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Alliance Rubber Stretches Limit of RFID and NFC Applications

The rubber band company is working with the University of Sussex to develop elastic material that could not only be stronger than standard rubber, but also transmit data via RF, accommodate RFID or NFC chips, and store sensor data.
By Claire Swedberg

Initially, the company has three use cases in mind: to change color based on sensor measurements; to function as an "invisible bar code" that could be scanned using a spectrometer, for instance; or for RFID transmission blocking (the team envisions wrapping a rubber band around passports or credit cards to prevent criminals from reading their tags without a user's knowledge). The invisible bar code could be used to capture the data on the rubber band, if a user were to interrogate it with an RF transmission using a specific RF frequency. It could be possible, Risner says, to employ basic NFC technology if an NFC chip were incorporated in the rubber.

In one conjectured use case, Risner explains, the bands could be used to hold together packages of fish or other temperature-sensitive products. The bands could have sensors tracking such conditions as the off-putting of a gas, indicating spoilage, or could have a built-in RFID chip with a unique ID number to enable the collection of a fish package's history as it moved though the supply chain to the store. Initially, he says, "probably you would need a special device" to interrogate the rubber band via RF, or a spectrometer that measures light properties.

The research does not currently include the use of RFID and NFC. However, Risner reports, the company believes the use of standard NFC or RFID in the rubber bands would be feasible. He expects the sensor data and any unique identifiers in the rubber bands could be of value to the medical, automotive, agriculture and retail industries.

On a simpler basis, Risner notes, the graphene itself could be used to block an RF transmission. RFID-blocking wallets and similar products have been sold for years to consumers as a preventative measure, though the surreptitious reading of RFID tags has not been a significant problem.

"You don't get too many chances to reinvent the rubber band," Risner states. The company has long-term hopes of developing intelligent rubber bands that could cost a fraction of a cent per band when manufactured in high volume, he says, adding, "I think graphene itself is going to change the world."

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