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AMS Sees Potential Medical Applications for Its HF Data-logging RFID Chip

The semiconductor company says medical equipment providers are studying the SL13A IC for use in a device to track a patient's blood glucose levels.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 04, 2013

Semiconductor firm AMS is marketing a sensor-supporting passive high-frequency (HF) RFID chip that could be used to monitor the health of individuals diagnosed with such conditions as diabetes, when implanted under their skin. The company is also marketing a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) version that could be employed to track temperatures or conditions around goods such as perishable foods and pharmaceuticals in transit. The UHF-based model was initially created in 2009 by integrated circuit manufacturer IDS Microchip, to measure temperatures and then transmit the collected data to a reader, according to Oluf Alminde, the senior marketing manager of AMS' power and wireless business unit, and previously IDS' product marketing director. More recently, IDS began developing an HF version. Medical applications were not initially a target for either version of the technology, however.

In November 2012, IDS Microchip was acquired by AMS, which has now begun marketing the sensor-supporting chips as part of its own portfolio. Since that acquisition, AMS reports, multiple medical companies have been testing biomedical applications involving its HF chip, while logistics firms worldwide are testing the UHF version. In addition, a New Jersey-based packaging products company is marketing a battery-assisted passive (BAP) tag made with the UHF chip, allowing its customers to track the temperatures of goods in transit.

The SL13A demo kit includes the HF RFID chip with an integrated temperature sensor, as well as a dipole antenna and a battery holder.
As IDS Microchip was developing an RFID-enabled data-logger chip with a built-in temperature sensor, the initial application involved the cold-chain transportation of perishable goods. The result was the SL900A chip, which IDS launched in March 2011 (see RFID News Roundup: IDS Microchip Releases New EPC-based Sensory Tag Chip). The company then began marketing a tag reference design using the chip in June 2012 (see RFID News Roundup: Blue Spark Technologies, IDS Microchip Codevelop EPC Gen 2 BAP RFID Sensors). The SL900A chip can operate in a fully passive UHF (EPC Gen 2) mode and, when not being read, uses a battery to enable the collection and storage of sensor data. In addition, IDS developed the SL13A chip, an HF version of the IC that complies with the ISO 15693 standard and can be used with or without a battery. Near Field Communication (NFC) standards published by the NFC Forum support only HF tags compliant with the ISO 14443 A and B standards, not ISO 15693. However, NFC-enabled Android-based phones running a special application, such as STMicroelectronics' NfcV-reader application—available for free on Google Play—are capable of reading tags complying with ISO 15693, including those made with the SL13A chip.

As IDS was developing the HF chip, Alminde says, the company "started seeing interest from the medical field." For medical equipment providers, he notes, the HF data-logger provides numerous advantages. Such a data-logger would not require users to purchase dedicated RFID readers, for example, since a growing number of cell phones have built-in NFC readers that—assuming they are running NfcV or a similar app—could read sensor data on the SL13A chip. The phone could then use a cellular or Wi-Fi Internet connection to automatically forward that information to physicians or other interested parties.

The most common potential use case, Alminde says, is for diabetic patients, who must monitor their blood's glucose level on a regular basis—sometimes twice daily—traditionally requiring that they prick a finger each time to draw blood. They must then be able to visually check the results and call a health-care provider if they determine that a problem exists.

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