RFID based Geiger counting is one of the most common RFID applications on the shop floor. This article discusses how to create best-in-practise Geiger counting, and why - we wanted to add a technical aspect to the discussion.
Authors: Turo Rantanen, Markku Kynsijärvi
& Jessica Säilä
We interviewed some of the experts at
Nordic ID. Nordic ID is specialized in RFID solutions and has been
involved in Auto-ID business for over two decades. These days
Nordic ID is associated with RFID readers for different
Most mobile RFID readers carry a
software for tag locating. Simply, it means a software for locating
individual tags, and the name 'Geiger counting' comes from the
ticking sound that appears when the RFID reader approaches the
searched tag. As the RFID reader gets closer to the searched tag,
the ticking sound speeds up.
The idea of Geiger counting is to
locate a specific tag in a densely packed environment with the help
of a mobile device. In this article we assume that all relevant
items are tagged on item level. Geiger counting would be used for
example for searching a specific shirt of a certain size in a
store, or for looking for a missing cardboard box in a
The basics of Geiger
In simple terms Geiger counting means using
the RSSI values of tags to determine if they are close or far away
and indicate this to the user of a mobile device. However, as
in any RF environment, the more the transceiver emits RF energy,
the higher the signal strength also received from the tag.
Therefore, in addition to the RSSI values, good Geiger counting
applications should add the output power to the calculation. Next,
we will make suggestions on how to work with the RSSI values and
output power to optimize the results andfinally, we will discuss
how to build an application for Geiger counting.
The output power should be taken into
consideration so that when the reader receives the "highest"
possible RSSI value, it should lower the output power and see if it
is still receives the same signal strength. If it does receive the
same signal strength, it shall continue to lower its power until it
either reaches the lowest possible setting for the output power, or
until the RSSI value starts to lower. If the RSSI value gets low
enough, the application should increase the output power. If the
signal strength stays up even with low output power, then it is
reasonable to assume that the tag is really close to the
The method mentioned above is the most
typical way of performing Geiger counting as the majority of the
devices have only one antenna mode. But when a device has more than
one antenna mode including proximity and circular antenna modes,
the additional antennas can determine the proximity of the tag with
higher accuracy. When working with such units, the application can
monitor the power output and when it is low enough and the RSSI
stays at a certain level, the reader can switch to an antenna with
a shorter read range.
How to build a Geiger counting
1) Perform Inventory with select parameters using the
EPC code you wish to locate. Use session 0 since we need the tag to
reply to every query.
- Inventory with select parameters allows restricting tag
populations to tags that have only a certain bit pattern(s) in
their memory at a specified bank and bit address.
- Even if the session-value is adjustable, session 0 is the
only option when performing Geiger counting.
a) If the tag is seen after the step above, then acquire
the RSSI from the tag and "buffer" it, i.e. calculate an average
value of, let's say the last 5 received RSSI values.
b) If the tag is not seen, then buffer a scaled RSSI value
of 0 to imply that the tag was not seen.
c) Calculate an averaged value from the received RSSI
i) If the averaged RSSI is in the "maximum" RSSI range
(for example between 70-100%), lower the output power by
ii) If the averaged RSSI is in the "low" RSSI range
(for example between 0-40%), raise the output power by
2) While the "Geiger counting"-thread is performing
the above, the UI-thread should have e.g.a timer which ticks every
100ms and updates the Geiger beeping and any other UI related
a) In addition to the timer, the beeps should also be
visible in its own separate thread and let the timer ticks just
reset an event which tell the "Beeping"-tread to generate the
i) When such an event is received, the "Beeping"-thread
should use the averaged value of the received RSSIs for
manipulating the interval and frequency of the beeping.
ii) Then it is more or less a matter of preference
which kind of beeping each possible value should generate. E.g. a
beep with 1568Hz frequency could be generated when the tag is seen
and a 1046Hz when it is not seen. The length and interval of each
beep could be defined by the received averaged RSSI value i.e. 100%
= beep for 100ms without any interval, anything below 100% = 50ms
beep with (250 - averaged rssi value)ms interval.
RFID readers for Geiger counting
Most of the mobile RFID readers
available on the market can be equipped with a tag locating
software. In order to maximise accuracy when locating a certain
tag, the mobile RFID reader should have as narrow an antenna beam
as possible. As the majority of the RFID readers on the market are
equipped with an omni-directional antenna beam, the application
software will need to control the antenna beam.