By Lars Thuring, Chair RAIN Alliance Developers Workgroup
Successful communication is one of the cornerstones for all aspects of our lives, from our workspace to our private sphere. The explosion of social media is a measure of the importance of communication to us all.
If you think about it, the RAIN RFID technology is only about communication. It enables objects to communicate with their environment and vice-versa. To ensure that the listener understand what is being communicated, RAIN uses standards from GS1 and ISO to make sure a common “language” is used.
In the movie The Last Emperor, the English tutor tells the Emperor of China (freely from memory): “If you cannot say what you mean, then you do not mean what you say”. Obviously, in that movie it is about using the English language properly. The same applies to an even higher degree whenever you use technology for the communication.
Whereas humans have a knack for inferring the content of messages, technology is [still] lacking this and everything needs to be correct down to the last bit to make sense.
Using one of the above-mentioned standards is the contract between the party writing the tag content and the party/parties reading it. It defines the language and how to interpret the data being exchanged.
Addressing a single person in a meeting, classroom or any group of persons normally means using that person’s name. You can only single out a group of persons by some trait, like a teacher asking all students that have been at the sea to raise a hand.
Using RAIN tags is similar to this. Sometimes only a single tag is wanted, for example the ID of a pallet – we use the reader to address a single tag. Other time we want to know if everything has been packed properly and we set up the RFID reader to addresses all the items on that pallet. Setting up the reader involves understanding the standards and programming the right parameters into the reader. Now if we switch to a different reader, we need to learn the language of using that reader as well.
There are several pitfalls in this. If a tag has been programmed wrongly, it could send bad answers when it is read out. Or it would not understand that it has been asked to answer on a message, or answer when it has not addressed. One reason is we humans are not really designed to understand the bytes and bits used in the technical standards.
This is where the RAIN Communication Interface enters (RCI). It is specifically designed to make communication simple and handling data settings in the background. For example, when you want to program the data into the pallet tag mentioned above, you would use text commands specifying the specific data standard using words instead of cryptic values and settings in computer-language like 0x0800. The reader using RCI understands what is wanted and also set associated values in the tag to properly reply when it is later arriving at a reader station.
RCI version 5 has now been released by the RAIN Alliance, adding among other things support for the RAIN Alliance Numbering system and extended support for PC and XPC bits handling and interpretation (and you do not need to know how that works!).