Leveraging both its acquisition of Symbol Technologies last year and a new partnership forged this year, Motorola plans to go deeper into what is referred to as "extended capability" RFID development.
The company announced Dec. 12 a partnership with Intelleflex, a company that develops extended capability technology that includes new product co-development plans and a cash infusion from Motorola Ventures, the venture capital arm of Motorola.
Extended capability applications refer to tags that have sort of superhero capabilities in the world of passive tagging that requires a reader signal to activate an RFID tag. The extended capability tags have the ability to read and write at a much longer range—about 50 meters—than is usual with a passive tag, said Rich Bravman, chairman and CEO at Intelleflex. They also work well under challenging conditions, allowing reads, for example, through metallic objects that reflect RFID read signals and liquids that absorb read signals. The tags also have the ability to carry a much larger amount of information than is typically the case for a passive tag.
"A passive tag stores data about the size of a license number, a hundred or a few hundred bits," Bravman said. "Extended tags allow you to store up to a whole database of information."
There are several vertical markets where extended use capabilities are becoming a necessity for RFID to be a feasible technology, including areas like high value asset tracking, yard management where long read ranges might be necessary, the cold supply chain where temperature variation monitoring is critical, and parts maintenance where a large user memory is needed.
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Motorola, through its acquisition of Symbol, typically focused on passive RFID hardware reader development. "But as we move forward, there are definitely more challenging environments—water, metals—that cause issues with information being transmitted back and forth," said Chris Schaefer, director of RFID product marketing with Motorola's Enterprise Mobility Solutions Group. "Intelleflex has been pushing development to overcome those issues."
Some of the work Motorola is doing with Intelleflex includes the ability to add sensor technology to better track the movement of goods in various environments.
"Right now, solutions for tracking temperatures are expensive and they're used to track temperature in an entire trailer, but that leaves gaps, so you don't know what happens when a pallet is taken off a trailer and left on the dock," Bravman said. "By having an input/output capability, you can affix tags right down to the pallet level, track [movements] and log those into memory and establish whether maximum/minimum temperatures were ever achieved. It will provide much greater control, accountability of movement of goods across the supply chain."
While neither Bravman nor Schaefer will comment on how much cash Motorola is investing in Intelleflex, Bravman said that with this Series C round, Intelleflex raised about $15.5 million, with one additional investor included.
Code Cubitt, investment manager at Motorola Ventures, said his group invests in 20 to 25 companies a year, and each one is typically funded for 12 to 18 months. "These are not typically investments to buy," Cubitt said, adding that Motorola has bought about five companies it has invested in.
This third series of funding will be used to extend Intelleflex's roadmap with Motorola and expand the company's capabilities to take its products global, Bravman said. The first two rounds were used to build a platform, prove product feasibility and bring the company's first-generation products to market. Both companies expect to deliver combined products in the second half of 2008.
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