RFID and Extended Capabilities

Rich Bravman, of Intelleflex Corporation talks about extended capability RFID, its potential applications and the state of the RFID market.

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Intelleflex has focused on what you have termed "extended capability" RFID.  What exactly is "extended capability" RFID and what do you see as its benefit over conventional passive RFID?

Rich Bravman: By extended capability RFID, we mean those forms of the technology that are characterized by a set of features and performance characteristics that that suggest a great fit between that technology, its products and a set of targeted applications.  The particular set of extended capabilities that are embodied in today's products include:

         robust operation under difficult RF conditions such as in applications involving large amounts of metal or liquids,
         the ability to read at long range -- today that means in excess of 50 meters both read and write,
         a large amount of user memory -- our current systems have availability of upwards of 60,000 bits worth of user
read/write memory,
         an intelligent security architecture layered on top of that memory that allows you to partition that data store into individual blocks which can be separately protected in terms of read operations, write operations and even permanently locked so that some information can be stored and kept public and other information can be kept private under password control,
         zonal location finding,
         and, finally, input/output technology at the tag level which will, in future, be exploited in a number of ways including data logging sensor tags that will allow tags to not only be identified but to sense their environments in terms of parameters such as temperature, humidity and so on.

That bundle of features and performance attributes is what we mean by extended capability and that set will continue to expand in the future.

We think the benefits are that there are clearly application use cases that depend upon some mix-and-match combination of those extended capabilities.

A lot of what you're talking about has traditionally been the province of active RFID. Is what you're talking about here battery-assisted passive tag?

Yes.  In fact that is one of the key enabling technologies behind what we do but you'll note that we haven't defined our product category as battery-assisted passive or, for that matter, any one technology.  We are in fact a multi-protocol product platform today.  Both our tags and our readers are capable of operating in both battery-assisted passive mode as well as pure passive mode under the EPC Class1 Gen2 protocol standard in particular.  In fact, our entire product platform operates in a multi-protocol standards-based fashion.  We haven't tied ourselves to any one technology and, in future, it's very possible that we may deliver further variations on this multi-protocol theme -- operating at different frequencies, operating with still other protocols and perhaps even including active

Back to your point, many of the extended capabilities that we deliver today traditionally have only been available in the most expensive form of RFID -- active RFID.  One of the key benefits of battery-assisted passive is that it delivers those capabilities with a number of very important advantages, not least of which is a significantly lower cost and price point than would be possible with active.  Beyond that advantage, we have significantly lower power consumption which translates into longer battery life and smaller and less expensive batteries.  The tag continues to operate in passive mode even at the end of battery life.  So, while the battery provides much more robust performance and gives that 50 meter read/write range, at the end of battery life, unlike an active tag that ceases to function entirely, we will continue to operate and all the information will continue to be accessible in pure passive mode.

So, in some ways this is "the best of both worlds" story.  Extended capability provides a price point closer to that of passive while delivering the features, performance and robustness of an active RFID system.

What are the types of applications where you see extended capability systems being most useful?

We have five so-called "horizon one" applications that we're targeting today. 

The first one is reusable transport items (RTIs).  This would be the tracking and management of totes, bins, pallets, trays and containers -- basically the "stuff that's used to move stuff."  Generally speaking, there are two adjacent applications involving RTIs.  One is tracking of those transport items as assets themselves and the second is tracking of the manifest of whatever happens to be loaded in or on those containers or pallets as they move through organizations and across supply chains.

Number two would be vehicle yard management.  This is tracking of, for example, tractor trailers coming into, out of and moving around the yard facility surrounding distributions center warehouses, manufacturing facilities and such.

Application three would be equipment yard management.  Those would include, for example, the tracking of large assets such as might be owned by a utility company stored in large outdoor warehouse facilities, typically called "lay down yards."  Current systems generally are challenged to be able to track them as they come into and move out of the facility or are moved around the facility.  The long range operation capability, the zonal location finding and the ability to work robustly around metals are all keys to enabling that application to work well.

High value or secure enterprise asset tracking would be the fourth application.  This would be, for example, tracking laptops moving into or out of enterprise facilities.

Lastly would be people tracking: security access control, crowd management, mustering (the control of crowds moving in an evacuation scenario) would be the last of the target applications.  Interestingly, that one is often found in combination with one of the other forms.  Keeping track of who's driving a truck, for example, or keeping track of who's carrying a laptop in or out of a facility is a very common combination application together with people tracking

Looking just a little bit further down the road, once the data sensor tags are available which should be towards the end of this calendar year (2008), we expect cold supply chain to be a very important target use case.

Thanks.  I think that gives us a fairly good view of extended capability RFID.  Switching topics a bit here -- in 1991, Geoffrey Moore wrote a book entitled "Crossing the Chasm" that talked about the gap between early adopters of a technology and acceptance by the mainstream market.  He describes is a void in the middle that he terms the chasm.  Where do you see RFID in relation to this chasm?

With some exceptions, which have matured earlier, my view is that the bulk of the RFID market is sitting squarely astride the chasm with one foot on the wrong side of the chasm and one foot on the right side of the chasm.  The characterization that the market takes on once it is fully across the chasm is that the most pragmatic mainstream, even conservative, buyers have no further real reservations about investing in the technology.  They understand it to be fully proven, they have found lots of examples of their colleagues in the industry using the technology and generating bottom-line business results, and the majority of engagements that suppliers have with prospective customers are with business people that have business problems to solve and not with people who are first and foremost interested in the technology and understanding what the current state of it is.

If you look back perhaps a year, year-and-a-half, two years ago, the market I think was entirely on the wrong side of the chasm.  Almost every discussion was with technology people who were interested in RFID and proving it out and experimenting with it and seeing if in fact it could work in their environment.  There were relatively few business driven dialogues. 

If we look a year or two into the future -- two years in particular -- I think we'll find that the majority of engagements and discussions with prospective clients will, in fact, be with those business people and the technology will have, at least in some important number of use cases, be fully proven out to be effective in a bottom-line business sense.

I think we're in about a one-to-two year transition period between now and then where an increasing number of engagements are of that mainstream character but not all of them yet.  The market is still not coming to the suppliers in that mode, we're having to go and get them.  I think the key for the RFID industry is to in fact focus on those target use cases where the business benefits are most compelling and then proving out that the technology generates bottom-line business results -- not that it just works as a technology but that it realizes the business benefits that our early adopter customers are seeking.

We feel that if we're able to prove that customer success, that will generate the base of support within the broader, more pragmatic, more conservative business buying community that will lead to "main street" adoption which will then generate the dynamics that bring the market fully across the chasm.

As the market moves across the chasm, where do you see extended capability RFID going over the next few years?

I think it's going to be a major force in driving the market across the chasm because I think it's tied to exactly those high value business applications and solutions that will lead the market across the chasm.  If you can generate an incremental return, a marginal improvement in your operation based on use of a technology that's "nice."  But if you can solve a business problem that just isn't possible using other technologies, that's compelling.  I think that's what extended capability does.

About Rich Bravman

Richard Bravman joined Intelleflex Corporation, The Intelligent RFID Platform Company, in September of 2005 as its Chairman and CEO. Earlier, Bravman had a distinguished 25-year career at Symbol Technologies, Inc., serving most recently as its CEO and Vice Chairman. He joined Symbol as a 5-person start-up and played a central role in multiple stages of organization growth, renewal and strategic transformation. His career spanned the growth of Symbol as it evolved to a global leader in its field: an S&P 500 NYSE-listed company with over 5500 associates.

His hands-on and leadership experiences, spanning upside / growth and turn-around challenge scenarios, include:

           Strategic expansion up an industry value chain;
           Major acquisition and merger planning and execution;
           Development, defense and leveraging of IP portfolios;
           Global expansion of business footprint;
           Ecosystem development (sourcing, go-to-market and strategic partnering);
           Strategic business planning;
           Corporate turn-around and cultural renewal;
           Leadership team building;
           Corporate governance design;
           Financial strategy and public and private investor relations.

In addition to his senior executive experience, Mr. Bravman has held general management and functional leadership roles in teams responsible for product development, IP portfolio management, marketing and business development, and sales and systems integration.

Bravman serves on the boards of several early stage technology companies. He holds a BS in computer science from the State University of NY at Stony Brook.

About Intelleflex

Intelleflex is the leader in Extended Capability RFID solutions, products and technologies. Our Intelligent RFID Platform, comprising high performance multi-protocol tags and readers, enables solutions for equipment and vehicle yard management, reusable transport items tracking, personnel monitoring and other high-value asset tracking applications. It features range, reliability, memory capacity and security far beyond standard passive RFID, and at a fraction of the cost of active.  For more information, visit www.intelleflex.com.

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