Mojix sees virtualization as way to cut RFID cost for inventory management

Mojix is offering the controller for its wide-area RFID tag reader as a virtual appliance

RFID reader manufacturer Mojix is turning to virtualization to boost the performance of its long-range passive RFID system, used in manufacturing and retail inventory management.

There is no power source in passive RFID tags such as the Electronic Product Code (EPC) Generation 2 tags used for item-level tagging in inventory systems. Instead, they absorb energy from a radio signal emitted by the tag reader, modifying it and reflecting it back to the reader to signal their identity. Inventorying everything in a large warehouse usually means approaching each box or pallet in turn to scan it with a handheld tag reader.

The range of a handheld tag reader is typically no more than a few meters, limited by the radio power the reader can emit and the distance over which it can detect the weak signal re-emitted by the tag. Mojix, though, takes a different approach in its Star 3000 reader system, energizing standard EPC Gen2 tags using powerful radio emitters or e-nodes placed around the area to be covered, and reading them from a central point up to 180 meters away using a sophisticated phased-array receiver with four antennas. The technology is similar to that used to improve reception in MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) Wi-Fi systems.

EPC Gen2 tags now cost less than €0.10 (US$0.15) each, said Roelof Koopmans, managing director for Mojix in Europe. That makes it affordable for Mojix customers to follow the movement of individual items through the supply chain. For that price, though, they will want to know not only what items have entered or left a warehouse, but also where they are during their stay.

By transmitting from each of the e-nodes in a warehouse in turn, Mojix can build a picture of the location of each tag to within a meter or two -- but processing the flood of information generated into a format useful to back-office systems requires a master controller placed near each receiver. The controller turns the raw data into a stream of messages in the EPC Application-Level Events format usable by back-end systems and middleware from IBM, Oracle, InSync and others, Koopmans said.

With the latest upgrade to the Star 3000, Mojix is offering the master controller as either a turn-key virtual machine image, or as a service hosted either by itself or a partner, said Koopmans.

For companies with many sites transferring tag data to a central supply chain management system, that translates to savings on equipment and maintenance, he said.

While Mojix favors VMware, its software appliances are OVF (Open Virtualization Format) compliant, he said, and will also run in Amazon Web Services' cloud. The company is assessing market demand for other cloud services, he said. Pricing depends on the reader configuration and on whether hosting is required.

While the Star 3000 can locate an item to within a meter or so, there could still be 1000 other items in the same area in a typical warehouse. To help pickers find the right item to fulfill a customer's order, Mojix has also developed a mobile app that can track tags on a phone equipped with a reader or connected to one over Bluetooth, Koopmans said.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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Peter Sayer

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