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EECC Study Finds Intelligence in UHF RFID

The organization's latest "UHF RFID Transponder Benchmark" survey found that this year's chips and tags are 20 percent more sensitive than previous versions, on average, and that many are capable of controlling their communications as a precursor to more intelligence-based use cases.
By Claire Swedberg

Von Bonin imagines a time might come, with passive UHF chip development, when tags will be able to transmit this kind of data to an interrogator, or to each other. For instance, engineers at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, built a radio in 2014 that was about the size of an ant. The radio was so energy-efficient that it could use the interrogating energy it received to send a signal not only back to the reader, but also to other tags in the area (see Stanford engineers aim to connect the world with ant-sized radios). A lot of this functionality will be provided by the increasing sensitivity of UHF RFID chips, León says, and by their ability to operate at very low energy.

The EECC updated its own measurement tools to ensure it could test the latest chips to their fullest capacity, including the untraceable command. That new equipment was provided by Austria's CISC Semiconductor. "We were very excited to see that these features really work," León states. "We have tested and verified that the chips work as we expected."

Conrad von Bonin (left) and Mauricio V. León
The long-term opportunities are exciting, León says. "We are enthusiastic that this might be a door to a new, wide playground" in which new information can be captured and then managed with very low-cost UHF passive RFID tags. At EECC's Innovation Labs, for instance, researchers already have demonstrated how passive UHF RFID tags with sensing capabilities can detect of a computer hard-drive becomes too hot—and in the future, León says, if a tool were to fall on the floor, its tag might be able to transmit that event based on sensor data.

In the meantime, the survey is designed to help end users and technology developers identify the proper UHF tags for specific applications. That becomes a more complex decision as more RFID chips enter the market each year, von Bonin notes. If a company has already been using RFID technology for several years, the latest, most sensitive tags might not be a good choice. The survey details are intended to help those RFID users and providers identify the best product for existing and planned RFID systems.

Each year, León says, the EECC asks every RFID chip producer to send its newest products for testing. The latest functionality of recently released RFID chips is now being tested in multiple pilots, von Bonin reports. The study is available for purchase at the EECC's website. In addition to conducting research, the organization consults with companies developing their own UHF RFID-based solutions.

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