Tag Archives: RFID

How Bluetooth beacons can put an end to QR codes


Bluetooth beacons can enhance experiences in a way that is truly indistinguishable from magic.


Arthur C. Clarke once stated, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” something that holds true when it comes to our ever-connected world. Take a look around and you will surely notice that the Internet of Things phenomenon is growing quite rapidly. So much so that some adopters have become a part of the IoT without even knowing. Many times, these cloud-based data processing solutions appear to the user as only a familiar webpage or mobile application.

The Internet of Things phenomenon is growing quickly around us.

Part of making IoT ubiquitous and nearly magical is awareness of where you are. GPS and cellular location can certainly do a great job outdoors. Cell tower-based location can give a very rough prediction of location indoors or outdoors. Using GPS or tower location, it is likely that an application running on a mobile device would know that you just walked into a particular store or venue.

But what happens if you need to know a more precise location inside? Take for instance, retailers and venues, who want to deliver very specific content based on the exact location of a customer, like a promotion for a particular product on a nearby shelf.

Today, many museums and public venues, such as malls and arenas, have strategically employed QR code barcodes to allow for on-demand access to location-specific information. Patrons can scan the code and automatically launch cloud-based content into an app or browser that is related to particular exhibits and locations. As great as it may be, I have come to realize that it is a real pain because it requires scanning the QR code at every exhibit. For me, this involves entering my PIN to unlock my cellphone, then looking for my QR code scanner app. This takes my attention away from my family and the overall museum experience. Usually by the time I have accessed the information, my family has moved on to the next exhibit without me.

I recently visited the North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores. It is a nice aquarium with thousands of examples of aquatic life from North Carolina’s many inland freshwater bodies, as well as the sea in smaller exhibits cumulating in the large 300,000-gallon tank holding a replica of the German U-352 that was sunken off the coast of North Carolina during WWII. What’s more, there is a 50,000-gallon installation that re-creates the scene as divers discovered the wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a ship once commanded by the most infamous pirate of them all – Blackbeard. The ship was last seen sinking off the North Carolina coast in 1718. Case in point: as with most exhibits, there are stories to be told that are specific to each one. Getting easy access to those stories easily enhances the overall visitor experience.

I noticed that several of the smaller exhibits at the NC Aquarium had interactive electronic experiences that were not working because they had fallen into disrepair.

I had noticed that several of the smaller exhibits at the North Carolina Aquarium featured interactive electronic experiences that weren’t working because they had fallen into disrepair. A prime example was the amphibian exhibit, which you can press an old-fashioned button and hear what a frog call sounds like.

I can imagine the electronics behind this antiquated pushbutton: probably a voice recorder circuit from the 1990s along with a power supply and speaker. The button most likely stopped working after a few thousand kids pressed it dozens of times each, or the contacts became oxidized and non-conducting because the current through the switch was insufficient to keep the oxidation burned off. Design of switch circuits is another topic and one that hopefully will need to be addressed much less going forward thanks to innovations like capacitive touch for buttons, sliders, wheels, and other user interface elements.

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In this case, the old-school pushbutton that doesn’t work is far from advanced, let alone “indistinguishable from magic.” And for that matter, the QR codes strategically placed at exhibits are clunky as well.

Instead, what if there were little radio transmitters at each exhibit that your mobile device could detect and reliably determine location? As you are well aware, your mobile device comes equipped with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios, as well as GPS, cellular and NFC. Of these technologies, we can use Bluetooth to interact with the exhibits by letting the phone seamlessly know where in the building it is located. Introducing self-contained Bluetooth Smart Beacons or iBeacons as a solution to this problem should not be difficult.

These beacons consist of a power source, a Bluetooth Smart radio and an antenna, all housed inside an enclosure. Beacons work by sending out a packet of data at regular intervals, called the advertising interval. In a museum or aquarium where people walk around, the advertising interval could be one second or more. With an advertising interval of a second, a Bluetooth Smart beacon using Atmel’s BTLC1000 SoC can operate at an average current of under 7 µA and last up to four years on a low-cost CR2032 Lithium coin-cell or longer on a pair of AAA batteries. And the best part is that there are no moving parts — nothing to be loaded onto the beacon except a unique ID or serial number associated with the specific location in the museum or other venue. And the technology is real today. In fact, beacons from Apple (known as iBeacons) are already being deployed in select retail locations such as Disney stores and throughout their own Apple stores. Some iBeacons apps simply run on iPhones and iPads, while others use dedicated low-power and low-cost hardware.

fyx-self-contained-bluetooth-beacon

Let’s consider the entire system and the lifecycle cost of a location-based system of beacons and a smartphone application versus individual content loaded at particular exhibit locations. In this scenario, the largest upfront cost of the solution will be that of developing the website and/or the app. The price of the beacons will be negligible by comparison.

Deployment of the beacons can be accomplished using a different app that can register each beacon to a location and associate it with specific content. Once deployed, the beacons need not be reprogrammed or upgraded. Their ID is simply linked to content located on a server, which can be updated whenever necessary.

Another nice feature of this system is that trained employees are accustomed to loading content onto web servers. There are very few people who are adept at re-recording audio files onto a 20-year-old talking box or repairing it’s worn out pushbutton. Deployment of the app would be done through the app stores for Google, Apple and other phone OS suppliers. Maybe you could even get started by scanning a single QR code when you enter the venue. But that would be the last of the dreaded QR codes you would need to scan.

Using Bluetooth beacons, an experience such as the North Carolina Aquarium could actually be enhanced by technology in a way that is truly indistinguishable from magic. Some other applications, many of them not new, that I think could benefit from this technology include:

  • Sports like skating, motorsports, and swimming/diving: to enhance safety and enjoyment.
  • Retail stores: to provide special discounts and on-the-spot information.
  • Car dealerships: to offer information to those driving by.
  • Amusement parks: to advise patrons about waiting times or to help staff manage crowd traffic.
  • Art galleries: to improve spectators’ experiences without taking anything visual away from the exhibits by cluttering the gallery with QR codes.
  • In the dining room: Based on being near a beacon, the entire family’s devices can go into a silent “family time” mode that would turn off ringers and even disable texting. Similarly, restaurants, churches, funeral homes, conference rooms and other settings could implement an automatic cellphone quiet zone for those who didn’t want to forget to turn off their ringers.
  • At home or in the car: to customize the operation of a phone or tablet in specific ways based on a person’s preferences.
  • Public buildings or on streets: to ease wayfinding for the visually-impaired.
  • Senior centers: to help the elderly or those with disabilities regain independence by pairing with a wearable device.

Coincidentally, I saw this on the way home the other day. While I still don’t know any details, the concept of using beacons got me thinking.

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What are the chances that some will pull my car over, get out, and scan the QR code on this outdoor sign? If like me, probably slim to none. The same goes for those who are looking to buy real estate and are driving in their vehicles. What good is the QR code to you in this situation?

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Unless I’m walking or want to go through the trouble of getting out of my vehicle to scan the sign, or worse yet try and scan the sign while driving, I probably won’t utilize the attached QR code. Using beacons will not only eliminate risks, but will expedite the process altogether. What if we enable the real estate apps with access to the mobile device’s Bluetooth? Now we can look for Bluetooth beacons placed strategically at properties that are for sale and collect information about properties without getting out of the vehicle, and even more importantly, without taking our eyes off the road.

There is enormous potential for the use of Bluetooth Smart beacons anywhere signs are posted and wherever further information is available online. The real estate market is just one of many example use cases, where the implementation of beacons could be a key differentiator for companies willing to become early adopters.

You do have to focus on the revenue generating applications, but there are countless other applications where QR codes located on larger signs could be replaced by beacons to make it easier to access information and reduce the total size and number of signs.

One example is this QR code-equipped sign to encourage people to walk instead of driving their cars…

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Or this one that provides fitness information to those taking a stroll along the public greenway trail…

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These are just a few the ways that Bluetooth beacons can help make the world a better place. A new thinking in terms of apps and getting people to install them is necessary for success. However, if the value of the information becomes high enough, it will happen. Hopefully you will think of more applications and ways to design Bluetooth Smart beacons to support them. And when you do, be sure to look at the lowest power and lowest total bill-of-material cost solutions from Atmel.

Building an RFID cat tracker with Arduino and Zymbit


Keep tabs on those tabbies with this Arduino-based RFID monitoring system.


Getting a cat to use their litter box can sometimes be a daunting task, especially for pet owners like Maker T.J. Reed’s sister who owns more than one feline. In this case, vets typically suggest designating one litter box for each cat to “give them their own territory.” For many, this seems to be a suitable solution. For Reed’s sister, that wasn’t the case. Unfortunately, at least one of the cats continued to use various parts of the house as its bathroom.

CatFlap_0416_Litter-tray-trio

In an effort to curb this problem, the Maker devised an RFID cat tracker that would help monitor the activity of the three boxes and determine which of the cats was causing a territorial issue by using them all.

The so-called CatFlap devices also allowed Reed to see which cats are inside the house — all from 200 miles away at his desk. Being that the litter boxes are in the garage, there’s always a chance that a cat will run out when the garage door is open. Since they live in a coyote-heavy area, this can cause some concern. By using an indicator, like a Philips Hue lightbulb, the Maker will be able to use the cats’ location-based data to assign each one a color, so that his sister could see if it was safe to open the door.

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In order to make this project work, Reed used three Arduino Yún (ATmega32U4), a SparkFun RFID evaluation shield, an RFID module, and a phototransistor, along with a Philips Hue starter kit. The Arduino code was written using the Arduino IDE, while the Maker employed the Zymbit Pub/Sub code to enable the system to interact with the cloud.

“The evaluation board uses pins 7 and 8 on the Yun to communicate with the RFID chip serially. Serial RX wouldn’t work over pin 7, so I used jumpers to do my communication over pin 10 and 11. I tried using a Leonardo to see if it was a Yun-specific issue, then I found documentation suggesting to not use triggers on pin 7,” he writes.

CatFlap_0622_Almost-Ready-for-install

Zymbit was developed to serve as an end-to-end, open-source platform that would enable Makers, engineers and developers to transform their ideas into real-world, connected products in blistering speed. On the hardware side, the solution gives users the ability to transition their Arduino or Raspberry Pi proof-of-concept to a professional-grade item using its modular Atmel | SMART-basedATECC108-protected devices. What’s more, the team has designed remote management software that will let users easily connect and control their gadget from anywhere, both securely and transparently — as demonstrated with CatFlap.

While the initial prototype was a success, Reed hopes to build his own antennae to reduce the obstacles in the litter boxes’ pathways and to set up Twitter accounts for each pet that will detect and properly point out the culprit cat.

Intrigued? Head over to the project’s official page here.

This wearable device is bringing everyday objects to life


TagMe is an easy-to-use toolkit for turning personal info into an extended communications interface.


Created by MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group, TagMe is an end-user toolkit for easy creation of responsive objects and environments. It consists of a wearable device that is capable of recognizing the object or surface a user is touching through the use of RFID stickers. These tags are read by an RFID bracelet whenever the user comes in close proximity of the item.

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“We present a novel approach to create simple and customizable rules based on emotional attachment to objects and social interactions of people. Using this simple technology, the user can extend their application interfaces to include physical objects and surfaces into their personal environment, allowing people to communicate through everyday objects in very low effort ways,” its team writes.

The wearable was 3D-printed using ABS materials, and its electronic components were embedded on one half of the bracelet, while a battery was placed on the other half. Both halves were then connected via a magnetic closing system. The bracelet also includes an Android application that interfaces with Facebook, Twitter, email and SMS.

“To endow the bracelet with the communication capability between the application and RFID tags, we used different types of electronic components. One of our goals was to make the bracelet as small and lightweight as possible so as to be comfortable being worn on the wrist all day.”

light

In order to accomplish this, the team used a mini RFID reader along with an ATmega168 MCU to control the entire system, a Bluetooth module to facilitate wireless communication and a polymer Lithium-ion battery to power the device.

According to its creators, TagMe can be implemented in a variety of applications, ranging from healthcare and personal relationships to home automation. The system can be used to create convenient “emergency” buttons, like in the event of a car accident, where by simply touching a tag, a notification is sent directly to 911 dispatchers. Beyond that, a social aspect of the project can enable reminders of things, people and places, or be deployed to stay in touch with friends and loved ones. For instance, every time a user touches a present that someone gave to them, an alert is sent to that person.

Want to learn more? You can read the project’s entire paper here, and watch it in action below.

Juraduino will spot the coffee addicts in your office

Let’s face it, there’s a double E in coffee for a reason. Whether it’s a homebrewed pot or a skinny frappa-thingy at a nearby coffee shop, the beverage has certainly become the unofficial technology behind embedded engineers for years. However, this caffeine addiction can become quite expensive, not to mention, deplete the shelves of your workplace.

That’s why Maker Oliver Krohn has developed an innovative way to monitor how much and log how often you and your colleagues are consuming coffee. Appropriately named Juraduino, the device can now single out those caffeine fiends responsible for restocking the coffee supply at the end of the week!

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In order to bring this idea to life, Krohn donated his hacked Jura Impressa S95 coffee maker to his office with some hardware cleverly embedded inside the faceplate of the machine. The Maker simply connected an SD card, a real-time clock and a Bluetooth module to an Arduino Duemilanove (ATmega168).

“To trigger the coffeemaker, I soldered wires to the buttons (backside of logic print of the coffeemaker) and simulate a button press via an optocoupler (4N 35) and a pre-resistor (220 ohm) for the LED in the optocoupler,” says Krohn.

Tap

As soon as a worker taps their RFID card to the front of the ATmega168 based machine, the real-time clock module logs the moment when coffee was requested, and then tracks the amount selected by that person via the microSD card. The Bluetooth module then relays this information to a custom application that was devised using the MIT App Inventor for his mobile device, which displays the information.

“First, I thought about Processing, but since I do not need visualization I decided to use App Inventor,” the Maker adds.

uradine

With its export functionality, the acquired data can then be sent in the form of an email to everyone in the office at the end of the week, singling out those caffeine addicts responsible for replenishing the shelves!

Atmel and SMARTRAC team up on animal ID applications

Couple months back, analysts at IDTechEx revealed that the total RFID market was worth $8.89 billion this year — up from $7.77 billion in 2013 and $6.96 billion in 2012 — and forecasted to rise to $27.31 billion over the next 10 years. In particular, animal tagging deployments have grown tremendously in recent years with 425 million tags being used for this sector in 2014 alone due to an increase in legal requirements across a number of regions.

Moo

To meet this growing demand, Atmel has teamed with global RFID tech leader SMARTRAC to market low-frequency (LF) transponders and inlays for animal identification worldwide.

Recent studies have even highlighted the lucrative potential of wearable tech for pets and livestock including ultrasound-delivering treatment patches, electronic saddle optimization for horses, as well as collars capable of tracking, identifying and diagnosing.

Wear

The selected Atmel ATA5575M2 RFID IC supports both ISO11784 and ISO11785 standards, using the FDX-A and FDX-B formats for animal ID. In fact, it is the only RFID solution available that supports FDX-A, the animal identification standard using full duplex 125 KHz technology with FSK modulation. This IC is a fully-programmable read/write (R/W) ASSP (read/write application specific standard product) that implements all important functions for identification systems in the animal tagging, industrial automation and consumer segments. The device allows the contactless reading and writing of data transmitted bi-directionally between both the read/write interrogator (reader) and the transponder.

SMARTRAC has chosen the Atmel ATA5575 as the unique IC supports both aforementioned technologies in a single, flexible integrated device.

Tag

Additionally, the solution is offered in several different delivery forms, ranging from the common sawn wafer on foil to taped in a blister package and bumped versions (which are required for direct bonding technology). The ATA5575 is a passive RFID device and no additional external power supply is necessary, while data is transmitted back to the reader by modulating the amplitude of the RF field giving the ASK and FSK options.

The on-chip 128-bit user memory EEPROM (16 blocks, 8 bits per block) can be read and written from the interrogator station, while an additional 8-bit register is used for the chip configuration and memory locking if desired. The on-chip 330pF LC-tank capacitor is trimmed to +/- 3 percent which is unique in the market, with no other external component required than the antenna coil. Coding schemes implemented are Manchester and Bi-Phase.

M2

“We are excited to work with Atmel because of the impressive performance of their solutions,” explained Markus Spreng, Head of SMARTRAC’s Product Line Animal ID. “Our cooperation with Atmel is focused on their combined FDX-A and FDX-B capabilities, excellent read range and state-of-the-art local application support across all sales regions. With Atmel’s RFID chips and our fully automated glass tag manufacturing capabilities, customers can fully rely on RFID solutions with superior quality and performance to ensure one’s pet, for instance, will be easily identifiable.”

SMARTRAC’s LF transponders and inlays operate between 125 KHz and 134.2 KHz, offering high resistance against external interference and delivering excellent performance, even in the most rugged environments.

“Atmel’s collaboration with SMARTRAC will give consumers the confidence that their RFID solutions are high performing, meet industry ISO standards and can support the various modes required for animal identification but also for many other different applications,” said Roland Schropp, Atmel RFID Senior Marketing Manager. “We look forward to supporting SMARTRAC with integrated semiconductor technology solutions for a range of applications and environments.”

Interested in learning more? You can explore the latest animal ID solutions from SMARTRAC, as well as delve deeper into the wide-range of Atmel RFID offerings here.

What’s on tap? Ad agency gives free beer for time cards

Let’s face it, no one enjoys filling out timesheets — yet they are imperative in order to get paid. That’s why Minneapolis ad agency Colle + McVoy has devised a new way to not only get employees to fill out their time cards, but to reward them with some draft beer.

TapServer-Colle-McVoy-1

Dubbed TapServer, the multi-keg beer deployment system combines RFID tags and some custom-written software to seamlessly sync with the agency’s time-keeping application. On the hardware side, the program is comprised of several Arduino Uno boards (ATmega328), a Node-based server, solenoids and a Raspberry Pi.

Arduino Draft

How does it work? It’s rather simple. Employees are given RFID-enabled key cards, which they scan at the TapServer. This instantly verifies whether their timesheets are up-to-date. If their records are indeed complete, employees use the connected iPad to select their beer, then pull their pint.

As an added feature, TapServer can also keep track of ounces consumed per employee and beer brand.

Full sheet = Full glass. We’ll cheers to that!

Ping-pong gets high-tech with AT42QT1010

Every hip, trendy new office seems to have a ping-pong table sequestered in the corner of a break room. Even if that that has become common practice in the contemporary office, this concept from across the pond at SI Digital has changed the way the game is played!

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With SI Digital’s over-the-top office ping-pong table, each player has an RFID tag embedded into their personal paddle. When they approach the table, they simply wave their handle over a sensor and their image appears on a nearby LCD screen and a game is ready to commence.

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Also, instead of tirelessly arguing over the manually tracked score, the team installed two capacitive touch sensors below the table that allow a quick click to add a point under each player’s image. These capacitive touch sensors, built by Adafruit and powered by the Atmel AT42QT1010 were chosen for their ability to trigger precisely after very slight and effortless touches.

under_table

Alongside the table, the innovative team placed an Arduino Pro Mini (ATmega168)-powered RFID reader covered with several LEDs to give visual feedback upon being scanned. The RFID tags provide the ability for games to start instantly and for rivalries to be upheld. The team at SI Digital used Node.js and Socket.io to develop an application that gave them the ability to track their live scoring and lifestime statistics. Game on!

For more information on this new spin on the old school Ping-Pong table, take a look at SI Digital’s project review here.