First, What is IoT?
The Internet of Things, or IoT, is the name given to the wide array of interconnected devices, sensors, and software that can connect and exchange data with one another via the internet or local communication networks. IoT is key for applications that need to consume as much data as possible pertaining to a particular object or environment. IoT devices and protocols are present in almost every industry and are quickly becoming popular in the RFID asset management space.
RFID Reader Output
In a typical RFID system, the RFID reader is performing an inventory in a certain read area and is receiving tag data from tags in that read area. For most applications, the reader then needs to push that data somewhere for processing and management, or else the data is useless. Readers output data through available output channels directly to a piece of software or middleware,a data storage device or database, or to an applicable program.
Data output options for RFID systems include serial output, TCP/IP output, keyboard emulation, USB flash drive, UART or an HTTP POST output method. The chosen output method depends on the specific RFID reader’s available options, the data endpoint, and the other hardware being used with the RFID system (PLCs, relays, servers, etc.). Current RFID system manufacturers primarily promote using two different avenues for handling data egress: RFID middleware and custom software development. Data’s path in an RFID system typically runs from tag to antenna to reader, then to a suggested output method – primarily serial output, TCP/IP, or HTTP POST to a piece of RFID middleware or custom software.
Previous Two Output Preferences
In an RFID system, RFID middleware is the term given to any piece of software that receives tag data from the reader and pushes that data to where it needs to go, typically after processing the data in some way. Middleware typically lives on the reader itself and can allow the reader to operate in a “headless” fashion, in which the reader is able to go about its routine without interaction from another input. The three most common pieces of out-of-the-box RFID middleware are Impinj’s Speedway Connect, ThingMagic’s RAINstream software, and Zebra’s FXConnect.
Another option for data output is via custom development. This requires a developer or team of developers to create a custom software utilizing the reader’s SDK to handle the data as it comes in and to direct it to where it needs to go.
The Push to IoT
As mentioned above, when custom development or middleware is necessary just to send the tag data to where it needs to go, this can become a major sink for both price and time to implement an RFID system, which directly affects the ROI for that system. In order to mitigate these two major factors, an RFID system needs to be faster to implement, without a major increase in the price of the system. Additionally, RFID readers need to be adaptable and future-proof, allowing for integration into many different industries and applications with pre-existing frameworks or communication protocols. This is where IoT can make a huge impact.
Most IoT implementations use a collection of highly customizable and low-cost tools to communicate with all devices in a solution. To do this, IoT systems typically utilize specific communication protocols, namely MQTT, HTTP, and REST API calls. All of these methods of data transfer allow for data to be streamed from one device to another in a highly secure and efficient way and they provide developers complete control over the information being sent and/or received.
Many RFID reader manufacturers, like Impinj, Zebra, and Keonn, are adding these communication methods to their readers in an attempt to keep pace with the ongoing standardization of IoT systems. Some manufacturers are even creating their own IoT-focused interface with the readers, which can be seen in the JSON based RAIN Communication Interface (RCI) used by Jadak’s newer RFID models, or the REST API interface developed by Impinj for their R700 readers. Having these options baked directly into the reader as standard functionality removes much of the time and cost of heavy development and implementation for these readers in a large number of applications. Now instead of requiring a software development team familiar with a reader’s particular SDK, an integration only requires familiarity with the IoT communication protocols or the basics of a RESTful interface.
To take a look at some of the readers that are making the push toward IoT, checkout the links below. To learn more about IoT and RFID, read our article A Primer on IoT and RFID – and if you have questions, feel free to comment below or contact us!