California RFID company Alien Technology has released a sled-based ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID reader that, according to the company, will enable retailers and other RFID technology users to employ their own Android- or iOS-based devices to capture and manage RFID read data. The ALR-S350 is designed to read tags while letting a user's Android or iOS device take it from there. The UHF reader can be attached to a smartphone, tablet or other media device, to which it then forwards data via a Bluetooth connection.
This is not the first sled reader on the market, but Alien claims its model is unique in several ways. It features a 24-hour average life on a single battery, says Neil Mitchell, Alien's senior director of marketing, and offers a choice of linear, circular or close-range read options. What's more, he adds, the device comes with all necessary accessories and an app, at a cost of $1,599.
The reader is intended for use in retail, warehousing, work-in-progress (WIP) tracking, transportation and the locating of missing items. Alien will demonstrate the device at the National Retail Federation's NRF 2018 retail trade show, which will be held at New York City's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Jan. 14–16. The company will provide samples to customers and expects to be selling the product in volume by this coming spring.
Sled readers offer an alternative to handheld readers for RFID technology users. Basic handhelds use their own operating systems and cannot be integrated with mobile-based operating systems such as Android and iOS. With the sled version, however, users can employ their existing tablets, mobile phones or Apple iPods to capture and manage tag-read data.
The ALR-S350 reader can be attached to a phone or other device via a Quad Lock mounting attachment, and shares data with that device via a Bluetooth connection. To manage read data, users can download Alien's RFID app for Android or iOS, or use the firm's software developer's kit (SDK) to integrate data into their own app or software-management system.
Alien Technology has devoted its engineering efforts to making the ALR-S350 a flexible and effective tool for customers, Mitchell says, with a focus on extending battery life and building in versatility. The device has a battery life of up to 24 hours when used intensively, he adds, and can be recharged via a USB cable.
Mitchell compares this to other handheld readers that may require several batteries to ensure that they can last an entire day without a recharge. He attributes the long battery life to the reader's low power consumption, though he declines to specify how this is accomplished. "It is a lower-power device than other handhelds on the market," he states.
The sled reader is designed to offer flexibility to users, depending on their particular environment and requirements for tag reads. Some traditional readers offer circular antennas to provide a wider-area read, while others offer a linear antenna that is known for a long range read in a linear orientation. But tags in a crowded, static environment may require a different read capability than in a fixed area in which tags move through a gate, for instance. "Linear might be used if you're more certain of the orientation," Mitchell explains. Users would select the antenna polarization for each read event using the Alien app, which would then prompt the reader to operate according to that selection.
In either antenna mode, the sled reader can interrogate tags at a rate of up to 200 tags per second. Users can then select the best option for their needs. Linear polarization offers a read range of up to 22 feet, while circular polarization accomplishes up to 13 feet within a wider range. With a third option, in proximity mode, the read range can be reduced to less than half an inch. The ALR-S350 also comes with a built-in 2D bar-code scanner, a buzzer and three LED lights for alerts.
According to Mitchell, the reader is unique among some of its competitors, because the price includes all necessary appliances to work the device and manage the collected data. That includes cables, chargers and the app. By using the sled reader, he says, "users aren't locked into one operating system." He notes that RFID users often adopt the technology with a single use case in mind, "then they find out it works better in another application," sometimes requiring them to change the operating system or obtain a different version.