RuBee as RFID 2.0?

June 15th, 2006

RFID tag

We have some project where we are using passive RFID tags and have found the technology to be exciting, but also frustrating. One of the big problems is read errors — you can’t always detect tags present in the environment. Tag visibility varies as the tag’s angle and location changes and the high frequency signals used by most RFID systems are blocked by metal and liquids. Since most living organisms are, to first approximation, liquid, this is a problem.

The IEEE is developing a new standard for wireless, long-wavelength radio tags that will address this and other problems inherent in current HF passive RFID systems. The standard is aimed at applications for healthcare, retail and livestock visibility networks.

As announced by the IEEE

The IEEE has begun work on a new standard, IEEE P1902.1, which will improve upon the visibility network protocol known as RuBee. RuBee is a bidirectional, on-demand, peer-to-peer, radiating, transceiver protocol operating at wavelengths below 450 Khz. This protocol works in harsh environments with networks of many thousands of tags and has an area range of 10 to 50 feet.

One of the advantages of long-wavelength technology is that the radio tags can be low in cost, near credit card thin (1.5 mm), and fully programmable using 4 bit processors. Despite their high functionality, RuBee radio tags have a proven battery life of ten years or more using low-cost, coin-size lithium batteries. The RuBee protocol works with both active radio tags and passive tags that have no battery.

IEEE P1902.1, “IEEE Standard for Long Wavelength Wireless Network Protocol”, will provide for asset visibility networking that fills the gap between the non-networked, non-programmable, backscattered, RFID tags widely used for asset tracking and the high-bandwidth radiating protocols for IEEE 802.11â„¢ local area networks and IEEE 802.15â„¢ personnel area and data networks.

There are some areas where current RFID technology has an advantage. The high frequencies used support a higher bandwidth, so hundreds of tags can be read each second. RuBee tags will be much slower to read, so some applications will not be appropriate.

People involved with the new standards effort predict that products based on the protocol will be available within 12 to 18 months. Both technology vendors and large potential retail users are supporting the development of IEEE P1902.1.

There a number of good news articles out on RuBee including this one from Ziff Davis: RuBee Offers an Alternative to RFID.