RuBee Offers an Alternative to RFID

The IEEE has started work on a new protocol—a standard called IEEE 1902.1 also known as RuBee—that is expected to give retailers and manufacturers an attractive alternative to RFID for many applications, especially item-level efforts.

Officials say they expect products based on the protocol to be available within 12 to 18 months.

The initial backers of RuBee being considered as a protocol include industry heavyweights from both the retail side—including the U.S.’s Best Buy, U.K.-based Tesco and Germany’s Metro Group—plus technology vendors including Hewlett-Packard, Intel, IBM, Sony, Panasonic, Motorola and NCR, said Pete Abell, a veteran RFID analyst now working for IDC’s Manufacturing Insights. Paris-based CarreFour is also supporting the effort, Abell said.

“The horsepower behind this one is pretty significant,” Abell said.

RuBee “definitely has a major place. The RFID world moving forward is not going to be a one-size-fits-all.”

Is RuBee giving frustrated RFID proponents a face-saving way out? Our columnist thinks it is. To read more, please click here.

IEEE officials paint RuBee as not a wholesale replacement for RFID, but merely an alternative technology that may be better suited for specific applications. Indeed, RuBee is close to a scientific opposite of today’s typical RFID technology.

John Stevens is chairman of the 1902.1 working group and is also chairman of Visible Assets.

Visible Assets began the RuBee effort and made the proposal to IEEE after gaining the support of several key retailers and technology vendors, Stevens said.

A traditional 900MHz RFID approach “is 99.99 percent radio signal and 0.01 magnetic/inductive. What [RuBee] is doing is 99.99 percent magnetic. There is no radio signal in these tags at all,” Stevens said.

“All RFID tags are backscattered transponders. RuBee is an active transceiver.”

An IEEE statement described RuBee as being “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.”

The “harsh environment” reference is key to RuBee’s appeal, as RFID’s struggles with getting accurate reads through or near liquids and metals has been the most significant obstacle to its widespread cost-effective deployment.

RuBee’s opposite approach sidesteps many of those problems and makes it ideal for liquid and metal situations, Stevens said.

Abell said those weak RFID read rates—plus some standards group decisions and industry politics—have all played into making the environment receptive for RuBee.

“The key is that there needs to be some technology that is available that works in harsh environments. We still have 70 to 80 percent read rates, and that is both Gen1 and Gen2. That is unacceptable,” Abell said.

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