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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

Even before the team tried the nanotube CARD on an NFC tag, Schnorr says, the solution proved to affect the transfer of an electrical current from one electrode to another, based on the presence of a particular gas. Therefore, he adds, the technology can work even without RFID.

The advantage to using NFC or RFID technology, however, is the ability to power the sensor and collect data via a mobile phone (in the case of NFC) or a reader (in the case of UHF RFID).

The sensors are being tested to monitor temperatures within a perishable food-storage environment.
In some cases, Schnorr says, users prefer UHF RFID for the long-range transmission it enables, while NFC is preferable in scenarios in which users may collect data via a mobile phone. UHF RFID could enable the reading of sensor tags, for instance, on a carton of products travelling on a forklift through a dock door with a fixed RFID reader. Anyone equipped with an NFC reader built into their smartphone could use NFC technology, including a consumer who purchased a product.

C2Sense, Swager says, "has established a broad class of materials based on nanotubes" that can change their resistance in response to the detection of a specified type of gas. The latest CARD sensor technology comes in the form of a nanotube that normally is highly conductive but has been wrapped in an insulating material that blocks RFID transmission. When exposed to specific gases, this material breaks apart and the nanotubes become conductive enough to enable a tag to be read.

Jan M. Schnorr, C2Sense's CEO
The sensors are sufficiently sensitive to detect less than 10 parts per million of target toxic gases within about five seconds. (In some cases, the company reports, its sensors have achieved detection rates of 100 parts per billion.) The initial tags would indicate a chemical's presence by simply being turned on or off (an RFID transmission would indicate whether or not the chemical was present). However, Schnorr says, the firm is currently working on a version of the NFC or RFID tag that would not only turn a transmission on or off, but also detect the presence and volume of a gas, and then transmit that data to a reader so that individuals could know that a gas was present, and in what quantity. In that way, those in an industrial environment could know the level of toxic gas to which they have been exposed, while in the case of fresh foods, consumers or retailers could know how soon a product might go bad.

C2Sense is working with multiple NFC and UHF RFID chips, including products from Norway's Thinfilm and Germany's ams AG.

The pilot taking place this month will not use RFID technology. Instead, the C2Sense sensor consists of material that changes resistance based on the presence of chemicals, as well as electrodes. A cabled connection between the device and a computer forwards the data to a cloud-based server.

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