What You Need to Know About Embedded RFID Readers

These small modules provide the performance of full-size readers and can be used to create next-generation solutions.
By Bob Violino

In addition to the solutions mentioned above, embedded RFID readers are enabling a variety of new applications, including: forklifts that can locate shipments in warehouses; "magic mirrors" in retail dressing rooms, which can improve customer service and boost sales; smart medical cabinets in hospitals, for managing inventory and replenishing items on demand; and photo booths at events, to engage attendees and market products. But developing a solution that incorporates these devices is not as straightforward as purchasing a fixed or handheld reader. Here's what you need to know to create a next-generation solution for your business.

Photo: ThingMagic
Anatomy of an Embedded RFID Reader
RFID reader modules are small. The Nano, for example, part of ThingMagic's Mercury6e family of embedded readers, is the size of a postage stamp. But the modules are designed to provide the performance of full-size readers. They transmit and receive radio signals that carry information, such as the identification number of a product equipped with an RFID tag. They use low power consumption, which makes them suitable for mobile applications. Many feature read-write capabilities for label printing and applications with handheld and mobile devices. Zebra Technologies, for example, is using embedded readers from ThingMagic for its R170Xi RFID bar-code printer-encoder. The modules also have one or more connectors to support external antennas.

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RFID providers that supply these products note the modules must be combined with other components in order to be of practical use. "The module is the heart of the RFID reader system," says Debbie Power, sales manager at ThingMagic. "For a complete working system, you need to include a small processor to tell the module what to do, what settings to use for operation and how to handle the data. You also need to provide a power supply, an antenna, and some type of enclosure" to house all the components.

"Some of our customers already produce electronic devices that have power, CPU and an enclosure," Power says. "They want to add RFID reading or writing capability to that device. Adding a finished UHF RFID reader introduces redundant components in a large form factor, whereas a UHF RFID module can often be embedded into an existing device with no change in form factor."

For the most part, embedded readers are designed for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that integrate the modules in products, such as industrial machines, point-of-sale terminals, and library-management, rental and ticketing systems. Some end users work with systems integrators to develop specific applications that use embedded readers.

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