Web tags leverage RFID, Internet to create instrumentation cloud

Tag4M WiFi sensor tag takes analog readings and provides digital I/O; all readings are sent automatically to the Internet and further to a user-assigned web page over standard WiFi access points. What does this mean for computer-based instrumentation? See examples.


Tag4M WiFi sensor tag takes analog readings and provides digital I/O; all readings are sent automatically to the Internet and further to a user-assigned web page over standard WiFi access points, said Cores Electronic in a Feb. 15 announcement.

Tag4M WiFi sensor tag

Tag4M WiFi sensor tag

The Tag4M WiFi sensor tag takes advantage of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and developments in Internet technology to introduce an entirely new concept for easurement and analysis: the "instrumentation cloud." Decades ago, the first instruments collected and analyzed real-world measurements all in one box; then came instrument front ends that connected to PCs Now we are entering a new era where the wireless hardware is freed from the confines of cabling, the software is no longer relegated to a specific PC. Instead, measurement front ends connect to the Internet and a web page becomes the instrument, which users can access from anything that can surf the web including mobile devices such as the iPhone.

Tag4M WiFi sensor tag sends readings to Internet.

Tag4M WiFi sensor tag sends readings to Internet.

Tag4M leverages RFID technology in a small, credit-card sized board, also called a "WiFi tag," which collects analog data, performs digital I/O, and communicates directly with any commercially available WiFi access point (AP) or wireless router.

Extremely low power consumption means that, depending on the frequency of wake-up periods, a tag can operate on one 3 V CR-123A lithium battery for several years. Wider use of RFID technology contributes to its low cost, with volume prices for the Tag4M WiFi tag dropping as low as $50.

Internet-based instrumentation applications

Wireless sensing, Internet-based applications, and handheld mobile devices are among technologies converging to lower the cost of taking and analyzing measurements, all part of the instrumentation cloud, according to Marius Ghercioiu, Cores Electronics president. Extending the advancement of computer-based instrumentation, Ghercioiu asks, what if the computer and the sensing devices become part of the network? What will it mean for data acquisition as instrumentation becomes service-based, with application software in the Internet cloud? Costs fall and portability increase, he suggests, allowing more measurements and more applications. See a very basic example of instrumentation hosted in a browser at demo.tag4m.com. See also, Ghercioiu says, www.pachube.com.
- Mark T. Hoske, editor in chief,
Control Engineering , www.controleng.com


In operation, when a Tag4M initially boots up or waking up after having been in sleep mode, it searches for and automatically associates with an off-the-shelf 802.11b/g access point. Each Tag4M unit has its own permanent MAC address, and it shares a common SSID (default network name) with the AP so it can transfer data and accept commands from any predetermined Web page. Users can also connect the AP to a LAN to operate a Tag4M in local mode.

Even with its low power consumption, the Tag4M's WiFi radio chip and ceramic antenna spec a range of 50 m indoors and 100 m outdoors. Upon association with an AP, the tag sends digitized sensor data over the Internet for any web-based applications to use. None of the existing measurement methods are set up to do this because at present there is little use for raw sensor data being available on the Internet. But with Web-enabled applications starting to emerge, the "instrumentation cloud" scheme presents an enormous opportunity.

Users will route sensor data packets to dedicated computers located anywhere on the Internet, and they will either use local software or run web-based programs for computation, simulation, modeling, analysis and presentation. The diagram illustrates this concept.

Tag4M WiFi Radio reaches 100 m outdoors.

Tag4M WiFi Radio reaches 100 m outdoors.

Besides the WiFi link, the tag integrates a temperature sensor and provides 5 V / current input channels and 4 digital I/O lines. When transmitting it requires roughly 200 mA, and in sleep mode consumption drops to < 10 uA. This means that if the sleep period between readings and transmissions is 1 sec, battery life is 52 hours; with a sleep period of 500 sec, lifetime extends to 2 years.

"Our WiFi tag heralds of a new way of collecting real-world data where we are throwing off the chains that bind us to specific hardware and software," says company president Marius Ghercioiu. "Most wireless sensor units currently on the market are designed to work in Local mode with a computer running a specific software application. In contrast, we designed the Tag4M to interface with a web page, which can be hosted on any web-enabled hardware, whether in your pocket or across the country. Furthermore, given the advent of web-based applications with a model being Google docs, everything except the physical I/O will take place on the web - logging measurements into a database, performing analysis or displaying the data, it can all take place independent of specific hardware. In this way, we are starting to think about an 'instrumentation cloud' where not only the sensors but also the logging and analysis and control programs can be anywhere you want them."

The Tag4M WiFi sensor tag is available from stock. Price: $124 in single units with aggressive quantity discounts.

A typical instrumentation web page - which can be displayed on any web-enabled device, even an iPod as the photo shown - includes the MAC address of each Tag4M WiFi tag within an "instrument cloud" and allows users to configure parameters for I/O and general operation. www.tag4m.com

See Control Engineering :
- Wireless articles at www.controleng.com/wireless .
- Industrial Network channel ; and
- Sensor channel .
- Edited by Mark T. Hoske, editor in chief, Control Engineering, www.controleng.com.

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