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Smartrac Group and RFMicron to Develop Passive Sensor Tags

Smartrac will offer a new line of EPC Gen 2 passive UHF inlays containing antennas that act as sensors able to detect humidity, pressure and other conditions.
By Claire Swedberg

In the health-care industry, the moisture sensors would be of use for identifying dampness in clothing worn by a patient with incontinence issues. For the energy sector, the tag could be installed under a pipe's insulation in order to sense the type of moisture that could promote corrosion, or detect natural gas and provide that data for environmental or safety inspections. Finally, the tags could be employed in the food industry to measure the moisture content of goods being transported or stored, or to detect moisture in wood for the forestry industry.

As use cases are further developed, the company plans to provide additional sensor capabilities, such as natural gas detection, all based on the antenna's impedance. Or, the company reports, it may develop an antenna with a coating that reacts with specific gasses and changes the antenna's characteristics as a result. "Developing different sensors simply becomes a matter of designing an antenna that responds in a useful way to whatever stimulus you are looking to sense," Rokhsaz states. "We have demonstrated antennas that respond to moisture and pressure, and are thinking about others—though typically, our tag-producing customers, such as Smartrac, will lead the development."

For passive sensing, Rokhsaz adds, "the RFMicron approach is... quite unlike any previous approach to sensors. This is the first time that sensors can be as simple and inexpensive as ordinary passive RFID tags—which opens up a panoply of opportunities that simply haven't existed before."

Most sensor-based tags require a battery to power the sensor built into them. Alternatively, Farsens is one company that has already developed passive sensing tags (see Spanish Startup Focuses on Passive RFID Sensors for Manufacturing and Other Industries); however, Farsens' sensor tags require small printed circuit assemblies with multiple interconnected components, making them somewhat more expensive than most passive. The RFMicron chips are a less expensive and less complex option, Rokhsaz says, explaining that the Magnus S chip offers a low-cost alternative to other passive tags containing built-in sensors. He adds that the company believes tags with sensors, such as Farsens' products, offer a viable option for sensing use cases in which very precise sensing may be necessary and cost is not as great a concern. "We consider their products to be complementary, not competitive, to products using RFMicron chips, operating in a different price and performance realm," he states.

Samuli Strömberg, Smartrac's VP of business development for medical, pharmaceutical, logistics, automotive and supply chain applications, says the firm has been working with RFMicron for approximately a year to develop the Magnus S chip, and to determine how it could be used in a Smartrac inlay. "We think this technology will take RFID to the next level," Strömberg says, noting that Smartrac has been testing tags made with the Magnus S chip in-house, and that its customers—mostly industrial companies with manufacturing facilities—have been testing the tags as well. What's more, he adds, Smartrac is currently in the process of developing RFID inlays containing the chip, that intends to release sometime during the next six months. "We are working on practical tag products," he says, that should resolve problems for industrial, agricultural, construction and retail environments.

According to Strömberg, specific use cases have yet to be determined, and the company is presently considering options for how to utilize the technology, while also seeking input from potential partners and customers. Smartrac opted to announce the partnership before any products are released, he explains, to enable end users to consider potential use cases—and to bring those ideas to Smartrac.

"So far, RFID has been mostly an identification technology," Strömberg states, "Now, we're bringing a new capability to the equation," by allowing users to gain quality-related data that could be viewed or shared online. In addition, he says, because the sensors are passive (requiring no batteries), the tags' maintenance requirements are minimal, and the tags could theoretically be used for many years without requiring replacement or repair.

USER COMMENTS

Smail Tedjini 2014-04-20 03:53:11 AM
RFID tags as sensor : You can look to the publication http://digital-library.theiet.org/content/journals/10.1049/el.2013.3883
Peter Jonsson 2014-04-20 08:19:31 AM
Interesting. Though this is quite similar to another passive RFID moisture tag that been out on the market for a few years now, namely the TwinTag from Sensible Solutions.

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