IC Delivers Low-Cost, Low-Power Active RFID

InPlay’s BLE technology is designed to allow easy setup of a real-time location system with markers that would cost a few dollars and could be interrogated by a gateway, tablet or smartphone from hundreds of meters away.

Starting technology InPlay technology has built an integrated circuit (IC), which aims to make active RFID technology relatively accessible and easy to implement via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). The IN100 NanoBeacon on-chip (SoC) system, launched in 2021, uses the Bluetooth 5.0 standard (long-range BLE type) to allow low-cost, compact battery-powered headlight modules that can be paired with sensors and pre-configured for event-induced conditions. The technology won the RFID Journal’s Best New Product Award last month LIVE! conference held in Phoenix, Arizona (see The RFID Journal announces the winners of its 15th annual awards).

IN100 NanoBeacon is accepted from San Jose, California, a solution provider BeeFiwhile InPlay intends to work with other partners to create low-cost solutions that not only locate devices but also capture sensor data. The SoC in its smallest package (DFN8) has dimensions of 2.5 millimeters by 2.5 millimeters (0.1 inches by 0.1 inches) and can be built into a beacon device powered by a 1.5-volt battery with a coin that can be attached to a piece of equipment, a container or a wall. It can then be configured through an application without requiring software development. SoC is designed to contain no software programming.

The IN100 NanoBeacon system on a chip

An IC can only cost 30 cents apiece, according to David Hu, the company’s co-founder and chief operating officer. Once SoCs are built into a module with crystals (electrode connections), batteries and boxes, companies can expect commercially ready devices to cost approximately $ 2 or $ 3, he says, while currently used beacon devices typically cost more than $ 20 each. . By supporting Bluetooth 5 over long distances, the IN100 NanoBeacon can transmit data up to several hundred meters away. Due to the high silicon integration, which requires only an external 26 MHz crystal, the IN100-based headlight modules are part of the size compared to the hockey puck size of most beacons, Hu notes. The technology supports the Eddystone and iBeacon protocols.

BeeFi, co-founded with Hu’s former classmate John Yu, makes Internet of Things (IoT) systems for Qualcommwhose AWS-ready modules use Wi-Fi connectivity. “What we offer them is a Bluetooth version” for IoT solutions, Hu explains. Based in Irvine, California, InPlay was launched in 2016 by engineers from Atmel (now Microchip) to tackle technology-based challenges involving games, robotics and industrial systems. “We looked at the games because the low latency wireless issues were not resolved.”

At the time of the founding of InPlay, Hu says, Bluetooth 5 is being adopted and his company sees an opportunity to offer a solution that could better enable multiplayer gaming for a higher quality user experience by reducing delay between the wireless controller and the console. However, the company also focuses on industrial applications that could benefit from the same technology. “Then we made the first chip, multi-protocol Bluetooth, low latency and SDR [software-defined radio] for networking, ”he says, adding that the network SDR edge solution is designed to connect tens of thousands of devices while supporting the Bluetooth 5 protocol.

Regarding RTLS with BLE technology, Hu explains that active RFID systems were previously more complex to implement than passive RFID. Such solutions require software to control each device, while beacons typically consume a lot of energy and therefore need to be recharged or their batteries replaced periodically. This means more complex and expensive maintenance. “We thought, ‘We need to reduce the power consumption of Bluetooth beacons.’ Can we take a different architectural approach to solve this problem? Hu remembers.

The product is the first in what InPlay expects to be a family of NanoBeacons. BeeFi plans to pilot the IN100 in the coming months, with implementation expected in early 2022. The device is designed without the need for a processor, although it includes a single programmable memory so users can configure the beacon to suit the needs of their applications. One version of the package, QFN18, comes with interfaces to accommodate multiple sensors so that the chip can capture sensor readings, such as temperature or shock, and users can have options such as identifying a temperature deviation outside the allowable threshold, or simply dynamically placing sensor data on the payload of the beacon.

Configuring the SoC will only require computer tools on which users can select from a list of options and specify parameters (not exceeding, for example, 35 degrees Celsius), and then record these settings on the chips. It is likely that the technology will be adopted for real-time localization and monitoring of assets and equipment in warehouses, production sites and health facilities. For example, devices can be attached to high-value items, and then users can use a single BLE gateway to capture potential data from thousands of devices and forward them to a server. In a warehouse, a company can see the locations and conditions of its tools, forklifts or pallets, and the collected data can be seen through the application of a smartphone or tablet device.

The company predicts that its differences from other BLE or active RFID systems will make it available for a wide variety of new deployments. “The key points are price, ease of use and low power consumption,” said Russ Mon, InPlay’s RF Design Director. The power consumption is only 1.4 uA of power for a period of 10 seconds, he said. InPlay can customize how much power is consumed by programming the transmission power, ad slots and triggers depending on the requirements of the application.

To track location, the Beifi SensiBLE IoT platform uses InPLay IN100 SoC and IN612L bidirectional SDR protocol for edge-to-network SoC in its gateways and uses a combination of arrival angle indicator algorithms and received signal to achieve real-time location marker accuracy. within 1 meter (3.3 feet) while capturing sensory data. Because the SoC uses so little energy, the company says it could potentially use solar, radio or mechanical energy.

The SoC can operate at high temperatures. During testing, Hu said, it was shown to run at 135 degrees Celsius (275 degrees Fahrenheit), while most BLE chips tend to lose functionality above 125 degrees (257 degrees Fahrenheit). This high temperature capability means that the device can be applied to industrial grade applications, such as tire pressure monitoring. When built into a device with a pressure sensor, the NanoBeacon can be attached to tires and thus allow users to see the pressure with their smartphone without requiring a mechanical testing system.

To serve this market, InPlay expects to continue to develop NanoBeacon so that it can be sold as a car-class product. The IN100 comes with a unique private key for security and authentication, the company said. If this private key is compromised, the corresponding beacon will be removed and removed from the authentication server so that it can no longer be used. In addition, the payload of the sensor is encrypted and only the owner of the key can decrypt and verify the authenticity of the message. To support its current and future partners, InPlay plans to sell the IN100 rating kit by the end of this year.

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