RFID chips are tiny microprocessors that are embedded into real world objects. Data from the chips is read by RFID Readers, which is what ThingMagic specializes in. Over the 10 years of its existence, ThingMagic has diversified its customer base and was eventually acquired last October.
ThingMagic's acquirer was Trimble, a provider of positioning and tracking solutions using technologies like GPS, laser and optical. Trimble, which has annual revenues of over $1 billion, bought ThingMagic to add RFID to its tracking arsenal. Jürgen Kliem, Trimble VP of strategy and business development, told RFID Journal in October that "a growing number of Trimble's customers are showing an interest in RFID-based asset-tracking solutions."
Founded in 2000 by a group of PhD graduates from MIT's Media Lab, ThingMagic aimed to become "the engine in RFID." By the time of acquisition a decade later, ThingMagic's customers included industrial automation firms, manufacturers, automotive companies, retailers, and consumer companies.
The name ThingMagic originated from a goal of "adding magic to everyday objects." However it took a long time for that vision to become a reality. As Gregory Huang of Xconomy put it, in an excellent profile last August, "the technology was strong but its business use was overhyped, so it got stuck on the adoption curve."
Last year, RFID finally began to get successful uptake. ThingMagic co-founder and CTO Yael Maguire told Xconomy that "in most cases it's [RFID] caught up with people's imagination. People are focusing [now] on how to deploy it."
The fact that ThingMagic was acquired by a billion-dollar tracking company proves that RFID technology is fairly mature now and so deploying it is key. What's more, RFID combined with other Web and mobile technologies is an increasingly important part of the Internet of Things. Sensors may be the only technology that is more important.
As ThingMagic co-founder Ravi Pappu told Xconomy, "it's not just about the RFID [it's about] connecting to other systems, like Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi." By combining all of this, he said, "you have the Internet of Things."
ThingMagic will be viewed as one of the early success stories of Internet of Things. Perhaps it sold a bit too early, even. One thing is for sure, RFID uptake owes a lot to this little Boston company powered by MIT Media Lab PhDs.