Axzon Adds New Features to Sensing RFID Tag

The company's Xerxes tags come in two forms: a passive version, available now, that can accommodate four sensor modalities and comes with encryption for secure blockchain applications, and a battery-powered datalogger.
Published: April 15, 2019

Wireless sensing technologies company Axzon has released its latest sensor-based UHF RFID tags to provide passive sensing capabilities for the cold supply chain, as well as construction and other applications. The Xerxes-I Smart Passive Sensing system can accommodate up to four sensors in one device using a single chip, and ensure the security of that data, says Tanmay Zargar, Axzon’s marketing director. The company is also releasing a tag with datalogging capabilities, known as the Xerxes-II, for which engineering samples will be made available later this year.

The Xerxes-I Smart Passive Sensing system is the latest in a family of Axzon’s smart passive sensing devices. The first was the Magnus, a UHF tag that sensed temperature, moisture and humidity levels, as well as weight and proximity, for use in the industrial, automotive and health-care markets. When the passive UHF RFID tag is interrogated, it transmits its own unique ID number while also capturing and then transmitting the sensor readings. That makes the tag a low-cost and simple way to track conditions regarding such applications as cars under assembly (to make sure they are water-tight) or adult diapers (to alert caregivers that a patient needs changing).

Tanmay Zargar

Since then, however, the technology has further evolved, Zargar explains. Companies now seek data from additional sensors, so the Xerxes can provide gas detection, thermocouples or other sensor devices built into the tag. What’s more, he says, businesses are increasingly pursuing blockchain-based applications and, therefore, require data encryption. “The real game-changes is its secure wireless interface,” Zargar states.

By providing an on-chip encryption engine, the tag can ensure that no data can be accessed or changed by an unauthorized party. With this feature, the tag can enable the collection of a data record, available to specific parties, even as it passes through the custody of several users.

The tag can be placed within a container, or onto a perishable product, such as fresh food or pharmaceuticals, as those goods are first packaged or shipped. The encryption engine on the chip requires that those who interrogate the tag must provide the proper encryption key before they can access data. The system can thus control what each supply chain member can access, as well as what data can be written to the tag at each step.

That enables an immutable record to be collected about a given product, along with the conditions to which it has been exposed, while protecting data from unauthorized parties. The tag not only will collect data, but could provide information to companies or consumers regarding the conditions to which a product was exposed, where it has been and when this occurred.

The tag can accommodate a variety of sensors, he says. For instance, in addition to the key sensors, others could be built into the tag as well. “You could also [add] low-power transducers that produce a voltage capacitance or resistance in response to a physical event,” Zargar states, similarly to how an ambient light transducer reacts to incident light by generating a change in voltage.

The tags can capture strain data, for example, for the purpose of monitoring the integrity of a structure in the construction industry. The tags could be applied via an adhesive directly to a surface such as a bridge truss, or they could be embedded directly into walls or floors during construction. Thus, they could be interrogated via a handheld reader, even when encased in the floor or wall.

The Xerxes-1 is slightly larger than the Magnus, Zargar reports. The Magnus will continue to be available and usable for customers, he adds, while the Xerxes tags provide an alternative that could be added to existing Magnus deployments. The tags utilize Axzon’s RFM405 chip, offer 64 words of on-chip memory (including a 20-word block for access and kill password keys), and can be read by a standard UHF RFID reader. Axzon is now conducting numerous proofs-of-concept and pilots with logistics companies, as well as with construction companies.

In addition, the firm is working with Maxim Integrated to build a low-powered datalogger for companies that want to capture a history of temperature readings or other sensor data, even when the tag is not being read. The Xerxes-II includes flash memory on the chip, with a battery or regulated power supply output from Maxim’s DARWIN microcontroller. It can display alerts based on sensor conditions exceeding pre-set parameters. The datalogger functionality will be aimed at the cold-chain logistics market for those who require a history of the conditions to which their perishable products were exposed during transit or while in storage.

Axzon also provides its ReaderService software stack, which aggregates software data on a reader device and forwards that information to a cloud platform or to on-premises software. The ReaderService comes with an API layer to interface with those systems, enabling users to manage and analyze the collected data.

In January of this year, Axzon announced a partnership with RFID technology company Smartrac on an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solution using Axzon’s sensor chips, along with Smartrac labels and SmartCosmos software services, for use by the smart-packaging, logistics, health-care, aviation, automotive and supply chain management sectors, among others.