Robot Kit for Reading/Writing RFID Tags in Tabletop Factory
Design Team 5
Julianne Early-Meehan – Management
Jennifer Ash – Webmaster
Brian Thomas – Document Prep.
Robert Ficano – Presentation Prep.
Benjamin Brown – Lab Coordinator
Dr. Nihar Mahapatra – Facilitator
October 5, 2007
Over the past several years, radio-frequency identification (RFID) has been
integrated into an increasing number of technologies that are used everyday, all over the
world. These uses cover a variety of industries, from implantable identification tags for
pets, to toll road payment systems, and recently the newly designed United States
Passport. With funding from the National Science Foundation, the WIMS program has
been educating children on emerging technologies as a joint venture between Michigan
State University, the University of Michigan, and Michigan Technological University.
These educational programs have recently begun teaching children about the potential
uses for RFID technology in inventory and product tracking systems.
Currently the program uses a commercially available RFID reading/writing unit,
mounted on top of a small Lego robot, to demonstrate this technology. However, doing
so creates a number of difficulties for the program. The current unit uses a USB interface
for control, which tethers the robot to the computer and limits its range and
maneuverability. In addition, such commercial units are too expensive for the program to
purchase additional units. The goal of this project is to develop an RFID reader/writer
system that will be remotely controlled by an industry standard wireless protocol, and is
less expensive for producing additional units.
The primary goal for this project is to create a system to attach to a Lego-inspired robot.
The robot will traverse a table top factory and demonstrate the use of radio frequency
identification (RFID). The system will consist of a RFID reader/writer, wireless
communication, and a user interface (GUI). The wireless communication and GUI will
allow a laptop to control the RFID reader/writer, while the reader/writer is attached to a
pre-programmed robot which travels the 2D factory.
After speaking with the sponsor, a list of needs/ requirements was determined.
· Size - reader/writer must be able to be carried by robot and work within the
parameters of the tabletop factory
· Power Consumption – must be battery powered
· Wireless technology and range – Bluetooth is preferable
· User interface – GUI laptop software for the reader/writer and the robot
· Educational module – RFID explanation for high school aged students
In the market, there are currently RFID readers and writers, robots, and wireless
communication. However, there is not a system out there that combines all three of these
components into one integrated product. This project is set to accomplish taking a RFID
reader/writer and attaching it to a Lego robot that will roam a two dimensional tabletop
factory that is integrated with RFID tags. The Lego robot will travel to the “products” in
the factory. When the robot comes within range of the RFID tag on the product, the tag
can then be either read or written to while the information is stored in an accessible
database. This setup will be used in the WIMS Center’s K-12 Outreach Program to teach
children about the technology of RFID and how it can be used and utilized in supply
chain management as demonstrated with the table top factory. The WIMS Center’s K-12
Outreach program teaches children about the fundamentals of technology and how it is
utilized in the real world. Eventually, the core idea of the RFID tabletop warehouse may
be used in actual warehouses under a corporate setting to replace the traditional barcode
technology. RFID is the perfect technology to replace the barcode system due to its
ability to automatically identify items, cases, and pallets in the supply chain context .
This shows that RFID can function fundamentally the same as a barcode but with added
benefits and less work.
There are Lego robots and a two dimensional factory already available and ready
for use from the WIMS Program. Therefore, the main goal of this project is to prototype
the RFID reader and writer. The first task will be to interface a RFID chip with a
microprocessor. Next, an antenna needs to be added so that the RFID reader/writer can
communicate with the RFID tags. Then a microprocessor needs to be programmed to be
able to read and write the RFID tags. Then a wireless interface needs to be created to
control the reading and writing of the RFID tags using a computer program. Here the
preferred wireless system is Bluetooth for its ease of use and popularity; however, if a
more effective wireless system is found, it may be used. The final step is to create a
graphical user interface on a computer in which a user can wirelessly control the RFID
reader/writer. In doing this, the tags can be given their identity by the user using a laptop
computer. Depending on time constraints the GUI should be able to control the RFID
reader/writer, possibly control a Lego robot, and create a database for the RFID tag that
have been read into the system .
The initial goals of this project are to implement the wirelessly controlled RFID
reader/writer device, and to create a software program that the users will control the
device with from a wirelessly enabled personal computer. To accomplish this, the
following tasks will have to be completed.
· Selection of a suitable wireless protocol for control, with Bluetooth technology being
the preferred choice.
· Selection of appropriate components, including RFID reader/writer unit,
microcontroller, and wireless components.
· Programming the interface between the RFID chip, and the microcontroller.
· Configuring the serial interface of the microcontroller to transmit data via the selected
· Designing an antenna for the RFID system, and that meets the specifications to
achieve the necessary range.
· Programming a GUI interface for use on the personal computer.
· Creating a training module document for use by the students who will participate in
the WIMS program.
Assuming these initial objectives are completed within the allotted time frame, the next
phase in the design of this system will be to integrate the device into the WIMS robot
systems. Currently the robots have their own power source and microcontroller, but must
be programmed via USB by the controlling computer. The eventual goal of the WIMS
program is to integrate the RFID unit and wireless controller into the robot itself,
allowing full wireless control and programming of the robot, in addition to the reading
and writing of RFID tags.
To meet these goals, there are several requirements that the design must meet in order to
be considered successful.
· Reproducible Cost: Currently, commercially available units are available for several
hundred dollars, and none were found that could be controlled wirelessly. The goal is
to choose components, and create the necessary software and interfaces to allow the
lowest reproducible cost.
· Development Time: Given the abbreviated timeline for the development of this
device, the chosen design implementation must allow for the completion of the RFID
system by Design Day.
· Size: The Lego robots used by the WIMS program are not very large, and operate
within a small table top course. The device must be self contained, and compact
enough to easily attach to the top of the robot.
· Power Consumption: Since wireless control is a design requirement, it is also
necessary that the device be powered by some portable power source, such as a
battery. This means that the overall power consumption by each of the components
must be low enough to allow a reasonable time of operation on battery power.
· Wireless Range: For the initial design, the only requirement is that the device be
wirelessly controlled from a PC located across the table from the robot. However, the
design should allow for the future extension of the wireless range, in the event that
the device is adapted for some other use.
· RFID Range: The device currently being used by the program only emits a signal
strong enough to power and detect an RFID tag from a distance of just a few
centimeters. The goal of this project is to implement the system so that it will be able
read and write passive (non-powered) RFID tags from a distance of several times that
of the current device.
· Ease of Use: The RFID unit, accompanying software and instructional module must
be easy to use, and targeted at students from 8th to 12th grade.
· Adaptability: The unit should be designed such that it could be adapted for future use
in other programs, or as a tool to instruct businesses on the benefits of using RFID in
inventory tracking systems.
Ranking of Conceptual Designs
Several components were researched that could perform the processing, RFID,
and wireless functions of the project. Some of the components were individual chips that
could perform only one of these three aspects, and others were more “built-up”,
containing several of the necessary parts. The pros and cons of each option were
weighed and a final design was created.
The options for an RFID chip included Texas Instruments’ TRF7960, which is the
sponsor’s recommendation, as well as an alternative chip and a more complete
development kit, both also from TI. Also considered were a tag reader circuit from
Freescale and a UHF transceiver from Intel. , , , 
Texas TI RI-
TI Freescale Intel
Entries: (+,-) Instruments R6C-001
TRF7960 MC33690 R1000
RFID EvalKit A-03
Cost + + + + +
Size + + + + +
Weight + + + + +
Power Consumption + + + + +
Wireless Range + + + + +
Reads and Writes Tags + + - + +
Included Sample Code + + + + -
Able to integrate with other
- + + + +
Entries: (0-10) Weight (0-5) TI TRF7960 IC Freescale MC33690
Prototyping Cost 3 10 10
Size 2 10 10
Weight 1 10 10
Power Consumption 4 8 8
Passive RFID Range 4 9 8
Included Sample Code 4 7 5
Reproducible cost 3 7 8
Ease of implementation 5 5 3
Totals - 202 183
The solution chosen was the original suggestion of the TI chip. Three of the
options did not meet necessary requirements, and the TRF7960 beat out Freescale’s chip
in a few key categories. It will be a little easier to implement, and there is some
familiarity with it, as it is in the reader/writer currently used by WIMS.
There were several wireless options that were more complete builds that included
several parts. Three options were found from Parallax, the first being the Toothpick,
which integrates Bluetooth and a PIC microcontroller. Another was the EmbeddedBlue
Transceiver AppMod, a Bluetooth module designed to work with Parallax’s BASIC
Stamp microcontroller. The last choice from Parallax was an RF package containing two
transmitters, two receivers, and the necessary antennas. These could also be purchased
separately. Finally, there is the BeeKit from Freescale, which uses the Zigbee protocol
and contains a microprocessor. , , , , 
Partially Built-Up Options
Parallax RF EmbeddedBlue
Toothpick RF Modules
Entries: (+,-) Transceiver Transceiver BeeKit
Device For Wireless
Cost - + + + +
Size + + + + +
Weight + + + + +
+ + + + +
Wireless Range + + + + +
- + + + +
+ + - + +
Paying For But Not - + - + +
Ability To Add On
+ + + + +
RF Modules For
Entries: (0-10) Weight (0-5) Tranceiver BeeKit
Cost 3 5 10 8
Size 2 6 6 7
Weight 1 8 6 6
Power Consumption 4 7 8 6
Optional Features 3 0 9 0
Type Of Wireless Protocol 4 7 8 7
Wireless Range 5 9 5 9
Included Sample Code 4 5 8 2
Programming Software 5 7 9 7
Get Additional Units 1 8 10 5
Built In Antenna 2 10 9 0
Selectable Channels 3 0 10 0
Onboard Microcontroller 4 0 9 0
Totals - 219 335 189
The availability of the BeeKit free of charge negated any concerns about it
containing features that would not be used, and it is easily the choice if a partially built-
up solution is to be used.
The BeeKit was also compared to other microprocessors to ensure that it is the
correct choice. The others considered were the PIC from Microchip currently used in the
ECE 480 lab, and the MSP430 class of processors from TI.
Entries: (+,-) TI MSP430 PIC18F4250 BeeKit
Cost + + +
Size + + +
Weight + + +
Power Consumption + + +
Able to interface with wireless device + + +
Able to interface with RFID module + + +
Programming Tools Available + + +
Included Sample Code + + +
Entries: (0-10) Weight (0-5) TI MSP430 PIC18F4250 BeeKit
Prototyping Cost 3 10 10 10
Size 2 10 9 8
Weight 1 10 10 9
Power Consumption 4 8 8 8
Integrated with wireless device 3 0 0 10
Included Sample Code 4 7 8 8
Reproducible cost 3 6 8 4
Ease of implementation 5 5 3 8
Totals - 163 161 201
The BeeKit’s integration with a wireless device makes it preferable over the
alternatives, and it performs well in the other categories. It will be used in the final
design along with the RFID chip from TI.
Proposed Design Solution
The following design solution was chosen based on the results of the feasibility
and selection matrices. In order to reduce the amount of time required to complete the
project, we have chosen to use the Freescale BeeKit as the main component for our
design. It incorporates a Freescale microcontroller with an already implemented Zigbee
communications device, pre-assembled onto a small PCB board that includes an I/O
header that can be used to connect it to a number of other devices.
In the case of this project, a daughter board will be created that will include the
Texas Instruments TRF7960 RFID reader/writer module, its associated electronic
components, and a PCB antenna for RFID transmission. This board will then be
connected to the BeeKit board via serial interface. A sample diagram of our initial design
can be seen in the figure below.
Antenna Freescale Bluetooth Ant.
RF Out Ser.
Figure: Wireless RFID reader/writer system
The BeeKit offered several advantages over other solutions. It already includes
the components necessary for wireless communication, removing that portion of the
design from the project. It was also provided for free by Freescale, along with all the
software and tools necessary to do additional programming and configuration to
implement the rest of the design, and interface with the RFID integrated circuit.
The device from Texas Instruments (TI) was chosen because it is included in the
device currently being used by the WIMS program, and has multiple power output
settings for increased transmission range. Although TI suggests using one of their own
MSP430 microcontrollers with the device, it appears from the documentation that any
microcontroller can be configured to communicate with the device over a standard serial
The final component of the design will be the creation of the GUI to be used on
the controlling computer system. The design will most likely be implemented in Visual
Basic, or LabView, as these are the graphical tools most familiar to the members of the
design team. In either case, great consideration will be given to the overall layout and
design, in order to make sure that the interface is straightforward, easy to understand, and
easy to use.
In undertaking this project there are several risk factors that arise that must be
addressed and looked at to ensure there is proper time spent on preventing and containing
these issues. The highest risk factor that the group has identified is interfacing the RFID
reader/writer with the chosen microcontroller. The microcontroller will presumably
already be integrated with the wireless chip. It must be assured that there are open I/O
ports on the microcontroller to be used to accommodate the RFID reader/writer.
As mentioned above the wireless chip and microcontroller will already be
integrated together and fabricated. This means that these components will have a
predetermined input voltage. The Zigbee BeeKit will be used with sensor reference
boards from Freescale Semiconductor for the microcontroller and wireless chip. These
boards will have an input voltage of about 3.3 Volts. This voltage will have to be
coordinated with the RFID chip input voltage. The sensor reference boards can be
supplied the 3.3 Volts by using one of three options. The three options are a USB port
from a PC, a 9 Volt DC battery, or two 1.5 Volt AA batteries. Ideally the RFID chip will
be supplied its appropriate voltage by taping the sensor reference board's voltage and
using a voltage regulator. There is a moderate risk of accurately regulating the proper
voltage from one power source or battery for the sensor reference board and RFID chip.
However, by doing this it will cause the final prototype to be as small as possible.
Since the RFID chip is being bought independently the team will have to layout a
design for the RFID circuit. The RFID circuit design poses a moderate risk. First the
layout must be thoroughly thought through in order to take full advantage of using up as
little real estate as possible. This means a few different layouts should be created and
studied with the most efficient layout being decided upon. The second factor to the RFID
circuit design will focus on what type of chip package the RFID comes in. The RFID
chip being considered comes in a QFN package which will make it difficult to solder.
The soldering will be able to be done but, it will take precision and time.
The RFID antenna is coupled with the RFID chip layout. There is a moderate
concern over designing the antenna for the RFID reader/writer. No member in Team 5
has experience with developing and designing an antenna. This will be resolved through
research and simply by attempting to create an effective antenna.
There is a low risk concern for the development of the wireless code. The BeeKit
from Freescale helps develop and create the necessary code. The final code will have to
be tweaked and altered to setup interrupts for desired actions to take place with the RFID.
This coding should be straight forth and technical support from Freescale should be
available if large dilemmas arise.
The final risk concern is a large one and would affect the entire project. Creating
a graphical user interface poses a high risk factor. There is not much experience in the
group creating and interfacing a GUI for Zigbee and RFID components. If a GUI is not
successfully implemented the product will be rendered useless. The team will have to
take time in creating a functional and efficient GUI to be used with the final prototype.
Any of these risk factors can pose a detrimental setback to the development of the
overall project. However, by addressing and researching these issues early on they can
be countered and anticipated to minimize the setbacks.
Project Management Plan
Team 5 is comprised of seniors graduating from Michigan State University
College of Engineering.
Jennifer Ash is the team’s webmaster. She has already created an initial web page
and is currently working on site improvements. She will be developing the antenna for
the RFID interface and the companion educational module requested by our sponsor.
Robert Ficano is the team presentation coordinator. He recently created a
professional PowerPoint presentation for the team’s oral proposal. His technical role is
programming the wireless interface between the controller and a laptop along with
developing the GUI.
Brian Thomas is the document coordinator. He merges the group’s technical and
non-technical information into readable seamless documents. His technical role is
programming the RFID interface between the TI reader/writer chip and the Freescale
development kit and assisting Robert Ficano in creating the GUI.
Julianne Early-Meehan is the team manager. She is responsible for keeping the
team on schedule using MS Project and tracking the budget. Her technical role is
programming the wireless interface along with Robert Ficano and creating the circuit for
the RFID chip.
Benjamin Brown is the lab coordinator. He is primarily in charge of locating and
ordering parts, tools, and the Design Day poster preparation. Ben’s technical role is
programming the RFID interface along with Brian Thomas.
The main facilities used will be the Electrical and Computer Engineering Senior
Capstone Lab and the ECE Shop. The team will be able to order parts and tools through
the shop as well as make use of their electronics expertise. A laptop has also been
provided by the ECE department to use for team management and for the development of
the GUI interface to the RFID reader/writer. The BeeKit has been provided free of
charge through Freescale Semiconductor. The RFID reader/writer chip has also been
donated from Texas Instruments. The programming tool for this chip will have to be
purchased. Microsoft Visual Studio is available to the team without charge for creating
the GUI thanks to Microsoft. The antenna can be manufactured using the ECE Shop
resources. At this time the team is researching the tools needed to mount the RFID chip
on a board.
9/21 • Webpage up
• Oral presentation to facilitator describing details
• Pre-proposal due to facilitator
9/28 • Dry-run of proposal presentation
• Gantt Chart due
10/1 • Proposal Presentation
10/5 • Proposal due
10/12 • All Parts Received
10/15 -10/19 • Written progress report 1
10/22 -10/26 • Demonstration of progress 1
• Project Notebook copy to Facilitator
11/5 -11/9 • Individual Application Notes
• Brochure Page due
11/12 - 11/16 • Design Issues paper
• Progress Report 2
• Demonstration of Progress 2
11/16 • Technical Lecture
• Initial Prototype Completed
11/28 • Professional Self-Assessment paper due
11/30 • Final Prototype Completed
12/7 • Design Day
o Final Oral Presentation
o Poster due
o CD-ROM due
To date, no monies have been spent. This balance sheet will be updated to document all
expenditures as they occur.
Description Team 5 Starting
Robot Kit for Reading/Writing RFID Tags in a
Tabletop Factory NSF WIMS K-12 Outreach Project
Date Item Description Received Payment Balance
Freescale Beekit 0 500.00
TI RFID reader/writer 0 500.00
 Aslam and Ross (September 13, 2007), Technology Assisted Business Innovations
 Varney, Mike (August 2007), Robot Kit for Reading/Writing RFID Tags in Tabletop