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Startup to Pilot Low-Cost Wireless Sensor Technology

C2Sense's passive RFID sensors will be tested in at least three pilots to determine if they can detect specific gases in the real world.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 08, 2016

C2Sense, a sensor and radio frequency identification technology startup located in Cambridge, Mass., is preparing several pilots that will test the sensor technology it has developed—in RFID-enabled packaging, as well as in ID badges—to wirelessly detect and transmit the presence of specific gases that would require some action be taken.

This year, a company that does not want to be publicly identified is testing the sensors without RFID to monitor temperatures in a perishable food-storage environment. Later this year, a firm that makes packaging material for meat and seafood will launch a project with C2Sense to test the technology's ability to monitor for the presence of sulfides and biogenic amines inside packages of meat via RFID.

C2Sense's new sensor can wirelessly detect and transmit the presence of specific gases.
Next year, C2Sense reports, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will begin testing the technology with ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID-enabled sensors built into disposable ID badges. Handheld UHF readers will be used to track the presence of ammonia, which would indicate a possible leak of toxic chemicals that could pose a threat to workers. The company expects to launch its RFID-enabled sensors commercially following the conclusion of these pilots.

C2Sense was founded by Timothy M. Swager, a chemistry professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and researcher Jan M. Schnorr, C2Sense's CEO, who want to commercialize the technology they developed in the MIT lab. The system consists of material built into chemically actuated resonant devices (CARDs) that alter the way in which a signal is transferred from a Near Field Communication (NFC) or RFID tag to a reader (by either enabling or reducing the RF transmission), or from one electrode to another, thereby signaling the presence of a specific gas.

MIT's Timothy M. Swager
It all began as a university project, Schnorr says, in which researchers asked themselves "What is the simplest way to take real-world [gas detection] information into the digital world?" Most sensor devices, he explains, are immobile, expensive and thus not used at most locations where the presence of gas could indicate a problem with a product, or a hazard for human health. Therefore, goods in the supply chain, as well as the conditions under which people work, are often untested for gases.

"Our group, for many years, has focused on chemical sensing," Swager says, "creating ways to recognize particular chemicals or classes of chemicals," and to convert that sensor data for users.

Initially, the researchers focused on the detection of ethylene, which is emitted from spoiling fruits and vegetables. By inserting carbon nanotubes using CARD material into a standard NFC tag, the researchers found that they could signal the presence of ethylene (see RFID Goes Bananas).

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