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Battery-assisted RFID Deal Extends Range, Markets

The recent partnership between startup battery maker Blue Spark Technologies and leading RFID chip and inlay producer UPM Raflatac could be a catalyst for the commercialization of battery-assisted passive RFID technology.
Mar 30, 2009This article was originally published by RFID Update.

March 30, 2009—The partnership announced last week between leading international RFID tag and inlay producer UPM Raflatac and Blue Spark Technologies, a Cleveland-area startup that designs and manufactures thin, flexible batteries, definitely extends the read range of UHF tags, and the partners think it will also extend the range of applications they're used for.

Under the deal, UPM Raflatac will manufacture battery-assisted passive (BAP) tags using Blue Spark's batteries and the new passive, Gen2-standard EM4324 RFID chip from Swiss manufacturer EM Microelectronic. The resulting product has produced read ranges of 50 meters (154 feet) in testing.

"Battery-assisted passive isn't going to replace active RFID technology and it is not going to replace passive," Matt Ream, Blue Spark's vice president of marketing, told RFID Update. "It is going to fill a hole in the price-performance range. It allows integrators to dust off all those applications that they had looked at but didn't pursue because of cost or range constraints."

Ream said EM Microelectronic's new EM4324 chip is a leading reason battery-assisted passive UHF technology can be commercialized now through a leading manufacturer like UPM Raflatac. The chip uses very little power, which allows it to make very efficient use of the Blue Spark battery and enables long battery life, according to Ream. The chip is also small enough for use in smart labels and other popular form factors, which helps keep tag cost down.

"You get performance in line with active technologies, and price in line with passive technologies," Ream said.

UPM Raflatac's involvement for production and sales provides economies of scale that neither Blue Spark nor EM Microelectronic could match on their own, which could also help market development.

"Battery-assisted passive is really still a pretty new technology," Ream said. "This is going to be a game-changer for us, and for UPM too. It allows them to get into some higher-value applications."

Results from the first pilot customers could be released by mid-year. UPM Raflatac and Blue Spark are not marketing the technology exclusively for long-range applications. In testing it has performed well in environments with heavy liquid and metal content, where the added power has helped overcome sources of interference. Other battery-assisted RFID vendors have touted many other applications ranging from asset tracking to highly specialized military systems (see SecureRF to Develop Secure RFID for US Air Force). The battery-assisted RFID market is currently small, but research firm NanoMarkets issued a report last year that predicts sales of thin-film batteries for RFID tags will reach $4.6 billion by 2015.
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