Electronic tagging system could replace barcodes

1 min read

Researchers have developed a cheap electronic tagging system that could replace barcodes with a much more detailed store of information.

A team from Imec’s Holst Center in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, has developed a high-performance radio frequency identification (RFID) tag that could be cheaply mass-produced and prevents data transfer from being interrupted.

RFID tags contain a unique identification code and other useful information that is transmitted when it comes into contact with an electromagnetic field from a reader device.

Traditionally, rigid RFID tags have been made using silicon technology that provides high performance, but at a relatively high cost. The researchers believe their technology could be crucial to the development of cheap, high-performance RFID. 

‘Item-level tagging could allow vendors to implement automatic billing and inventory management,’ Kris Myny, an organic circuitry researcher at Imec, told The Engineer.

‘On top of these applications, such RFID tags could be integrated with sensors for smart RFID tags. In this way, they could be integrated into food packaging to provide customers with information on freshness or characteristics of this product.’

The researchers began exploring the idea of replacing silicon RFID tags with thin-film RFID tags in 2006. ‘Thin-film transistors can be deposited on a flexible substrate and have the potential to be produced at a substantially lower cost,’ said Myny.

The Imec research, published in a paper this week at the International Solid States Circuits Conference in San Francisco, also demonstrated for the first time thin-film RFID tags that were able to receive data from the reader first, preventing data-transfer problems.

Previously, the best thin-film RFID tags were based on a ‘tag-talks-first’ protocol. ‘When the RFID reader first powers and contacts the tag, it transmits a clock and identification code,’ said Myny. ‘The tag then uses this data and clock to determine when to send its code.’

This means the tag uses this data to ensure it doesn’t respond to the reader at the same time as other tags, which can result in collisions and ineffective data transfer.

These passive RFID tags extract power to drive the onboard electronic circuits from the electromagnetic field emitted by the reader.

They are already used by businesses for a number of purposes, for example, in electronic security passes and by delivery companies to track packages.