By Jeffrey Polly, Vice President of Technical Services
The Internet of Things (IoT) has taken the technology world by storm, and it isn’t going to slow down anytime soon. IoT has the power to revolutionize supply chain visibility as we know it, ushering in a new era of data intelligence and accessibility.
Simply put, IoT is a network of devices that allows data about each device to be accessed, collected, and exchanged — enabling complete, real-time visibility and control of any item that is connected to the Internet.
My question has always been: what is the definition of a “thing”? Most of us spend time on the Internet in some way, shape, or form. Our computers, smart phones, smart TVs, gaming systems, and appliances are attached and accessible to and from the Internet. These devices all have three things in common.
- They all have a power source, whether they are plugged into the wall (AC power) or relying on a battery.
- They all have a communication method, whether it’s a wired Ethernet connection, a WiFi connection, or a cellular connection.
- All devices are assigned an individual IP address that uniquely identifies each device on the Internet, making them visible and accessible.
With this understanding, I believe that today the “Internet of Things” is actually the “Internet of Devices.”
Yes, these devices are “things,” but so are tools, files, office furniture, pipelines, rail cars, and other valuable business assets that have no power source or communication means. So how can we make these other types of “things” visible to the Internet to make IoT truly possible? A well designed and properly deployed passive RFID system can make almost any type of “thing” (asset) visible to the Internet.
A passive RFID system consists of RFID tags/labels, RFID readers and antennas, RFID middleware, and in most cases, RFID printers. There are literally thousands of RFID tag types on the market today. RFID tags have evolved over the past decade. Sensitivity has increased along with read ranges. There are tags specifically designed for metal, liquid, paint, and just about any other material you can think of. They come in several different memory capacities and configurations, providing the ability to uniquely identify each tag. Suffice it to say there is an RFID tag available for practically every type of “thing” in our world today.
Passive RFID readers have a power source — usually AC Power, Power over Ethernet (PoE), or battery. They also have data communication capabilities such as Ethernet, WiFi, or cellular, and they can be assigned an IP address. So by earlier definition, passive RFID readers can join the “Internet of Devices.”
Passive RFID tags are sensors that operate by way of the radio frequency power radiated from antennas attached to RFID readers. RFID tags communicate with RFID readers using the radio frequency waves transmitted to them. And although you cannot practically assign an IP address to an RFID tag, the tags are encoded (programmed) with an ID that uniquely identifies it to a particular business or organization. With this understanding, you can begin to understand how placing passive RFID tags on inanimate objects, or “things,” allows these assets to become visible to the Internet, further enabling the vision of the “Internet of Things.”
A vital component to a passive RFID system is the RFID middleware. This critical software component is used to configure and control the RFID readers. It receives and processes RFID tag data from the readers and communicates RFID tag events to business systems such as ERP, MRP, and/or WMS. To summarize, the RFID middleware makes RFID tags visible to the business systems, and the business systems make the RFID tags visible to the Internet.
You can now see how passive RFID technology truly enables the Internet of Things. Stay tuned for Part II of “Passive RFID Technology Truly Enables the Internet of Things” where we will further explore how to use the technology to develop transactions and business events about the “things” that are important to your business.