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Printed-Electronics RFID Tags Debut

Some businesses are starting to use these low-cost tags, while vendors and researchers continue to improve the tags' performance and add features.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 01, 2010—The promise of low-cost radio frequency identification tags made with printed electronics has been circulating for years. RFID Journal first wrote about the nascent technology in 2004—at which time analysts predicted functioning RFID tags would be printed in five to 10 years—and then reported on significant advances in 2008.

Today, that promise is starting to come true. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is using printed-electronics RFID tags in its disposable, limited-use transit-fare cards. And a number of end users in other industries are testing printed tags for use in applications such as product authentication and promotions.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
But with the current state of the technology, there are limitations in terms of printing the number of transistors required to perform advanced functions, such as data encryption. The first printed tags to market are passive high-frequency (HF) tags, which operate at 13.56 MHz. (Active tags aren't being printed, though they likely will be in the future.)

Still, HF tags represent the largest part of the RFID market. They're used in myriad applications—from ticketing to tracking laundry and key cards for building access. The greatest short-term potential for printed RFID tags is in applications that use basic, low-memory HF tags, says Peter Harrop, chairman of IDTechEx, a research firm that focuses on RFID, printed electronics and smart packaging.

While many startups and established companies have entered the fledgling printed electronics market, which includes makers of solar panels, displays and medical devices, few are focused on RFID tags. Some companies that did early work to develop printable RFID tags—including OrganicID (purchased by Weyerhaeuser in 2006) and Motorola—have dropped out of the market. But other vendors and research facilities continue to advance the science behind printed RFID. One focus is on developing printed tags with integrated printed sensors. These tags could be printed directly onto packaging or into products, such as consumer packaged goods and pharmaceuticals.
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