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New technologies help overcome limitations of RFID

Companies have for many years sought ways to determine the exact location of assets. For indoor location and tracking, barcodes and RFID have become the industry standard – but both of these have their limitations.

However new technologies in real Time Location Systems (RTLS) can overcome some of the challenges. They not only offer potential to create new location systems in areas where it was not previously possible, but can also be integrated with existing systems to enhance functionality. To understand the benefits these offer, let’s look first at the issues with the current systems.

Current technologies

Barcodes and QR codes are often used in the retail and logistics industries, but they require a clear line of sight and the reader needs to be positioned close to the image. Therefore they are not practical for locating assets over a large site.

RFID, particularly Ultra High Frequency, provides greater flexibility in that tags can be read at a distance without necessarily having a direct line of sight. Even so, they need to be within range of the reader. While it is possible to set up fixed-point readers at strategic points, such as beside a conveyor belt or doorway where goods are passing by, once items have moved out of range, the only way to detect them is to send a human operator with a hand-held scanner to search for the item.

Active RFID tags, which contain batteries and can proactively send out a signal, have a longer range than passive tags, which take the power source from the tags, but they are larger, more expensive and the batteries may need to be replaced.

Therefore a key challenge for RFID is in locating items that are continuously moving around a site, such as tools. Many costly projects have failed because companies did not fully understand the limitations of the technology.

RFID systems also need to be carefully designed to take account of the material the tags are fixed to and the environment. Metallic materials or surfaces within a building will amplify the signal from the tag and distort the data while absorbent materials weaken the signal.

The new systems

CoreRFID have been researching new technologies that can help overcome these limitations. Here are the two most promising:

1. Blue Tooth Low Energy (BLE)

BLE is a type of short-wave radio communication that can operate on a small battery with a line-of-sight range of up to 100m and is highly resistant to interference.

BLE can incorporated with RFID to provide indoor positioning and tracking solutions with a higher level of accuracy, regardless of the surrounding materials.

2. Wiliot tags

This emerging technology combines some of the benefits of RFID and BLE. These small, flexible tags contain a computer and provide battery-free tracking by harvesting energy from radio waves.

Wiliot tags can be imbedded into existing monitoring products to pick up on exceptions in temperature, pressure and motion to identify where something isn’t working properly. They can be applied for a wide range of sectors including healthcare, retail and logistics where environmental conditions have proved too challenging for pure RFID.

Both of these technologies offer potential for new and more powerful location systems, however each project should be designed to suit individual circumstances. CoreRFID offers a specialist consultancy service and can carry out trials before you commit to any system.

To discuss your requirements please contact our specialist team manager Richard Harrison on 0845 071 0985 or email r.harrison@corerfid.com.