RFID Network Infrastructure – combining technologies

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Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

At the end of August 2007, I had a call with Ashley Stephenson, Reva Systems co-founder and Chairman. Reva Systems are one of the first companies in the RIFD space to provide a product that combines hardware and software into one black box. A term that has been used to describe this subset of the market is “RFID Network Infrastructure”. Reva applies proven networking principles similar to those employed in LANs, wireless LANs, and storage-area networks (SANs) to integrate RFID operations with existing enterprise infrastructure for RFID deployments. By adding a layer of networking intelligence to local networks of RFID readers and tags,

Reva Systems was formed in 2004 and is headquartered in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, USA. The company is venture capital funded by Charles River Ventures, Cisco Systems, North Bridge Venture Partners and SAP Ventures. During its short life, the company has acquired some high-prestige customers, such as Dow Corning, Sony, HP, Boeing and, here in Europe, Metro Stores (see Metro move from pilot to deployment with Reva RFID Solution). Reva has customer installations in The Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia (particularly in China, Japan and Korea).

Stephenson described that at the heart of all that Reva Systems do is the support and implementation of RFID standards. Reva have made a conscious investment effort to make this happen. Reva’s Chief RF Architect, Jeffrey Fischer, was co-chair of the Gen2 Air Protocol Chicago Review Committee. This HAG working group merged multiple proposals for standard communications between tags and readers to create the consensus Gen2 specification. Fischer also co-chairs the UHF AI workgroup that is focused on the use of UHF RFID tags for item level tagging applications. Reva’s CTO, David Husak, co-chairs the Reader Operations workgroup. This team is focused on developing a standard called the Low Level Reader Protocol (LLRP) for reader-to-network communications, control and management. Reva have also contributed to both the ALE and EPCis standards, and support for these is incorporated in their product.

The name of Reva Systems product is the Tag Acquisition Processor (TAP). TAPs are network appliances that integrate RFID devices with execution systems, ERP systems and other business applications. It is designed for use in customer facilities requiring multiple reader deployments such as manufacturing plants, distribution centres, retail stores, entertainment venues and healthcare environments where processed RFID data can be leveraged by multiple local and enterprise applications. As a piece of hardware, the TAP is a compact rack-mountable network device that is suitable for standalone deployment or installation in a wiring closet environment, occupying 1RU of height when mounted in a standard 19-inch rack. The front panel provides LED indicators and an LCD panel that enable users to perform local administration.

The TAP operates RFID readers as a coordinated and synchronized network. As the focal point for reader control, the TAP provides a layer of intelligence that facilitates deployment, coordinates read operations and automates reader management. The TAP uses sophisticated techniques and algorithms to control and coordinate how RFID readers use frequency, time, space and transmit power. The ability to optimize RF utilization enables large-scale deployments to minimize interference-related disruption and maximize tag read capacity.

The TAP provides processing and storage of tag data and resolves the locations associated with tag observations. Locations are resolved based on a user-definable facility layout combined with calculations and observations of the RF coverage of antennas. The TAP manages redundant data generated by multiple readers detecting the same, or subsets of the same, tags in the same location.

In addition to directly associating read points with locations, the TAP can determine tag location by comparing and correlating the responses of the tag to multiple readers. Location algorithms correlate tag observations to the correct dock door, work station or other business locations in dense reader environments where cross reads are present.

The TAP presents data service interfaces to client applications which consume RFID data. Typical clients might include middleware, Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) platforms, business intelligence and data storage systems, as well as applications that perform specific functions like ERP, supply chain planning and inventory management. The presently supported interfaces are:

  • EPCglobal ALE
  • SQL Database
  • SAP Auto ID Infrastructure
  • IBM WebSphere
  • Microsoft BizTalk
  • Web Services
  • JMS

    A system of multiple TAP nodes automatically elects active and backup nodes for reader control and each enabled data and network service to deliver real-time 24×7 failover and redundancy.

    The Reva Management Console is a Windows-based software application that enables users to configure Reva TAPs on a facility-wide basis. The Reva Management Console allows users to describe the facility and the RFID readers and antennas installed in it, calculate a site configuration and deploy operating parameters to the TAP nodes in the network. Once a facility is up and running on a TAP, the Management Console can be used to remotely monitor reader network health, tagged object activity and data collection status. The Reva Management Console enables users to define multiple location models, known as perspectives, based upon the same physical facility. This provides users with a means of supporting multiple client applications that may have diverse tag data requirements.

    So how much does this cost? Well, for a small organisation with, say, 15 locations and a couple of readers in each then the ball park figure I as given was £2500 per site. For a large facility the figure is around £50k. Not bad for the facilities you are getting.

    I asked Stephenson where he thought the RFID market was going over the next 5 years. “Currently Reva Systems sales are split equally between the Americas, Far east and Europe. There have been no big US announcements this year. In Europe we are seeing some big roll-outs and they are tending to be more complex than what we have been involved with in the US. And, the growth potential in the Far East looks to be significant and coming fast. There is also a broadening of the number of vertical markets and solutions in which RID is being used to achieve business benefits. For instance here are 24 airports around the world using, piloting and actively considering the use of RFID currently!”

    If your organisation is looking at the use of RFID and is looking for solution that allows you to run systems at the edge, then Reva Systems TAP is product that ought to be on short list to evaluate in depth.