ThingMagic Technology Bought by Location Firm Trimble—Terms and Future Unclear

10/25/10Follow @gthuang

This is big news for the Boston and MIT startup communities—and maybe for Silicon Valley tech observers too. Cambridge, MA-based ThingMagic said today its technology has been acquired by Trimble (NASDAQ: TRMB), a mobile and location tech firm based in Sunnyvale, CA. Terms of the deal weren’t given, and representatives from the companies weren’t immediately available to comment this morning.

The deal is a bit of a head-scratcher for me. Yes, things have been happening fast in the world of radio frequency identification (RFID)—this is the wireless communication technology that enables retailers to track inventory, mobile field workers to track tools, and hospitals and medical staff to track expensive equipment such as surgical tools. Earlier this month, I wrote about a resurgence in the RFID industry, as a few companies that endured the decade-long drought of slow adoption of the technology have started seeing some real growth in the past few months.

But why would ThingMagic sell at this point? The 10-year-old company has survived a long history of ups and downs in the marketplace, and was starting to see some gains in customers and revenue. The company makes software and hardware for RFID readers, and has a grand vision of helping create an “Internet of things,” whereby people can get information about objects in the real world around them, in real-time.

So far, all we’ve received officially is a canned statement from ThingMagic. “Our RFID excellence combined with Trimble’s global reach and domain expertise is a strong platform that can enable the next generation of RFID applications,” said CEO Tom Grant, in a statement.

How strong an exit is this deal for ThingMagic’s founders and investors (which have included Tudor Ventures, The Exxel Group, Cisco Systems, Morningside Technology Ventures, and In-Q-Tel)? What will become of ThingMagic’s Boston-area offices and staff (30-some employees)? It’s not clear whether this deal represents an asset sale, a technology integration, or some other arrangement. All we know from the release is that “the operating results of the acquired business [ThingMagic] will be reported within Trimble’s Advanced Devices segment.”

Trimble is known for its GPS and location-based technologies, which are used by mobile workers in the field for surveying, construction, agriculture, mapping, and other applications. So it sounds like ThingMagic’s RFID technology and expertise will be folded into some of those capabilities.

Indeed, ThingMagic co-founder Ravi Pappu may have hinted at the company’s broader future back in July. “It’s not just about the RFID,” he told me. “It’s about reaching out to the tag, reading data, and connecting to other systems, like Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi…By combining those, you now have the Internet of things.”

We’ll have more on this story if we learn anything significant from the companies.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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