Setting Up Autonomous Workflows On Your ThingMagic Elara USB Reader

Overview

This article will briefly show how to setup the ThingMagic Elara Reader for autonomous reading and writing of RFID tags.

Downloads

Elara User Guide: https://www.dropbox.com/s/xag7f7p53vb6wd7/Elara%20User%20Guide.pdf?dl=0

Elara Firmware: https://www.dropbox.com/s/abza38qqerd7vds/Firmware.zip?dl=0

Setting Up Your Elara Reader

In order to setup the Elara reader for autonomous reading or writing, you will need to install and setup the ThingMagic Configuration Tool. Information for doing this, as well as all of the necessary download links, can be found in the article linked here: Using the ThingMagic Configuration Tool (TCT). This demo will make heavy use of this tool, so be sure to familiarize yourself with it before continuing.

Once TCT is installed, simply connect the Elara to your PC and launch the program. TCT will search your PC for all connected serial devices and display them on the left side of the screen. If your device does not show up here, select the "Refresh" icon to rescan your PC for connected devices. Once your Elara reader is recognized, select the version that is assigned a COM port (see image below), and select the "Connect" button.

The ThingMagic Elara reader is a multi-functional USB device from Jadak. This reader sets itself apart by offering autonomous workflows and an HID mode in addition to its standard serial reader functionality. Since the reader's HID mode is covered in Using the ThingMagic Configuration Tool (TCT), we will focus on the autonomous workflows available for the Elara reader.

Autonomous Workflows

A standard serial reader typically requires a host software to communicate with the reader and deliver commands to read or write a tag. The Elara, however, can be configured to read and write tags according to predetermined settings, which makes for an easy integration into an already existing system. This automation is achieved by configuring autonomous workflows for the reader.

The Elara reader has 4 predefined autonomous workflows to choose from, listed below:

  • HDR (Single Tag Read) - This mode reads the closest tag to the reader, once every second.
  • Monitor (Bulk Read Far) - This mode reads all tags near the reader and reports the tag data every second. This is the default mode for the Elara reader.
  • Commission Single Tag - This mode is similar to the HDR mode, and operates on the closest tag to the reader. In this mode, the user can specify data to write to the closest tag, as well as lock or unlock that tag's memory banks.
  • Update Tag - This mode is similar to Tag Commissioning, but allows for autonomous updating of nearby tags with the same information to a specified memory bank.

Each of these workflows correspond to a specific setting for many of the variables available for UHF RFID reader configuration. The table below shows which settings each workflow mode affects.

First, let's take a look at the Monitor workflow, since that is the default mode for the Elara reader.

Monitor Workflow

The Monitor workflow allows the Elar reader to read multiple tags in the nearby area and provide a tag report once every second. This can be extremely helpful in inventory applications that only need to see a few nearby tags and have that tag data reported to a specific location.

To change the workflow mode in TCT, select the Configure tab and open the General Settings menu. Select the Modes dropdown box to select the desired workflow mode. To have the Elara operate autonomously, be sure to check the Trigger - On Boot checkbox. This ensures that the Elara will begin operation as soon as it receives power.

In the example below, the Elara reader is setup to use the Monitor workflow to read nearby tags and update an open Excel spreadsheet via the Elara's HID mode. To enable HID mode in TCT, navigate to the Configure tab and open the User Interface menu, and select "Enable HID".

Once all of the desired settings are configured, select the "Save button at the bottom of the screen. This will apply these settings to the Elara reader and prepare it for autonomous operation.

Now that the Elara has been setup for a workflow, it can be used to read and report tags without the use of a host software. To test this out, simply open up a Excel sheet and click into a cell to place focus on it. Then quickly click the Caps Lock button on your keyboard twice to tell the Elara to begin reading. Alternatively, you can simply unplug the Elara and then plug it back in. As soon as the reader boots, it will begin to read tags and report them in the Excel sheet.

HDR Workflow

The HDR workflow is setup exactly like the Monitor workflow, except we choose the HDR (Single Tag Read Near) mode in the TCT Configuration tab.

With HDR mode enabled, the Elara reader will only report the tag closest to the reader every second, even if other tags are being read. This makes this workflow great for applications that need to perform an inventory count on a single-item basis, like checking in/out equipment or registering attendees to an event. To see this mode in action, save the new configuration and open another Excel sheet. You will notice that this time, only a single tag is reported to the sheet every second, as opposed to all tags in the nearby area.

Tag Commission Workflow

This workflow is useful when tags need to be encoded quickly and on a single-tag basis. Applications where this workflow would be needed include event registry and adding new items to an inventory list. Similar to the HDR mode, this workflow will only operate on the tag nearest to the reader, which helps ensure that the right tag is the only one being written. This mode can also be used to lock the memory bank of a tag after a successful read or write action.

This workflow is different from the other 3, in that it requires manual configuration and action in order to read and write a tag. This means that a truly autonomous workflow will need to be developed in order to read and write different data to multiple tags. This development can be done using the RAIN Command Interface (RCI), which is outlined in the Elara User Guide linked at the top of this article.

To enable this workflow, select the Commission Single Tag mode from the TCT Configuration tab and then save your settings. After this workflow is selected, read and write commands can be issued to the Elara via the RCI. Upon each successful write command, the Status LED on the Elara will show a blue color.

To see Tag Commissioning working in TCT, navigate to the Configure tab and open the User Interface menu. You will need to uncheck the "Enable HID" box and save your settings. This unlocks the Results tab so that you can manually perform read and write operations within TCT. Navigate to the Results tab and adjust the settings at the bottom of the page to your desired functionality. For this example, we are going to write a tag's EPC with 2 words of new data (8 hexadecimal characters).

Once the "Start" button is pressed, the Elara reader will use the configuration shown above to scan the area for nearby tags. The closest tag will then be rewritten with the new EPC, which is "12345678". In the bottom right-hand corner of TCT, you should see this message:

To verify that the write was successful, we can then change the Data Settings option to "READ" and press "Start" again to read the nearest tag and have its EPC reported in TCT.

This confirms that the previous WRITE command was successful and our tag was rewritten to "12345678".

Tag Update Workflow

The Tag Update workflow works very similarly to the Tag Commission workflow, but can be automated. This mode still requires user  input for configuration, but once that configuration is completed the Elara can autonomously read all nearby tags and update a certain memory bank with specified data. This can be very helpful in applications that require additional information be encoded to tags at a certain point in an application, without changing the EPC of the tag.

For this example, let's imagine a conveyor belt system that is designed to carry tagged products through 3 different stations. Once the products reach each station, we want to be able to verify that the product reached that station before continuing to the next. We can do this by using the Elara's Tag Update workflow to read the EPC and USER memory of each tag, and then update the USER memory with the current station's name. This way, if we randomly pull a product off the line, we know the station at which it was last seen.

So let's see this in action. In TCT, set the Elara's mode to Update Tag and then save the new settings. Then, in the Results tab, set the desired settings for which memory bank should be written and the data which should be written. In this example, I set the Elara to write "AAAA" to the the tag's USER memory bank.

Once "Start" is pressed, the Elara reader will be scanning the nearby area for tags, and then writing to their USER memory bank once they are found. Each time a successful write takes place, a report is generated in TCT like below:

If HID mode is enabled using the settings shown below, this write report can be generated and exported to another application such as Excel.

This report in Excel will look similarly to the one shown below.

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