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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

NFC and RFID technologies were not required in this instance, Schnorr says, since the unnamed food-storage company will be testing conditions within a large storage area and does not need the devices to move with a product, such as might be necessary in a food supply chain.

Later this year, however, a packaging company, which has also asked to remain unnamed, will be piloting either a UHF RFID or NFC version of the technology with fresh meat, fish and poultry packaging. In this case, the tags would transmit a unique ID number to an interrogator with the transmission turned on or off, depending on the presence of sulfide or another compound that would indicate the product was beginning to spoil. Meat lends itself well to the technology, Schnorr notes, for several reasons. It is more difficult to visually identify when meat is beginning to spoil than it is with fruits or vegetables, he explains, and the high value of meat makes it more desirable to prevent any spoiling.

C2Sense eventually hopes to pilot the prototype sensor tag throughout the supply chain.
While C2Sense wants to pilot the prototype sensor tag throughout the supply chain, from meat producer to consumer, the initial phase will test the technology only in parts of the supply chain—for instance, as goods are received or moved through a distribution center or at a retail location. The company will provide the software that manages the collected read data on a cloud-based server, as well as an app (in the case of NFC tag reads on phones), either through its own development, or through work with a software-providing partner. "It's important that we provide full solutions," Schnorr states.

In addition, the company is working with the Department of Energy to create a prototype hazard-detection badge that will be tested by employees at the Hanford Site, in the state of Washington, where former nuclear production clean-up is currently under way. The state's attorney general filed a lawsuit against the DOE when workers were sickened by a release of toxic gases last year, and the federal agency is now looking into technology that would help identify when such gases are present while employees are onsite.

The solution from C2Sense is the UHF RFID version of the company's technology, in the form factor of an adhesive, disposable badge. Each badge has a unique ID number that it transmits, as well as a built-in CARD sensor to detect the presence of ammonia, which would indicate a toxic gas release. The badges would either transmit a signal to handheld UHF RFID readers that could be connected to a worker's cell phone, or transmit the data to the phone via a Bluetooth connection.

"Between the MIT lab and C2Sense," Schnorr states, "we have become very good at developing sensors for specific use cases."

The sensor technology is designed to be low-cost, easy to use and disposable, Schnorr says. He envisions the system being used in fresh food supply chains, as well as at any location where workers could be exposed to chemical fumes. Such individuals include research lab personnel, firefighters, miners, oil-exploration workers and gas station attendants.

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