Would you call your RFID customers hobbyists, academics, professionals – perhaps all of the above?
The correct answer is “all of the above” since we do indeed see orders from all walks of life and industry levels. However, there is a slant towards the hobby and academic crowd. As our reader is low cost, short range and designed to for hobby and academic level buyers, it isn’t feasible for use in many industrial applications. Our more professional level customers tend to be using our reader for purposes such as demonstrations, prototyping, or proof of concept engineering. We have sold a few of our RFID kits to Microsoft, I wouldn’t exactly call them “hobby” users 🙂 I can only hope that they didn’t find their way to the reverse engineering department!
Small businesses have taken an interest in our reader as an OEM product. It’s hard to say if I’d classify this as professional use since these companies can range from a single person in their basement to more serious companies building full blown consumer end products. They straddle the line between hobby and professional in my mind. What it does say about the market is that RFID is reaching critical mass and filtering down to the little guys and they are now getting a chance to play with it.
The bulk of our RFID users are students working on school projects and independent hobbyists. The students are often working on projects in pervasive computing and HCI (human computer interaction). Schools are beginning to offer classes in these areas – students come up with projects that assist in a common human task. These projects often involve a few of the Phidgets from our broader line of components and they are quite fond of the RFID reader. Often the buyers are the schools themselves and they put the RFID reader along with other Phidgets in front of the students and tell them to get creative.
When and why did Phidgets decide to release an RFID kit?
The RFID reader was added to our product line in April of 2002. The RFID reader was developed as an addition to compliment our full line of Phidgets which includes many different forms of input and output devices, motion control devices, and various types of sensors.
With the growing interest of RFID, we thought it would be great to offer a low cost reader which would be accessible through an easy to use API. We sought to build a reader which wouldn’t break the bank and would answer the low end of the market. A reader that would fill in the market gap for beginners who want to get their hands on the technology and play around with it, but who don’t know how to begin with professional level systems which cost $500 on the low end and
have a steep learning curve for programming.
The reader has become one of our top sellers and we are delighted to see how people are using them. The price point, ease of use through USB and common code, and ability to have the reader working in less than 5 minutes has attracted a lot of users who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to experiment with the technology. To be quite honest I’m shocked at the lack of RFID products at this level. Not that we mind being the only players right now 🙂
What frequency does your RFID kit use?
Our reader operates at 125 kilohertz.
Who makes the tags?
Our tags are provided by different vendors worldwide. We aren’t in the business of manufacturing tags ourselves. The RFID Reader was designed to work with tags which are based on the EM Marrin protocol EM4102. Other styles of tags will work if they meet the EM4102 protocol. Some of the tags we sell are actually made for other protocols, but are converted to work with our reader.
Have you considered releasing a kit compatible with some of the upcoming commercial RFID standards (Second Generation EPC)?
Due to the strong sales of our reader we have considered building a second generation reader, yes. Something with more robust capabilities, tag writing, and a larger read range, but nothing is on the table yet. We are comfortable with our current level of reader and likely will be sticking with it. The success of our reader is largely due to the fact we aren’t trying to be an industrial player – we use a design that allows us to offer a reader at a very low price point. There are plenty of other players out there selling professional level readers and we are content to keep serving the hobby and prototyping end of the market.
Do you see an intersection of amateur or semi-professional
inventors/engineers and RFID?
The strong sales of our reader to the everyday hobbyist and professionals who build their own ideas on the side are a good indicator that RFID is breaking out as a technology. It is no longer some mysterious technology that only the largest of companies can make use of. We are defining standards and discovering profitability. We are still a ways off from the $.01 tag to replace the UPC, but RFID is filtering into the hands of the small companies and now – basement inventors.
To me, right now RFID technology is at that curious stage where the price point has dropped low enough for companies everywhere to begin playing with it, but no one is quite sure yet how to use it. RFID is being batted around in the brainstorming sessions in ten thousand boardrooms and engineering departments around the globe as a solution to everything from tracking merchandise and security improvements to children’s toys. Over the next few years we will watch some applications take off and others die off. Google was founded in a garage. Who knows what basement inventor might come up with the Google of the RFID world.
The industry is busy trying to plug RFID into this hole or that need. But companies won’t be the only players. It’s this phase that we are entering into where I see the semi-professional at his and her best. Independent inventors and hobbyists all over will be busy in their garages and basements tinkering with one of the world’s newest cool toys – one of them might find a use we never imagined! One day, RFID will become commonplace on store shelves, in schools and businesses, and eventually in the home. Along the way amateurs and semi-professionals alike will also have their fun playing with it. They already are. They have been buying our reader 🙂
Have PhidgetRFID users come up with applications you weren’t expecting?
All the time. One of the most pleasurable things about a business which sells building blocks is the creative ideas people come up with. One user built a huge position sensor for a telescope dome he was constructing for a client. In essence it was a massive encoder which told him the position of the dome as it moved from a ring of tags around the perimeter. Not your typical RFID application.
Another favorite is a gentleman who is working on building a race track for RC cars and using the RFID reader with tags in the cars to track lap times. People are building all kinds of interesting applications like smart closets with clothes databases by sewing tags into their garments.
It is kind of a company policy to not pigeonhole the technology we sell when marketing due to the fact that people often find uses for Phidgets that we could never anticipate. It’s just this kind of creative use by independent inventors that I was talking about in my earlier answer. While our reader is based on traditional RFID technology, we find that people are using outside what we think of as a typical application. It’s exciting and shows how big the future of pervasive computing and human computer interaction technologies will be. RFID is too good of an idea not to become a major influence in the generations to come.
Thanks for inviting me to come talk about the exciting world of RFID with you and your readers. I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts!
You can read Phidget’s latest product release at “Phidgets USA RFID Reader 2.0”