TI interns implement RFID solution on Sitara-based BeagleBone Black to solve two daily challenges

Ridiculing RFID's full form as "Rolling Fast In Detroit," "Ready For Insane Dancing" and "Roasted Fajitas In Dumpling" in their promo video, three of our interns certainly cracked a giggle and promised imagination. When they met for the first time this summer, the three interns had only just begun to acclimate themselves to their new Houston location. Amulya Kattimani, sophomore at Rutgers, NJ; Sheng Zhao, senior at Georgia Tech, GA; and Edwin Flores - junior at SUNY, NY, had few things in common other than that each desired to compete in TI's annual Intern Design Challenge.

"I knew I wanted to explore RFID technology," says Sheng, who also reassured us that he knows RFID stands for "Radio-frequency identification." "TI is the world's largest supplier of RFID tags and RFID readers, and it is time we implement this on the BeagleBone Black, the newest Sitara processor-based open-source computer from BeagleBoard.org!" he exclaimed. TI’s Intern Design Challenge, held every summer for the past three years, tasks its interns with building something cool on TI technology. This year, the challenge was to design a plug-in module for either the BeagleBone Black or MSP430 Value Line MCU LaunchPad.

To build their RFID Adaptor Cape, this intern design team chose the Sitara AM335x processor-based BeagleBone Black (BEAGLEBK), an open-source computer known for its instant Linux boot, HDMI, Ethernet and USB ports. Capes, which are plug-in boards for BeagleBone Black, distinguish the board from its competitors as they allow for stackable plug and play options that extend Beagle's functionalities to anything you want it to be. This team's RFID Adaptor Cape enables RFID and near field communication (NFC) capabilities to BeagleBone Black by using TI's 13.56 MHz RFID and NFC Transceiver TRF7970ATB.

"Our biggest challenge was to get the RFID transceiver and BeagleBone Black talking," says Edwin, who explained that no one on the team had worked with Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) communication before. After days of gazing through documentation and long hours of debugging, the RFID reader finally read their TI badges, which contain RFID tags. The three jumped in excitement. The RFID Adaptor Cape had scanned the badge for a unique identifier, or UID, which is a long sequence of alphanumericals present in every RFID tag, and transmitted this information to the BeagleBone Black computer. UID enables easy identification and trackability — two key features of RFID technology.

While the creation of RFID Adaptor Cape was regarded as a feat in itself and fulfilled the Intern Design Challenge, this team was not satisfied. As Amulya explained, "Yes, we had enabled RFID-reading capabilities on the BeagleBone Black, but I wanted to create something more. I thought hard on how to apply this cape to solve any of our daily problems to make our lives easier and more advanced."

Followed by heated discussions, long experiments and steady progress, Edwin, Amulya and Sheng boiled down to two unique applications that they believed were easy and effective solutions for two common daily problems: Cape2Login and Cape2Shop.

Cape2Login

Cape2Login allows people to login to their computer using an RFID tagged badge. It is primarily targeted towards corporate/industrial employees who are mandated to carry an ID badge when present at work. Cape2Login provides an alternative way to login to a work computer instead of typing a password. To login, simply scan your ID badge; the computer's unlocking is triggered when the correct UID is read. This is a convenient and secure way to log on without having to remember and type auto-generated passwords, which change every so often. As Sheng describes, "You get back from lunch and may be too lazy to type your password, you don't have to anymore. Simply scan your ID card on our RFID Cape!"

Cape2Shop

Cape2Shop eliminates checkout lanes and personalizes shopping. Cape2Shop is a handheld device that can be carried along as one is shopping down a store’s aisles. It consists of the RFID Adaptor Cape stacked with the LCD7 Cape—a touchscreen display for BeagleBone Black). In a world where every unit of a product is RFID tagged, one can scan as they shop and eliminate long checkout lanes. When a product is scanned, the LCD7 displays more information about the product and suggests similar products. Moreover, the beauty of using RFID tags is their trackable feature, which can be used to personalize one's shopping experience by offering tailored coupons and loyalty rewards.

After their successful demos in Houston and Dallas, these interns are being hailed as the RFID gurus by fellow TI engineers. CircuitCo, the company that manufactures BeagleBoard computers and Capes, is interested in carrying the RFID Adaptor Cape into production. Several TI employees are keen to install Cape2Login on their own computers so that they never have to type their password again. TI engineers and developers across the world from Dallas to UK have successfully implemented their source code and approached the team for further collaboration.

The team is as excited and humbled with the overwhelming response, and they hope to collaborate with interested parties to further their project. They are currently researching on other TI products that could be potentially mounted on their Adaptor Cape – hence expanding the Cape's usability. They would like to thank several TI folks without whom this project could not have been made possible - Eddie LaCost, Cathy Wicks, Tom Iwinsky, Trey German, Patrick Cadorette, Michael Sherman and Mark Labbato.

Congratulations to the team on this successful project! We wish these interns all the best as they head back to school. Be sure to check out their promo and project videos when you have a moment – the intros are quite ridiculous!

Promo video | Project video | Project webpage


Alejandro Erives, Sitara ARM Processors Brand Manager, is proud of the work done by all the interns. These students are truly brilliant.