RFID Journal’s 2010 Best in Show Award

Impinj's Monza 4 chips edged out Tego's high-memory tag and Omni-ID's Ultra tag.
Published: April 27, 2010

The first couple of times we gave out an award for the best new product exhibited at RFID Journal LIVE!, the judges, attendees and editors of RFID Journal all pretty much agreed on the best new product: Mojix’s passive real time location system in 2008, and ODIN‘s Smart Container last year. This year, the voting was a lot closer. All 10 finalists chosen by our judges were excellent, but three entries floated to the top: Impinj‘s Monza 4 set of RFID chips, Tego‘s high-memory chip and Omni-ID‘s Ultra, a long-range passive tag.

All three of these represented a significant advance in products currently on the market, and all three will benefit end users. It was difficult to choose a winner, and the editors debated the importance of each product. In the end, we picked the Impinj Monza 4 chips because they have some truly innovative features and are likely to have the broadest impact on RFID adoption.

The chips’ True3D antenna technology means the tags are orientation insensitive, which is not completely new. Matrics pioneered a dual-dipole antenna that could be read regardless of its orientation to the reader antenna. But Monza 4 takes this concept a step further with two radios attached on the chip, to maximize performance. The ability to read tags regardless of their orientation will improve read rates for end users in a wide variety of application, such as tracking airline baggage, taking inventory in retail stores, tracking cartons in the supply chain, identifying packages in courier facilities and so on.

The four chips are designed to meet the needs of end users for many applications. For those who need higher memory tags, Impinj developed the Monza 4U, with 512 bits of user memory, 128 bits of EPC memory, a serialized TID [tag identifier] and the ability to permanently lock blocks of memory. This will be valuable for product authentication, and for tracking goods in supply chain where security is critical, such as in defense and hazardous materials.

The Monza 4E features up to 496 bits of EPC memory. The longer EPC will benefit companies tracking products with alphanumeric serial numbers, such as in the SGTIN 198 standard. The Monza 4E also has 128 bits of user memory, as well as a serialized TID.

Monza 4QT chip has some innovative privacy features, dubbed QT technology. QT technology allows the chip to operate in both public and private mode. In private mode, all data on the chip can be accessed and the tag responds to any reader commands. So if a company is using the tag internally to, for instance, track work-in-process, the tag will be in private mode and anyone can read all of the data on it.

But when the same tag is used in a retail store, a retailer might want to keep much of the data on it secure. With the right password, the retailer can switch to public mode and the tag will now provide only a generic serial number, nothing more. “It’s a bit like having two tags in one, and you use one for internal tracking and allocate the other for use by partners or consumers,” says Impinj CEO Bill Colleran.

The Monza 4 proves a point I made many years ago when privacy advocates worried that RFID would be used to track people everywhere. Opponents argued that RFID would evolve to serve the interest of those who want to track consumers without their knowledge. I said that was crazy—that companies would not risk losing their customers and that the technology would evolve to protect consumer privacy, such as Web browsers did. QT technology is an example of RFID evolving to protect consumer privacy.

The Monza 4 chips are clearly innovative and will have a big impact in retail, but also in other areas. That’s not to say the other products are not also exciting. Tego’s high-memory tag solves some critical problems associated with storing parts histories on a tag. For instance, once data is written to the tag, it cannot be erased or overwritten. This means that parts histories cannot easily be forged. What’s more, the chip’s memory is permanent. Unlike the flash or EEPROM memory used in many other RFID chips, Tego says, its chip’s memory doesn’t fade over time, making the tag suitable for parts and assets expected to last 10, 20, 30 or more years. And the Tego chip’s memory doesn’t become erased when exposed to high temperatures, x-rays and gamma radiation, making the chip a good candidate for applications in such industries as aerospace and health care.

Omni-ID’s Ultra tag also takes performance to a new level, boosting read range for a passive tag to more than 100 feet. That will make it easier to use passive systems in large facilities with wider choke points or in large outdoor areas, such container or rail yards or construction sites. It has the potential to open up new applications as a more affordable alternative to active tags, which are typically more expensive to buy and–when the batteries in active tags need to be replaced—to maintain.

It’s a sign of the strength of the RFID industry that these companies, and many others in the exhibit hall, came out with innovative new products despite the economic downturn last year. They are responding to end users’ needs and making RFID easier and less risky to deploy. No wonder so many exhibitors report business is picking up.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, RFID Connect or the Editor’s Note archive.