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'High Function' Passive UHF Tag Supports Built-in Sensors, Display Screen

Powercast Corp. and Vanguard ID co-developed the tag, which uses power harvested from an interrogator to energize sensors and transmit that sensor data back to the reader, up to 25 feet away.
By Claire Swedberg
Tags: Sensors
Apr 21, 2014

Pennsylvania RFID firm Vanguard ID Systems is marketing a new EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag that can be read under harsh conditions, and provide sensor data about the environment. The tag, co-developed by wireless power and charging company Powercast Corp., is also available with a screen on which data can be updated visually.

The High Function tag was announced earlier this month at the RFID Journal LIVE! 2014 conference and exhibition, held in Orlando, Fla.

The High Function tag includes an RF power-harvesting technology, a microcontroller and an NXP Ucode I²C passive RFID chip.
The inlays consist of an RFID chip and Powercast's own integrated circuit for harvesting and distributing power to the chip, as well as sensors and a microcontroller. According to Alan Neves, Vanguard ID's global RFID account manager, each inlay is protected by his company's Teslin synthetic printing sheet that acts like miniature bubble wrap, and clear polyester layers protecting it from water or other liquids, as well as from extreme temperatures and impacts.

"We have partnered with Vanguard to provide waterproof packaging and the ability to have customer-specific graphics and branding," says Charles Greene, Powercast Corp.'s CTO. Although Powercast designed the RFID inlay that Vanguard has packaged and will be selling, Powercast also has companies using its RF energy-harvesting technologies for other applications.

The High Function tag's sensor options—such as temperature, vibration, tilt and humidity—can be customized according to a customer's specific requirements.

The tag combines NXP Semiconductors' Ucode I²C RFID chip with Powercast's RF-harvesting integrated circuit, which harvests enough energy from an interrogator to power the tag's built-in microcontroller (MCU) and sensors for measuring conditions around the tag. The microcontroller then forwards that information to the Ucode RFID chip via the chip's I²C interface, and the chip sends that data back to the reader via the EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID air-interface protocol.

According to Greene, Powercast and Vanguard ID developed the new tag as a higher-functioning model that does not require onboard batteries. Basic passive UHF tags are becoming more pervasive, he says, and are low-cost, yet their functionality is limited without a power source. Battery-powered tags tend to be too expensive for many applications, such as tracking the movements of cold-chain goods from a processing plant to a store. What's more, they may not operate well under some extreme conditions, such as packed in ice. Compared with batteries, Greene says, Powercast's RF energy-harvesting technology is less costly and less affected by extreme temperatures, while offering more than 10 times the operational power compared to standard passive RFID tags.

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