Alien unveils next-generation RFID reader

Supply-chain infrastructure providers like Alien Technology and Symbol Technologies are prepping now for second-generation, or Gen 2, RFID tags expected in the second half of 2006. They're unveiling more capable readers and forming new alliances among the major enterprise software vendors.

Alien announced this week a Gen 2 RFID reader, the ALR-9800, which is a multiprotocol device with improved read performance and speed. Using an Intel XScale processor, it is also Java- and .Net-enabled for embedding "first-pass business logic" in the reader, according to John Price, director of software engineering Systems at Alien. The reader can be run using either a Linux or Microsoft Windows CE operating system.

With intelligence in the reader -- not just in a server -- users can create a request that has the reader looking for tags of a certain type, evaluating the results and notifying an administrator rather than having to poll all of the readers, Price said.

According to Christine Overby, a principal analyst with Forrester Research, putting intelligence in the reader is yet another indication that the enterprise is moving toward a distributed architecture.

The speed of the reader was demonstrated to an audience of Alien partners and customers at its headquarters in Morgan Hill, Calif., by placing 125 tags in a 10-foot high see-through funnel. This funnel had a fan at the bottom that kept the tags in a constant whirling motion. The tags flew around like confetti, and many in the audience stared in amazement as the ALR-9800 captured each individual tag number and recorded it in a matter of seconds.

The ALR-9800 will ship in September and have a list price of US$2,399.

Alien also announced deals with IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle to support those companies with supply-chain software solutions.

IBM and Alien announced that IBM's WebSphere RFID Device Infrastructure Reader middleware will be integrated into the ALR-9800.

Microsoft and Alien jointly proclaimed that the reader is compatible with Microsoft's RFID technology supported by .Net Framework.

Finally, Alien announced a joint initiative with Oracle to partner with Oracle on its Sensor-Based Services business. The ALR-9800 will support Oracle Warehouse Management, EPC Compliance Enabler, and future solutions.

Forrester's Overby said these kinds of deals will also lower the cost of deploying a distributed architecture for RFID.

"Companies can buy [the reader and middleware] as a package from one provider, which lowers the cost and makes system management a lot easier to do," said Overby.

Earlier this summer Symbol demonstrated a Gen 2 reader with the DC600 Portal System, which includes interoperability between EPC Gen 2 tags and Class 0 and Class 1 Gen 1 tags.

According to Justin Hotard, director of marketing at Symbol, the ISO will adopt the Gen 2 standard for international use.

The dense reader mode, which supports deployments of 20 readers in a single location without interference, is another benefit of the Gen 2 technology.

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