While RFID technology is already efficient, compact and versatile, there is always room for improvement.
In the report, Plunkett’s Transportation, Supply Chain & Logistics Industry Almanac 2013, Jack Plunkett, CEO and publisher of Plunkett Research Ltd in Houston, Texas, looks at some of the up-and-coming advances in RFID technology and what scientists and researchers are doing to change the way RFID is used. Here’s an overview of his findings.
Carbon nanotube technology
Tall and skinny, carbon nanotubes are made from graphene and have a wide variety of properties, including the ability to act as transmitters or transistors. Thin film transistors are similar to computer chips, but with a glass or plastic thin-film base instead of silicon. Plunkett reports in the Almanac that researchers working at Rice University in the US and Sunchon National University in Korea are collaborating to produce nano-RFID tags using a “process that uses carbon-nanotube-infused ink to make thin-film transistors”.
Plunkett says the researchers were able to produce tags that could hold one bit of information, but were working on versions capable of storing 16 bits and that could “be printed on paper or foil packaging”.
The other limitation with the experimental tags is their range. In experiments they could be read at a distance of one metre, but the researchers hope to eventually make that distance extend to 300m.
Besides changes to the physical components of the tags, researchers are also working on the software and communications systems that allow the tags to share their information. An MIT initiative called EPCglobal has “developed a common language for all RFID chips, thereby substantially reducing costs”. According to Plunkett, retailers like Walmart and product manufacturers like Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble are backers of this project.
Moving out of the lab, Plunkett says a California-based company known as Kovio is using technology developed by MIT to produce “barcodes printed with silicon ink. Chips implanted in the code can store 128 bits of data and transmit them at 106 kilobits per second.”
Kovio is using the technology in its brand of electronic article surveillance (EAS) tags known as !FaST. Since the tags can be invisibly embedded into items, the company sees them as a fit for apparel, along with other goods.
And yet more MIT developments come from the Telmex Lab for Communications and Development. Researchers at the lab have developed a 3-mm-wide dot—known as a Bokode—that can be scanned and read by the camera in a smart phone and that can store up to 10MB of information.