RuBee Seen As Alternative Protocol To RFID

The IEEE working group developing RuBee said Thursday (Jan. 25) it would hold its first meeting about the standard on February 20 in Boston, Mass., a day before the RFID Smart Labels Conference begins at the same location.

Proponents say RuBee networks would operate at long-wavelengths and accommodate low-cost radio tags at ranges between 10 to 50 feet. The standard will allow for networks encompassing thousands of radio tags operating below 450 kHz and target real-time inventory under harsh environments, even near metal and water and in the presence of electromagnetic noise.

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.

And while RuBee's similar transmission range and cost would make it seem like a replacement for current RFID applications, its relatively slow speed makes it unsuitable for tracking the numerous, moving products in a typical warehouse. RuBee-enabled devices will also have the advantage of transmitting data directly to the Internet.

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However, the standards setters and backers of the protocol stress that while there are similarities, RuBee is not seen as a replacement but an alternative that could be useful in specific applications.

The RuBee radio tags, which will be either active or passive, would have battery lives of ten years or more using inexpensive lithium batteries. One of the advantages seen for the long-wavelength technology is that the radio tags can be low in cost, near credit card thin (1.5 mm), and fully programmable using 4 bit processors.

The standards setters see RuBee networks as filling the gap between the non-networked, non-programmable RFID tags and high-bandwidth, radiating systems governed by local ( 802.11) and personal area networks (802.15). They are seen as having applications healthcare, agriculture, government and retail.

Officials say they expect products based on the real-time, tag searchable protocol that will use IPv4 addresses to be available within 12 to 18 months.

Initial backers of RuBee include retail heavyweights such the Tesco group in the U.K., Germany's Metro chain, Carrefour in France and BestBuy in the U.S., as well as chip suppliers, network equipment designers and systems developers such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sony, Panasonic, Motorola and NCR.

The IEEE is urging "anyone interested in helping develop this standard" to attend the February meeting.

The chairman of the working group is John Stevens who is also chairman of Visible Assets, the company that started driving the RuBee effort following discussions with retailers and technology companies.

"A widely-deployed long-wavelength standard will serve as a platform for growth in many industries, so working group members are motivated to produce a high-quality and practical working standard as quickly as possible," said Stevens when the first details of the standards setting process were announced last year.

The 1902.1 standard will address physical and data-link layers based on the existing working RuBee protocol now in use, and would support interoperation of tags, chips, network routers and other equipment now slated to be rolled out by several different manufacturers.

RuBee networks are already deployed in commercial applications, including: smart shelves for high-value medical devices in hospitals and operating rooms; smart, in-store and warehouse shelves for inventory tracking; and a variety of agricultural visibility networks for livestock, elk and other exotic animals.