Innovation in Academia: How ClearStream RFID Technology Transforms Research and Education

July 8, 2024

Portable Technology Solutions is no stranger to academic settings, counting many schools and universities among Our clients. PTS software, for example, helps Brigham Young University audit the chemicals used in its research laboratories. But even we were surprised when we heard that Ygal Bendavid and Samad Pour Rostom, professors and researchers at University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM), are using PTS’s ClearStream Fixed RFID and Bluetooth Beacon software not to keep track of items in a lab—but as one of the primary tools in the lab.

“We are not buying the technology to install it in our companies,” says Ygal. “It’s actually a tool for us when we do applied research projects and we need to collect data on sites and work with partners.”

Professors Bendavid and Rostom are, respectively, the Director and IT Director of the IoT [Internet of Things] Lab at UQAM. The Lab partners its graduate students with private companies on projects that explore how IoT technology—including various RFID technologies— can solve these companies’ business problems. 

“We’re solution providers,” Samad says. “We always look for new solutions, opportunities in the market to enhance functionality or efficiency.”

“And in the projects we do,” says Ygal, “there are always two stages.” The first stage, he explains, is to capture what’s happening in the field—which always involves the identification and automated tracking of a particular item. The second stage, after capturing that data, is to be able to manipulate that data. 

“For both these processes,” Samad continues, “we need a simple tool—something user-friendly, easy to understand, easy to present, easy to demonstrate. ClearStream meets all these criteria for us in the academy and in industry.”

Theres an Easier Way: Discovering ClearStream

Before they discovered ClearStream, the IoT Lab would use a given RFID reader’s SDK [Software Development Kit] to develop the code needed for the extraction and manipulation of data needed for a particular project. As Ygal points out, “Today, you don’t want that. You really want to buy your reader, plug it in, capture the data, and use a tool that’s going to do that stuff for you.”

About four years ago, when the Lab was working on a smart shelves project, Samad was working to connect everything using the RFID reader’s SDK and Java coding. He showed Ygal the early stages of the work he was doing and, as Ygal tells it, “I said, why are you doing that, man? There are tools on the market now that we can use to import the data and manage it, and then export it wherever we want.”

“I watched the first ClearStream video on YouTube,” Samad remembers, “and I thought: Okay, this is such a good and interesting application—thank God. It’s easy to implement and I can define my scenarios in it, which is ideal for building prototypes. I can define a business role, see how it works over this amount of time, this antenna rate, this tag equal or greater than that one. It’s a lifesaver.”

 “This is the first time we used ClearStream,” Ygal says. “Since then, we always use it in all our projects.”

ClearStreams Flexibility with Data is Ideal for Building Prototypes

Business projects come to the lab when a company decides that they want to explore how technology can serve them, but aren’t sure how or how to implement the solutions they may have in mind. “So,” says Ygal, “they come to the Lab and then they do the front-end management of the project with us until we go all the way to prototyping.”

While developing a prototype, the Lab doesn’t want to spend time trying to build a custom integration with a given company’s ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] or whatever systems they have—as Ygal says, it’s just too complicated and labor intensive. Instead, they extract the data they need with ClearStream, and use it to demonstrate the solution.

Samad points out that one of the things that makes ClearStream work so well for prototyping is the flexibility it allows to define the destination of the data. “It integrates very well into existing systems. You can save or host your data on a local Microsoft Access database or you can send it to the Cloud or a remote SQL Server.”

ClearStream’s ease of integration provides an ideal way to showcase a solution, which may be as far as it goes with companies already committed to their own ERP and platforms. “But for other companies, particularly smaller ones,” Samad says, “it can be a pretty straightforward answer.”

“We don’t sell the technology,” Ygal points out. “If they decide that they want to go with another platform, this is their choice—but usually when they try ClearStream, they’re good with it.”

ClearStreams Flexibility: Ideal for Mixed Setups and Auditioning Hardware

ClearStream’s flexibility with hardware is also a huge benefit to the Lab. “We have a variety of hardware,” Samad explains, “different brands, different antennas from different companies and countries coming together…and ClearStream can support all these different kinds of hardware, and connect to any reader.”

“We never do the project with only one reader,” Ygal adds. “We want the partner to see that different readers can do the job and then they will select which one is better for them. We always try to do each project with at least, let’s say, seven times, antennas and layered antennas—an Impinj reader, a Zebra reader, a TSL reader…to ensure that we are neutral in what we do. And ClearStream works great with all of them.”

And even though the specific projects that Samad and Ygal work on don’t utilize ClearStream’s Bluetooth functionality, it can be useful for a company to know that ClearStream can, for example, track its pallets with RFID and its forklifts with Bluetooth. 

ClearStream as a Teaching Tool: An Easy Way to Grasp RFID

Samad and Ygal are also finding ClearStream useful in the classroom. As Samad puts it, “ClearStream’s user -friendly structure helps me explain IoT and RFID scenarios to students easily—especially those students with limited technical knowledge, like MBA students.”

Samad, who teaches at Montreal’s Vanier College, cites the utility of ClearStream’s Virtual Site Survey feature, which allows a user to virtually set up readers and tags with zero hardware requirements. “This is another impact on my classes: I can define scenarios, I can show them how RFID works, and I think ClearStream greatly aids my teaching method.”

Ygal, who teaches at UQAM, has had a similar experience in his own classes, particularly those with business students. “By logging the reader antennas, building it, sending the data down to ClearStream, you realize that, Hey, I’m a student in a management, and I can do that. It really helps to show people that today, more and more business projects involve technological infrastructure. ClearStream makes it so easy to understand.”

In Ygal’s classes, they use ClearStream’s Virtual Site Survey as a first step. “We create the zones, we create the readers, we just simulate all the processes. Then when everybody understands, we say, Okay, let’s go and build it. Then we take all the technology in class and we use it.”

As Ygal reflects, “We do the same thing when the Lab does a project with a partner.” First, they map the process and design it using the virtual site survey. And once they agree on the parameters, then they move towards deploying the prototype.

“As Samad said, we needed a simple tool. And we worked with various vendors. And when we came and found ClearStream, we said, that’s it. It’s really simple to integrate, capture the data, and then forward it to wherever the partners want it.”


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