Sun unveils Java for RFID readers

In a move that is sure to be welcomed by IT organizations and supply-chain managers contemplating a flood of RFID data and additional RFID infrastructure to manage, Sun Microsystems announced Wednesday a new class of intelligent readers with embedded versions of either Java SE (Server Edition) or Java J2ME (Micro Edition).

Although there have been versions of Java embedded in readers the versions were less capable and weren't compliant with EPCglobal's ALE (Application Level Events) specification. EPCglobal is the organization for RFID standards.

The ALE specification allows any back-end application to interface with RFID data in order to determine what information the application needs. And putting ALE in the reader will reduce much of the need for sending RFID reads to middleware residing on an additional server appliance.

"Now business decisions can be made from data in the reader before it even gets to the middleware," said Sam Liu, director of Product Management RFID Solutions at Sun.

For example, up until now a so-called dumb reader had no idea how many times it has read the same tag on the same product. A dumb device must work in conjunction with middleware that tracks and filters the RFID reads, Liu pointed out.

By embedding Java inside the reader, filtering chores and other higher-level tasks can be done at the reader level, taking those jobs away from the middleware.

"Middleware requires more software management and more appliances to manage as well," Liu said.

Critical supply-chain questions, such as how much inventory in the last 24 hours came through a particular warehouse or where a product is located, previously required a middleware solution that aggregated all of the individual reader data. Now, with Java embedded, a query can be sent simultaneously to all the readers and a response can be sent directly back to the warehouse-management system.

The Java-enabled readers will also leverage Sun's Jini network technology to add additional services. Jini will be used in an RFID environment for self-healing of readers and auto-provisioning of software for higher-level decision making.

For example, dock doors with dumb readers are typically treated equally. With a Jini-services component, some dock doors can be considered as more mission critical than others and additional data can be collected from those locations.

Java SE with ALE is available now. Java J2ME with ALE compliance will be available in late summer, Liu said.

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