Tag: handheld device

Safety inspections with Near Field Communication (NFC) and RFID

NFC Apps within the Android Market

We’ve been interested in RFID and Near Field Communication (NFC) for quite some time. As makers of inspection software that works seamlessly with RFID, mobile devices and the web, the idea that more and more mobile devices will include NFC readers is very exciting.

Just this month, ABI Research analyst John Devlin told USA Today that he expects the number of NFC-enabled handsets on the market to grow from 34 million this year to 80 million next year. In the same article, Gartner analyst predicted NFC growth in handsets passing 100 million this year.

Last month, our COO Shaun Ricci blogged about our discovery that a Samsung Galaxy S ll, running a simple NFC reader from the Android Market, could quickly and easily scan a piece of safety equipment. Today, Field ID CEO is featured in a new video demonstration. Somen shows just how easy it is to use an NFC reader for safety inspections.

View the demonstration below or on our YouTube channel.

You’ll probably hear more about NFC this year. Many may associate the technology with solutions such as mobile payments, as Somen notes in the video. At Field ID, we’re constantly looking at how contactless technologies like NFC can improve safety management from a software perspective, and from our users’ perspectives.

Will NFC help change safety compliance?

If you haven’t noticed, we at Field ID are phone geeks. When someone gets a new handheld in the office, we all play around with it. One of our software developers, Kumana, recently picked up the Samsung Galaxy S II.

As we were talking about it and testing it out, we remembered that it has Near Field Communication (NFC) capabilities. And NFC means it works with RFID – the same standard technology that our customers use every day to track safety compliance for millions of assets.

Naturally, we were running around scanning slings and harnesses around the office with Kumana’s phone, having some fun with features, and exploring how this would complement our inspection software.

Why didn’t we try this before?

We’ve written about NFC being the same technology that we use for RFID tags in fall protection equipment in the past. So, what’s changed? Well, it was only last week that we actually fired up an NFC scanner and tested the tags. We headed to the Android Market in search of an NFC test application. We tried three of them, but it wasn’t working. Then, after waving the tag around trying to find the antenna…

“I think it worked!”

I was at my desk and Kumana sent me an instant message: “It worked!” I ran over and, sure enough, it was scanning one of our test tags. With any RFID reader, you need to find the sweet spot in the antenna to scan. The first tag was easy though; it was a sticker tag. We thought, “No way will this scan the tags embedded metal.” Sure enough, we scanned the metal tags too.

More testing, to be sure

Before we can absolutely certify that this use of NFC will work with Field ID (reliably, in the field), we need to do some more testing. We’re hard at work on the Android and iOS Field ID applications right now, so this random test came at the right time. It’s very exciting to uncover details like these.

Think about it. With many new NFC-enabled phones coming to market, we can harness the scanners on these devices to make Field ID even more powerful. Anyone will be able to put the power of electronic inspection management and safety compliance into the palm of their hand, and carry it conveniently in their pocket as they head into the field.

Stay tuned for more NFC testing in the New Year!

R.I.P. HP iPAQ 210 – The End of a Legend

I realize the title of this blog may be seem a bit dramatic to some of our readers.  The HP 210 is a “legend”?  Really?  Well, saying that the 210 is a legend may be a bit of a stretch, but the iPAQ family of products as a whole should definitely be considered legendary.  Years before the word iPhone was familiar to the general public, HP was cranking out PDAs for our mobile computing pleasure.  The iPAQ was one of the last PDAs with no phone capabilities released by HP.  The reason that I consider this device a legend is because of how many safety inspections our customer recorded on the device.

Good Looks

HP iPAQ 210

I know that picture does not look good to you because you are staring at your slick Blackberry or iPhone on your desk while reading this blog.  Take it from me, when this device was originally released (I believe in 2007) it’s shiny black bezel and chrome accents made me feel like it was a slick device.  Not to mention, it was a great looking upgrade from the older HP iPAQs.

Full Featured

Nice screen, fast, SDIO slot for expansion – the HP iPAQ 210 had it all.  The 210 was powered by a Marvell XScale PXA310 624 MHz CPU with 128 MB of RAM and 256 MB of ROM.  Bluetooth and 802.11 b/g provided some easy wireless options.  ActiveSnyc over Bluetooth was a life saver in many trade shows and presentations.  All of this at a price under $500 made this device an amazing bang for the buck.

Served its Purpose

The HP iPAQ 210 is officially discontinued, and we are no longer selling it.  This device has served us well over the years.  Our customers have recorded thousands of fire extinguisher inspections, sling inspections and safety audits.  The ability to add an RFID reader to the top SDIO slot made this device even more useful.  We have many other devices to take the place of the 210 (such as the Motorola ES400), and are starting to look at other platforms as well.

New Field ID Feature: Mobile Upload / Download

It’s been a few weeks since my last blog post – and what a few weeks it has been. In addition to the hiring frenzy we’re embarking on we are merely a few days away from our next Field ID Web and Mobile release. In advance of the full release notes I wanted to write a post about one specific feature – syncing your data on the mobile.

Currently on Field ID Mobile there is one button to download your data – it’s called Sync. The upload process is automatic and Field ID will upload your data as soon as their is an internet connection. This works really well but a common question we get is, “Where is the Upload button”. It seems that people like the comfort of hitting a button that says upload. We have talked with numerous customers and have concluded this is the best method. With our next Field ID release on June 5th you will now see the Sync button disappear and two new buttons appear – Upload and Download.

Download

The download button effectively has replaced the Sync button. This will be where you download your Customer or Job Site data. The screen has not changed at all so should be familiar to all users.

Upload

The new upload screen will show you all information pertaining to uploading your data. You will now see three boxes, Uploaded, Queued and Failed.

Mobile Upload Screen

Uploaded is a counter of all asset and events that have been uploaded. This counter will continue to increase until you hit the Reset link which will set it back to zero. The Queued will display all assets and events that are still on your device and have yet to be uploaded. Failed will show all items (Assets, Events, Schedules, Pictures) that have failed to upload.

We hope you find having a separate Upload and Download page with some detailed information will make it clearer how you get data on and off of your mobile device.

Watch for the full release notes coming this week with more exciting features.

RFID In Our Everyday Lives Outside of Inspection and Safety Compliance

RFID seems to be sneaking into our everyday lives more and more these days.  Below are three RFID applications that show us RFID is going mainstream.

Border Control

I now officially carry around an RFID tag most of the time (no, I am not wearing an Evotech harness around) ; I applied for a Nexus card.  For those of you who don’t know, the Nexus program is a “trusted traveler” program that allows residents of Canada and the US to cross the border quicker than usual.  When driving over the border, I hold up my RFID card and point it at a reader.  An LED display then shows the number of cards scanned in the car.  What’s really neat about this program is the fact that identification is performed by an eyeball scan when crossing airport security.

Portable Computing

It has been rumored that the next iPhone (the iPhone 5) will have NFC ability.  NFC stands for Near Field Communication, and is a type of RFID.  I recently read on Boy Genius that the NFC may be used to support portable computing.  To be clear, this could mean that the your iPhone will store information about your user profile on your Mac.  When you wave your phone near another NFC enabled Mac, your settings about applications and some data are copied to the other device.  It will be like sitting at your computer at home, even though you’re out.  Instead of using VNC, you would just need your phone.

If NFC becomes more popular in smart phones this will be a huge step forward to making RFID as accessible as barcodes.

Your Best Reason to Why Inspection Software is Not For You

There are some moments in life, where you just look at someone else, and you can’t for the love of you, figure out WHY they would do what they are doing. I look down the street, to see one of my friends using a green-screen phone and I think to myself “Why are you STILL using a green screen phone when you can get a smartphone for almost no money these days?” It just doesn’t make sense. Then I spend hours personally being frazzled up over the issue. Sometimes, I would spend hours trying to convince them that it is the dumbest idea. True Story.

In a similar situation, I couldn’t for the love of me, understand why people still use paper to do safety inspections. It boggled my mind, until I finally discovered the most common and ultimate reason for why people refuse to switch to a paperless solution for safety inspections: “What we use right now, works for us.

Now we’re not here to say that paper doesn’t work. The green screen phone maybe missing some key functionalities but of course it still functions as a phone. It still dials in and out, it can show you who’s calling, and you can probably receive text messages too. But what are you missing out on? Maybe you’re missing out on wireless headsets, and with the new driving laws, you can’t phone anyone when you’re driving. Maybe you’re missing out on a QWERTY keyboard for text messaging that could save you time. Maybe its as simple as you’re missing out on a phone that could also function as a camera or a multimedia player. You never cared that you carried an MP3 player, a camera, and a phone all separately, but maybe it’s because you don’t realize that one smartphone can be all three devices.

Paper works, of course. I mean, safety compliance was still an issue 30 years ago, and they used paper. So it should function just fine. Paper (like a green screen phone) can also provide the basic functionalities: It can record the inspection and be filed in big filing cabinets for traceability. If you need to find a report, you would be able to, but it would take time. But also like a green screen phone, you have to ask: what are you missing out on?

Where a smart phone can save you time in providing you a QWERTY keyboard, safety inspection software can save you time by providing you with instant traceability. Any records can be instantly accessible through software, rather than spending hours in filing cabinets. Maybe you’re missing out on the mobility of safety inspection software and rugged devices; You can’t guarantee the safe return of a paper-based inspection checklist in a harsh environment. But you can have such a guarantee using a rugged device to perform inspections.

And finally, maybe it’s just as simple as missing out on some extra features of an inspection software that paper reports just don’t provide as an option. What if you actually needed to take a picture of a deficiency? You don’t want to have to carry a camera, take a picture, develop the film, then attach it to your paper-based report. Since the process is so long and difficult, maybe you don’t take any pictures. But since safety inspection mobile software can allow you to take pictures with your inspections, now pictures are a perfect new feature to add to your records.

So yes, paper may work for you. Maybe you don’t want to disrupt your current workflow. But have you ever wondered what the advantages of safety inspection software could provide? What exactly are you missing out on?

Unboxing the Datalogic Elf: A Potential Field ID Handheld Device

New into our Field ID Office: the Datalogic Elf. This handheld is a new player into the rugged mobile device market. Datalogic has attempted to pack a lot of features into this device including a 624 Mhz processor, an IP64 rating and barcode scanner.  In the coming days, we will be putting it through the paces to see if the Elf will be a supported Field ID device that can be used for safety inspections and audits.

A full review will be forthcoming but here is the unboxing and our first impressions of the device.

To see more Field ID videos, please visit our YouTube Channel here.

Unboxing the Opticon H21: A Potential Field ID Handheld Device

We love getting new mobile devices to our office. We recently received the Opticon H21. In the coming days we will be putting it through the paces to see if the H21 will be a supported Field ID device that can be used for safety inspections and audits.

We previously talked about this device in another blog post. A full review of the device will be coming soon but for now here is the unboxing of the device and first impressions.

To see more Field ID videos, please visit our YouTube Channel here.

How McDonald’s and Starbucks are Enabling Modern Safety

Starbucks is the coffee company of choice for millions of people across the world.  Starbucks recently announced that they would offer free wireless internet at all U.S. stores starting July 1st.  This comes after McDonald’s dropped all wireless fees earlier this year.  So we now have two of the largest franchises offering free Wi-Fi in almost every corner.

How Electronic Inspections are Performed

At Field ID, we have many customers who provide third-party inspections for end users.  Whether it is a rigging distributor who does an annual inspection or a third party crane inspector, they both, at some point, need  internet connection.  The basic workflow for electronic inspection in Field ID is that an inspection is conducted with a handheld device and the data is securely transferred to our web-based system over the Internet.   During which, the data is transformed into proper inspection reports, certifications and compliance records.  End users, such as safety managers, can then login to their Field ID account to get access to those records to ensure they are compliant.  This is the quick and basic explanation on how third parties conduct inspections and relay that information to their end users.

Online Mode vs. Offline Mode

Field ID mobile is what we refer to as connection aware.  It knows whether it is connected to the Internet or not.  In online mode, it is always connected to the Internet.  Think Verizon, AT&T or Rogers.  These companies provide your handhelds with  the ability to transfer data at all times.  In contrast, in offline mode, Field ID mobile sync’s a certain amount of data before you go out to do an inspection and this data is synced back whenever you connect to the Internet in the future.  Although I am sure this number will drastically increase, I would say only 10% of our customers run their handheld devices in online mode.  Most Field ID users run in offline mode.  They usually conduct an inspection and return to the office to connect their handhelds to the internet in order to transfer all the data.

So what does this have to do with Safety?

Practicing Modern Safety includes being able to provide real-time safety information.  Online Mode is still pretty expensive.  Monthly data plans can start to add up when you have 5 to 10 devices in the field.  If you can’t provide your inspection data in real-time, the next best thing is to provide it in near real-time.  Now, it is much easier for an inspector to sync their handhelds.  They don’t even have to go back to their office.  Imagine, you’re an inspector and you are doing an inspection 3 hours away from your office.  Previously, it would take you 3 hours to travel back to office, and get those results into Field Id.  Now, you can literally pop in and sync your handheld at the closest Starbucks or McDonalds.  Last time I checked, there were 31,000+ McDonalds and 17,000+ Starbucks around the world!  By providing free and convenient internet access, Starbucks and McDonalds are making it easier for Field ID users to provide important inspection and safety compliance data faster.  Indirectly, McDonalds and Starbucks are allowing more companies to enjoy the benefits of Modern Safety.

Non-Rugged vs. Rugged Mobile Devices for Safety Inspection Software

I talk to customers all day long about different options for devices to use Field ID Mobile on.  Safety inspections are often done in harsh environments that are dusty, wet and rough.  One of the most important questions you need to ask (regardless of operating system or brand) is whether or not the device should be rugged.

The 3 Metrics for Rugged Devices

First of all, let’s take a quick look at what it means to be rugged.  This typically breaks down to a few standards, and individual claims by vendors such as Psion Teklogix, DataLogic, Opticon and Trimble.  Typically there are 3 metrics used to judge how rugged a computer device is:

1. Drop Testing – Usually something like “26 drops, 5 feet to concrete”

This one is easy.  Manufacturers will drop test their devices (and often film it) to see how quickly it breaks.  This measurement is not exactly related to any standard.  Below is an excellent video of an Ikon being drop tested.  Try doing that with your iPhone.

2. IP Rating

Most devices claiming to be rugged will usually give you an International Protection Rating (IP), such as IP65.  This rating refers to how well devices stand up to dust, foreign objects and moisture.  I am not going to go into detail about what each number means because Wikipedia does such a great job of this.

3. Intrinsically Safe

An intrinsically safe device means that it can be taken into areas that are considered to have an explosive atmosphere.  These devices are typically quite expensive, so only look at them if you really need to.

Making Your Decision

There is no doubt that rugged devices are substantially more expensive than non-rugged devices.  Sometimes they are 8 times more expensive!  That being said, truly rugged devices work EXTREMELY well.  You really need to make an effort to break them.  When compared to a device similar to your mobile phone, you are simply not comparing apples to apples when it comes to durability.

It all Comes Down to Cost: 3 Questions to ask yourself

When I say cost, I don’t necessarily mean just how much a device costs, but also the cost of having your field work force without that tool if one breaks.  Once your field team is using inspection software  on a mobile device they will become so efficient that going back to paper will clearly impact productivity.  So you need to ask yourself a few key questions:

  1. How rough is your team on electronics (be honest with yourself)?
  2. How dusty and dirty is the environment your field team is in?
  3. Does your field team ever work in damp or wet (even rain) environment?

If you answered yes to the three questions above, you may want to consider going rugged.

To get an even more detailed look at Non-Rugged vs Rugged devices, Psion Teklogix has put together a great white paper that you can get here.