Group to Push Powered RFID Labels

By Bob Violino

The Smart Active Label Consortium hopes to create awareness of and standards for smart labels with thin-film batteries.

Nov. 26, 2002 - Many people are just learning about smart labels, which use RFID tags to identify objects. Now a new group wants to sell them on the idea of smart labels that use ultra-thin batteries to broadcast information, which means data can be transmitted over longer distances with greater accuracy.

The Smart Active Label Consortium is the brainchild of Baruch Levanon, founder and executive director of Power Paper, an Israeli firm that produces thin-film batteries. Levanon was elected interim chairman of the consortium.

"Our goal is to create awareness among users because this is something new, labels with power on board," says Levanon. "So it is really important to show them not in a real-life environment -- not at an exhibition -- the benefits and capabilities of active labels."

Among the 35 companies that attended the first gathering of the group in London this week were RFID technology companies, including Alien Technology, KSW Microtec and Philips Semiconductor. Several end user companies attended, such as 3M, Avery Dennison, British Airways, CHEP, and Toppan Printing.

The group also included a few startups working on new technologies that could play a roll in advancing smart active label technology. One such company is Plastic Logic, which is developing polymers that could one day replace expensive silicon in microchips. Cymbet Corp., which has developed a rechargeable thin-film battery, was also there.

Levanon says that active labels are not meant to replace conventional smart labels, which use passive RFID tags – that is, those that have no battery and draw their power from a reader. Active labels can be used for many of the same tasks as convention RFID labels, including tracking assets and inventory.

But because active labels broadcast a signal, they are preferable for applications that require long read ranges (30 feet or more). Active tags may also work better in environments where there is interference from metal structures, where the tag is also used to track the temperature or condition of an object, or where the object being tagged is moving quickly, such as a pallet on a forklift truck.

During its first meeting, the group set up four project teams. One will try to identify the top three or four industries where applications could justify the higher cost of an active label. Another will create demonstration systems to show off the capabilities of active labels. A third will focus on standards for communicating with readers and onboard power requirements, and the last team will look at technologies under development.

The Consortium plans to run a series of end-user showcases in Europe and in the United States throughout 2003. Members plan reconvene in February to elect a board and begin taking an active roll in promoting active labels.

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