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New Tags Use Diodes, Not Chips

By making tags with a quartz crystal diode instead of a silicon chip, a New Zealand startup plans to launch RFID technology that costs less and offers a longer read range.
By Jonathan Collins
Dec 01, 2004A startup company named Sandtracker is challenging existing assumptions regarding RFID tag and reader designs with a new RFID technology that replaces silicon chips in the tags. The result, according to the company, is an RFID tag that offers a longer read range and costs less to manufacture than tags using conventional RFID technology.
Jan Hilder

While the company says it is wary of describing exactly how its technology works ahead of being awarded patents, which have been applied for, the company explains that its tag uses analog instead digital technology to create and transmit its signal. "We believe that what we are doing is ingenious and we want to be careful about how much information we provide at this stage," says Jan Hilder, director and CEO at Sandtracker, which is based in Auckland, New Zealand.

"The tags don't need a silicon chip but instead use a quartz crystal diode for transmitting the signal from the tag to the reader, and the signal is stronger from the different transmitter design," says Hilder.

Hilder says, the company's RFID readers have been able to read 4,000 Sandtracker tags simultaneously, with read ranges of up to 18 meters in the lab, at a range of frequencies from 100 MHz to 1 GHz, including 915 MHz. The company claims that its tags can also be read in any spatial orientation.

Its tag design can hold the same data constructs, use the same frequencies and show the same signal characteristics as UHF tags based on existing EPCglobal standards.

"Sandtracker tags can hold an EPC-compliant RFID number in the standard format. They can operate at the recommended frequencies. They can be passive or active. They can contain prewritten RFID codes, can have numbers written to them at point of use or can be written to more than once—depending upon the application and the type of Sandtracker tag that is used. That follows the standard EPC classifications. The way in which we store the number is different," says Hilder.

Because existing RFID readers would have to be modified to recognize Sandtracker's RFID tags, the company has also developed a range of readers that work with its tags. The readers are programmable to operate in frequencies from 100 MHz to 1 GHz, and Sandtracker says its tags can be constructed accordingly and are even able to carry multiple frequencies on one tag. The company says it plans to work with EPCglobal to change current EPCglobal specifications so that Sandtracker's tag design can comply. Existing UHF readers from other vendors would need a Sandtracker module installed is so that the reader can decode the EPC number, which is stored in a different way on the Sandtracker tag.

In the meantime, Sandtracker will strive to see its technology deployed in closed-loop systems. "We start manufacturing in January and will work to prove the technology in the field first in organizations where EPCglobal compliance is not an issue. Then we will work with EAN New Zealand, who knows us and what we are doing, to see our technology accepted within EPCglobal's standards," says Hilder.

Sandtracker has already developed four versions of its technology for four trials where its tags and readers have been deployed.

The trials, which the company has said has proved its technology outside the laboratory, are using Sandtracker tags and readers to track competing cyclists and runners, DVDs in a store, reusable pallets in warehouse and secure locks on shipping containers.

Sandtracker believes that by not using silicon, it manages to not only boost the signal strength of its tags but also cut the cost of producing them. Even in the limited quantities made for its pilots the company says it achieved tags prices of around NZ$0.07 (US$0.0496). That is already below the US$0.05 tag price seen as a tipping point for wide-scale EPCglobal RFID deployment.

The Sandtracker tags developed for its recent trials all vary in size and shape according to each trial's requirements. For example, the DVD tags are crescent shaped and fit around the hole in the middle of each disk and are read through the individual plastic case in which a DVD is sold. In the secure-container trial, an RFID inlay with an elongated antenna extends across the closed lid or door of a crate or container, thereby functioning as a seal.

The first products using Sandtracker technology will be sold by the four New Zealand companies that partnered with Sandtracker in its ongoing pilots: sports management systems Codenz, plastic pallet manufacturer Pallenz, electronic seal manufacturer StepOut and Security Systems' New Zealand unit.

Sandtracker is looking for similar partnerships to spread the use and deployment of its technology rather than selling its tags and readers itself. "In the supply chain we will sell our tags and readers to companies that will then integrate the tags inside their courier bags or containers or paper boxes," says Hilder.

Sandtracker was formed a little over a year ago by a group of New Zealand investors looking to build on the 16-year research into the RFID designs by a New Zealand industrial physicist who is now working with the company to commercialize his work.

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