Ari Naim tells of an experience that represents every parent’s nightmare. "I was in the dinosaur exhibit of the Museum of Natural History with my four-year-old son. I allowed myself to look at one of the exhibits for a few seconds instead of staring at my son all the time, and I turned around, and he was just gone. You can go in two directions and I picked one. He wasn’t there. My heart just about stopped. I found him after 10 or 15 minutes hanging out and looking at an exhibit, but I was ready to call the police."
Naim is the founder of Remote Play Inc. on Brunswick Pike, and he devised his first product to forestall that nightmare. Using innovative wireless technology called SilverLink, the product is Child Alert, a child monitoring device available now at Babies R Us stores for $119.
"We are good at making consumer products," says Naim, who was also thefounder of the Sycom Technologies, now called Digital5 and located at Quakerbridge Executive Center. "Child safety was at the top of our list."
Child Alert has an LCD device for the parent that can be set in a range of comfort zones, from 10 feet to 300 feet. The device is smaller than a cell phone; it measures 2 inches by 1.5 inches and is 1/2 inch thick. The child wears an adjustable sensor belt made of nylon webbing. Should the belt be removed, or if the sensor unit pops out, the parent knows it.
"It’s not a GPS device," says Naim. "We are not trying to find a child who has been abducted. We are trying to prevent it from happening."
If the child goes out of the boundary set by the parent, the device will alarm or vibrate. If the device alarms, and you see your child and are comfortable with where they are, you can increase the zone.
If the child is not in view, the parent can start an alarm device on the child’s belt to help locate him. "A five-year-old kid making a noise will hopefully attract attention," says Naim.
A parent can also look for the child by observing the bars on thedevice. More bars means you are getting closer.
The device can be adapted so that one parent can monitor up to three children. A device for an additional child costs $49. "All the devices are individually identified, so you can be with a friend who has a device," says Naim. There will be no duplication "unless you have 8 million kids within 300 feet."
"We have an interesting wireless platform that fills the gap that Bluetooth and WiFI doesn’t satisfy," says Naim. "We are able to do very sophisticated ranging with ultra low power using the spread spectrum (many frequencies at the same time). If one frequency gets disturbed we have many other frequencies to getthe information across."
Naim partnered with a juvenile equipment distributor, Safety1st, which he terms "innovative and aggressive" for a multi-year agreement. Child Alert is manufactured in blue and white, the Safety1st colors, and it is delivered to the wholesaler in Hong Kong. Located in Canton, Massachusetts, Safety1st makes car seats, wall plug protectors, baby monitors, and other safety equipment. It has an exclusive distribution agreement with Babies R US for Child Alert (which it calls In-Reach) for one year.
The son of an Israeli diplomat, Naim majored in electrical and chemical engineering at Drexel, Class of 1985, and has his doctorate from Drexel, where he did research in information theory and artificial intelligence projects. In 1987 he established his first company, a research firm, Reshet Inc.
In 1993 he established Sycom Technologies to develop and distribute voice recorders and software that could download voice transmission into a computer audio file. Then he moved into translating web pages to recordings for car radios (U.S. 1, May 27, 1998). The name was changed to Digital5, and it now develops "middleware" software to distribute and play audio, video, and photo content among networked consumer electronics devices throughout the connected home (U.S. 1, August 17, 2005).
Naim and his wife, a general and bariatric surgeon at Columbia, havetwo school aged sons. Gideon Naim, Ari’s brother, is the chief financial officer. The new firm, Remote Play, has 10 people here plus some in India and some in Hong Kong.
"We started the whole digital voice recorder market, and high tech consumer electronics is the sandbox where I play," says Naim. He focuses on portable products, usually leading edge consumer products, which can be produced at high volume for low cost. The products are designed in Lawrenceville but, as at Digital5, some of the software is programmed in India.
"Our next product will be Tag Alert," says Naim. "We shrank the RFID tag to 1 inch by 1.5 inches and .27 mm thick. You can stick it on your cell phone, and your phone will beep you if you leave it behind." The price point will be $29 to $59.
The tag works on a 2016 coin battery which runs for almost a year and stays on all the time. The amount of radiation it creates per year, says Naim, is equivalent to a 10-minute phone call.
Using RFID to find personal items is an interesting category to watch, says Naim. "In three years it will be cost $19, with additional tags for $7, and I think you’ll see everything tagged."
But items like this are difficult to execute in the consumer world, which has so many variables and so many different users. "And radio frequency is affected by many factors in the environment. We had people using this for months."
A third possible product category protects in a different way. It sends an alarm if a person goes too close to something. The alarm can sound at the site of the object being threatened or at another location. Naim compares RFID products of today to where the voice recorder was in the early 1990s. "Once you have the piece out there and people start playing with it, then it starts mushrooming. Then people start chasing me, and hopefully they are 12 months behind me."
Remote Play Inc., 2500 Brunswick Pike, Suite 201, Lawrenceville 08648. Ari Naim. 609-771-4445; fax, 775-898-6557. www.remoteplay.com
Tags for Goats, Pills, and Key Chains
Think RFID tags for goats, pills, and key chains. Kevin Chung of Avante Technologies on Washington Road is riding the RFID bandwagon by selling tags to the United States Department of Agriculture for $2 per goat. His tags also help the Food and Drug Administration prevent drug counterfeits. And every year he sells from 1 million to 3 million loyalty card chips in key fobs to private companies. His website touts using RFID to monitor which conventioneers attend which seminars and which drugs a patient has taken.
"RFID is an exciting area and it has a lot of potential applications," says Chung, "but it is not a full grown business. We started quite a few years ago. We are not the biggest guy playing in this area but we have a lot of patents." Chung predicts RFID technology will explode in 2006 now that Wal-Mart has finished its beta testing and manufacturers are primed and ready to go.
Chung went to Rutgers, Class of 1974, and earned his PhD from Rutgers as well. After working for RCA he founded his firm in 1985 and moved to this location seven years ago; he has 50 employees. His wife, Cynthia Chu, is also a principal in the firm, and they have two grown children.
Currently he devotes only 20 percent of the business to RFID. One of his companies, AI Technologies, manufactures materials for the computer, communications, and power supply industries; it also provides services to these industries. Among the products are films, pastes, and gels that guard against heat, the great enemy of computers and other electronic products. AIT also manufactures adhesives and epoxy materials that can substitute for solder. Under the company name Avante International Technologies, Chung has developed a voting machine, Vote Trakker, that issues paper records for verification (U.S. 1, October 27, 2004).
Of the RFID business, Chung does both active and passive tags for corporations and the government. "In the passive area we focus on monitoring animals; we contract with the United States Department of Agriculture to monitor the shipping of goats." Goat tags are designed to prevent "scrapie," a disease in sheep and goats that is equivalent to the mad cow disease. "We track the pedigree of the animal, which father they are coming from, and how many kids they have."
"We are doing a special project with the USDA to reduce costs and improve technology. Now our cost per goat is $2. We target less than a $1 to begin with, and eventually much less than a dollar." Using different chips helps to cut manufacturing costs. Current technology requires you to use an antenna in the tag. That makes costs high. To lower the cost we use a high frequency, 13.56 megahertz."
Another passive use: Key fobs with a tag for loyalty programs. Using a small antenna with the chip, the chip can store information, such as how much money is spent in a given store, and it can be used as a credit card. Chung’s firm on Washington Road can produce as many as 1 million pieces.
In the active use area, Chung is interested in making tags for pharmaceutical companies. The Food and Drug Administration wants RFID tags in place by 2007 to prevent counterfeits, says Chung. Anti-counterfeiting unit labels can also provide an electronic pedigree for medications from manufacturer to pharmacy. To reduce inventory problems they can identify real time locations, and store information on, for instance, what temperatures the items were exposed to and whether they dropped.
Chung has refused to join the group of inventors and manufacturers who are helping to decide EPC standards, because EPC requires its protocol to be free. If he participates with EPC he would probably have to yield his patent rights," he says. But it is no hardship for Chung to be outside of the inner circle: He does not manufacture RFID tag readers. "We just make tags and labels based on the chips so we don’t care that much. We buy chips from makers of chips that follow the protocol."
Chung says a big impediment to the success of RFID is the failure of China to agree to the frequencies that the U.S. and its global partners are negotiating.
"If China doesn’t participate, it hurts both sides, but they don’t have the frequency allocated. They will have to carve out a frequency band for people to use," says Chung. "The United States is the 800-pound gorilla saying what everyone should use. In this case I am sure China will come along as well."
Avante International Technology Inc., 70 Washington Road, Princeton Junction 08550. Kevin Chung, president. 609-799-8896; fax, 609-799-9308. Home page: www.avantetechnology.com
RFID Tags for Early Bird Specials
Within 9 to 12 months you will find electronic price labels made with RFID technology in stores, says Ed Holcomb, a business development consultant and an investor with Visible Tech-Knowledgy Inc. After two years in Princeton Visible Tech moved in September from Princeton University’s lab park on Forrestal Drive to a home office in Hoboken. It has raised just under $2 million, mostly from angels.
With paper RFID tags, retailers could change prices electronically so the price would always be the same as at the cash register. No more angry customers at the cash register because a clerk forgot to take down the four-hour sale sign.
These radio frequency identification tags, 5.5 inches by 12.5 inches, will be big enough to carry a dollar sign plus five numbers. They display information based on radio wave transmission. They will cost under $50 dollars and will last between five and seven years.
Visible Tech-Knowledgy has the important patents on RFID labels on paper, paper that has millions of tiny balls, the thickness of a hair, half white and half black. Depending on whether you pass positive or negative currents, the balls rotate to black or white and form blackand white images.
"They can spell a name, an address, whatever you like, and unlike a liquid crystal display screen, they consume very little power," says Holcomb. "I’ve heard talk of the military being interested in this for camouflage. It’s wild."
Three companies make RFID paper: E-Ink in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is leading the way, says Holcomb. Gyricon, a Xerox firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has done tests at Macy’s in Bridgewater. Sipix.com also makes electronic paper.
Pharmaceutical companies could use tags that could display the schedule for taking the medication. A caretaker could, for instance, buy the reader at the drugstore and track when it was actually taken by knowing when the blister pack was broken.
Founder Alex Gelbman, 60, the son of an electrician who went to New York University, earned his master’s at George Washington University. He spent most of his career at Becton Dickinson. He was allocating research grants to universities when he saw the work with RFID and electronic paper and had the idea to combine the two. He filed for patents very early.
"The intellectual property is the key to the whole company," says Holcomb. "Alex opened the business in 1997, and it will be very tough for people to get by his IP. I think before the first product is sold, it will be sold to someone."
Holcomb, 54, grew up in Boston where his father was in real estate. When he bought an Apple computer in 1982, it changed his life, and he learned to be a programmer and develop software for retailers. He was one of the founders of Gyricon but left to invest in Alex Gelbman’s company because he saw its potential.
The company came to Princeton because it has an ongoing relationship with Sigurd Wagner, a professor at Princeton University. One of its angel investors is John Ason.
"RFID in general is electronic exchange of information. The visible information can be as small as dot that turns on so you can see it," says Gelbman. "In a simple application, if you have two tags on a table, and you command the barcode reader to read one of the tags, the reader will say I read a tag and you don’t know which one it read. Or it might read both. Under our system, in addition to reading the label, the RFID reader turns on a lighted dot."
Gelbman is sanguine about future generations of RFID. "First everyone has to get comfortable with RFID, then you add the capability of displaying information. We can create displays that are much more sophisticated."
Labels can be dynamic. The RFID reader can display what products need to be picked from the warehouse, and then say the container needs to be shipped to a CVS store on a particular street. The same label could say "take me to aisle 3 B."
"The great promise of RFID is that you don’t need anyone to read the label," says Holcomb. "You remove the human error or the danger of the cart being turned the wrong way. But while having a chip readable by a computer is great, you still need to have products with labels readable by a person," he explains.
Suppose the electricity goes out? Federal Express needs the full address on the package in addition to the barcode, so it will know where to deliver the package. Every system needs a backup.
Visible Tech-Knowledgy Inc., Box 907, Hoboken 07030; 201-610-9006. Alex Gelbman, president and CEO. Home page: www.visibletech-knowledgy.com.