New Chip Offers Greater Memory, Sensitivity at Lower Price

Alien Technology's Higgs 9 integrated circuit is designed for use in manufacturing, tolling and pharmaceutical logistics applications, to enable greater data storage, multiple passwords and longer EPCs than other chips.
Published: April 5, 2019

Alien Technology has released its latest integrated circuit, the Higgs 9. According to the company, the Higgs 9 offers the highest amount of memory among its chips, with improved sensitivity and a lower cost. The IC is the company’s ninth chip offering since Alien launched in 1994, and replaces its previously highest-memory chip, the Higgs 3.

Alien released the new IC at RFID Journal LIVE! 2019, held this week in Phoenix, Ariz., where the firm displayed and demonstrated tags using the chip. The company is building the Higgs 9 into its own inlays, while partner inlay makers, such asVizinex RFID, are also releasing products using the new IC.

Alien’s Higgs 9 integrated circuit

The Higgs 9 offers the highest amount of memory available for EPC UHF RFID tags, says Michael Hetrick, Alien’s global sales VP, with improved sensitivity and a lower price than its previous high-memory chips. The IC employs Alien’s Higgs Sentinel Memory platform and provides 96 bits of Electronic Product Code (EPC) memory and 688 bits of user memory. Some user memory can be transferred to the EPC memory to enable an extension of EPC data up to 496 bits.

In addition to the memory boost, the new IC includes a 3-decibel improvement in read sensitivity and a 6-decibel improvement in write sensitivity. The chip’s improved performance means the tag could be read at a greater distance—between 10 and 20 percent more that predecessor ICs, depending on the environment. The write sensitivity is similarly improved, the company reports. That means tags can be encoded faster and from a greater distance on a conveyor. The Higgs 9 also enables faster printing and encoding application scenarios.

Memory can be stored in four blocks, each of which could include a unique password so the chip could enable a tag to provide different companies or individuals with access to separate blocks of data. That would make such a tag useful for complex supply chains, as well as for tolling or access-control applications in which separate blocks of data may be useful for various constituents that might interrogate the tag.

“There are two theories on RFID data management,” Hetrick says. “One focuses on data storage in the cloud,” in which case an EPC number stored on a tag is linked to data on a cloud-based server. Alien Technology makes ICs and inlays with low memory for that use case. However, a second approach to RFID data—with the information written directly to a tag for access by authorized parties—is a better option for those lacking easy access to cloud-based servers, or who want to make data available to other companies or parties via a simple tag read.

Alien’s Higgs 3 chip, released 12 years ago, is a popular product for companies that require extra memory, but some users have been asking for additional memory to accommodate a longer EPC number, as well as more user memory space. With that in mind, says Terrel Pruett, Alien’s VP of global reader product sales and marketing, the Higgs 9 is a new product rather than simply an updated version of the Higgs 3.

For the automotive industry, the Higgs 9 can be used—by automobile manufacturers, for instance—to store data regarding a component that is sold to a customer. That can include information about the part itself, such as its manufacturing date and location, which can then be accessed by the auto maker. That company could add additional data with its own password, such as the vehicle identification number, and the dealer could interrogate the tag for the purposes of servicing, maintenance and recall management. In that way, with four blocks, each could view or write relevant data without having to access a server.

Michael Hetrick

In addition, the chip could be used for tolling or access control, with information about the vehicle to which the tag is attached, as well as its operator, a registration or driver’s license number, or an address in the case of a gated community. The ICs are also expected to be used in other markets that require data as an RFID-tagged item passes through the custody of multiple parties. That can include appliance manufacturers with warranties for customers, or pharmaceutical companies that have a complex supply chain.

Several businesses are now trialing the new IC, Pruett says, adding, “All the feedback has been incredibly positive.” The company opted to develop a new high-memory chip with increased sensitivity based on a growth in demand, he notes, adding, “We’re embarking on a product-development cycle right now. This is the first of several new products.” The firm will also offer lower-memory Higgs ICs.

Terrel Pruett

According to Hetrick, RFID use is growing around companies’ desire “to have massive amounts of data without human intervention.” Passive RFID, he argues, has proven to be the least expensive way to collect information without the need for human involvement. “As data analytics become more important, we’re seeing RFID becoming more valuable.”

The Higgs 9 will be less expensive than the Higgs 3, Hetrick reports, though that may not have a critical impact on inlay cost. The chip, he points out, only represents 5 to 7 percent of the total tag cost. For the near future, the company does not plan to discontinue the Higgs 3. “There are many customers of Higgs 3 out there,” he states, “and they’re operating beautifully.”

Alien is building the chip into its ALN-9954 “G” tag for automotive use on windshields, its ALN 9940 Squiggle for general-purpose and asset-tracking applications, and its ALN 9962 Short, a smaller version of the Squiggle that can be used for government-issued ID cards and passports, or for any other standard use cases calling for a narrower web tag.