Learn how a miniPC helps develop flexible and cost effective solutions for applications requiring local data storage, data processing and connectivity.

We’ve been long talking about the potential of RFID technology as a source of data for the IoT, especially when linked to battery-free sensor tags.

Depending on each application, we can envision RFID readers getting data from battery-free sensors and then sharing it with cloud based services or company databases. These readers can be fixed in industrial environments or mobile in applications such as structural health monitoring (SHM) or agriculture.

However, RFID was a technology thought for identification. For this reason, RFID readers typically count on low memory sizes – they only need to store an ID number! This becomes an issue when dealing with sensor data: you end up storing not just an ID but lots of extra measurement data over time.

On top of this, standard, logistics focused readers such as the Impinj R420, the Motorola FX7500 or the ThingMagic M6, are all at costs that make many applications unaffordable. The industry is already working in that way and more and more low cost readers are being made available.

Working with miniPC + reader module

We have had very good experiences with miniPCs and reader modules so far. While it is not a very common thing to work with, there are many applications in which this solution comes really handy.

MiniPC and reader module

BeagleBone Black MiniPC and ThingMagic M6e reader module

A miniPC is fully capable PC with high processing capabilities and memory when compared with standard RFID readers. MiniPCs such as the BeagleBone Black or the Raspberri Pi can help increase processing power and memory size of the reader side without decreasing other features and at a lower cost.

A miniPC can cost you around USD50 and there are good reader modules for less than USD500 – even a lot less but always check the performance before going into full development with a module.

Requires a good level of development

Using a miniPC along with a reader module requires a good level of HW and FW development though. First you will need to physically connect both devices – which shouldn’t be difficult as they most of the times can use USB or Ethernet – and prepare the complete solution for a power supply.

Sometimes it’s OK with a power adapter to connect to a standard plug but some other times you will have to think about a battery powered unit. You’ll have to work a little bit on designing those.

On the other hand, you will have to work on the FW. This is the toughest part as you have to program the reader to miniPC connectivity, the reader module control from the miniPC – typically under a Linux OS for better stability – and the reader to external device communication.

Once that’s done, the miniPC should be able to store all data necessary from RFID tags and send it over Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth, USB or any other means you have programed it to. It will depend on your specific application.

Storage size, processing power, connectivity… these can always be updated in miniPCs as there are many commercially available solutions you can just plug&play. This gives a hell of a flexibility in developing a solution, which is very welcome in a broad range of applications.