter John Walko notes in the report mentioned above that RuBee looks promising as a way to fill in some of the gaps left by radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. More specifically, the new protocol could be useful for applications of “real-time inventory under harsh environments, even near metal and water and in the presence of electromagnetic noise.”   Walko notes in the report that RuBee’s main appeal lies in its ability to deal with harsh environments; “getting accurate RFID reads around liquids and metals has been the most significant obstacle to widespread, cost-effective deployment of the technology.”   Because RuBee operates at slower speeds than RFID, it is an alternative rather than a replacement—useful in situations where, since RFID doesn’t work, something slower but relatively comparable could be used instead.   IEEE’s RuBee working group will be meeting Feb. 20 in Boston, just before the RFID Smart Labels Conference kicks off. So watch for news about development plans for the protocol.

Worldlabel's Infinity Machine Addresses Need for Specialty RFID Label Printing

February 15, 2007

One of the impediments to implementing real-world radio frequency identification (RFID) systems is the cost of embedding the tag inlays on paper or film labels. Although RFID has many practical applications in a variety of industries—including pharmaceuticals, baggage tracking, consumer packaging, and supply chain—the printing cost of tags can be prohibitive.   At least one company is moving to find its niche by helping to lower the cost of RFID tags. This is Worldlabel, a division of Singapore-based Innotech Resources Pte Ltd. The company recently launched its Infinity V1 RFID tag and inlay embedding system.   Worldlabel says that its system “provides a low cost method of converting RFID tags/inlays to be embedded accurately into a paper or film label, even though each production batch has varying size labels and requires a different type of RFID tag to be embedded in a different area of the label.”   This is achieved with a machine that was jointly developed by Worldlabel and TÜV SÜD PSB Group.   The company explains that the machine is highly flexible and features “compact catering to many different sizes of labels and it can insert all types and sizes of RFID tags, accordingly to exact customer requirements.” It can product up to 100 labels per minute.   In a news release about the system, TÜV SÜD PSB Group assistant vice president of PSB technologies, said: “We are very confident that the machine will meet the most demanding RFID label converting needs of industry. Its versatility, compactness and accuracy in embedding inlays is a major advancement in Smart Label converting technology and makes this machine one of its kind.”   Other features of Worldlabel’s machine include:
  • Independence from downstream conversion processes
  • Buffer station capable of catering up to 800 mm of completed reel
  • Can inspect and embed reading RFID tags from inlay reel into conversion process
  • Touch pad enables operator to key in length metrics
  • Can be modulated with current label converting systems or operate stand-alone
According to Worldlabel’s announcement, the machine is being manufactured in Singapore; current lead time for orders is about 12 weeks.

Chinese Government Embraces RFID

March 13, 2007

Asia generally, and China in particular, tends to get a lot of play in wireless/mobile technology news, because often the latest, coolest products originate from there. Usually, in this context, China is discussed regarding cell phones. But there are other wireless technologies out there for which the Chinese market is of interest.   Take radio frequency ID (RFID), for example. In a recent report, RNCOS (an India-based research and consultancy firm) examined the outlook for RFID in China, including government policies.

CTIA Wireless News Starts Now

March 26, 2007

The CTIA Wireless 2007 show kicks off tomorrow in Orlando, Florida. Already the newswires are starting to get flooded with announcements from wireless industry companies promoting their latest products, services and achievements. A quick search on Google News for “ctia” turned up the following:
  • Announcement that the creator of BlackBerry (Mike Lazaridis) has replaced Motorola’s CEO (Ed Zander) as the CTIA keynoter.
  • Announcement from TCS that it has been selected as a CTIA Wireless 2007 E-Tech Award finalist.
  • Announcements from Pantech and Nokia about their displays at the show.
I’m bracing for continued deluge of news as the show gets underway, and will be blogging, albeit from afar, on events and news that catch my eye.

RSI ID Tech Intros New RFID-enabled Retail Display Cases

March 27, 2007

So much news coming out of CTIA today is flooding the newswires that I’m gonna do something unimaginable—blog about a news item I received today that’s not connected with the wireless show. Gasp!   Don’t worry, I’ll definitely be blogging about CTIA this week. Just not this second.   Okay, here goes…   RSI ID Technologies, which was founded in 1991, is primarily a manufacturer of RFID antennas, inlays and tags; it also offers a line of HF and UHF RFID labels, readers and software. The company’s self-described mission is to “deliver complete, innovative solutions to complex RFID problems across global markets.”   Today’s announcement from RSI ID Technologies targets the retail market: the company is now offering two RFID-enabled display cases, under the brand name Pressica, designed specifically for eyewear and jewelry.

ViVOtech and Gemalto: Kings of the Contactless Technology Hill

April 10, 2007

ABI Research recently published its latest report on the contactless technology industry, including vendor matrixes showing which companies lead the pack. For those not familiar, contactless technology (also sometimes referred to as “near field communications”) refers to systems that use short-range wireless signal to transmit information from a small tag or transmitter to a receiver. Two examples are E-Z Pass for paying highway tolls, and key-fobs that provide access to corporate buildings.   Two companies that I have to admit I’d never heard of before topped ABI’s matrix of leading contactless reader and contactless inlay vendors: ViVOtech and Gemalto, respectively.   ViVOtech is a company that specializes in technology for next-generation, electronic payment systems.