RFID: Not Just Vanilla Anymore

E-mail Barbara Goode

More and more, RFID tags—which traditionally carried simple identifying information—are being paired with sensors. And lately they're being enhanced by other technologies, too, for sometimes-surprising effect.

Take, for instance, SecureRF's new tag that offers both cold-chain management features (including a temperature sensor) and security capabilities. The tag claims an industry first: the ability to actively authenticate and encrypt reader/tag communications. Aimed at the pharmaceutical industry, it is designed to help drug manufacturers and distributors provide a tamper-proof record right down to the item level that will prove the package is authentic. By allowing only authorized readers to access sensitive information, it promises to protect privacy.

Another developer, AirGATE Technologies, says its surface acoustic wave (SAW)-based RFID tags passed tests for application at extremely high temperatures. The tags were heated to 700°F (371°C), and then successfully read with AirGATE's SAW reader. Holy smokes. SAW devices also make accurate temperature, chemical, and torque sensors, by the way, and also work well in the presence of liquids and metals.

What It Means
What these two examples demonstrate is that RFID tags are finding their way to serve specific requirements and markets. Not everybody needs a tag capable of withstanding 700° F heat, but those that do now have an option.

Likewise, SecureRF's security features are unnecessary for many applications—and, I imagine, could even get in the way. But with privacy being a concern for massive RFID dissemination, a step in this direction is important.

By The Way
I think we're bound to see more application-specific tags on the market soon. But that doesn't mean there's not plenty of need for the plain-vanilla variety (which people outside the sensor industry increasingly refer to as "RFID sensors"). If you've been thinking of trying out RFID, you may want to take investigate Savi Technology's reasonable and nondiscriminatory licensing program covering its intellectual property for active RFID. Savi launches the program with a Quick Start plan, available through December 31, 2006, that involves lower up-front fees as encouragement for early participation.

What do you think of this development? Is there a purpose for which you'd like an application-specific tag? Have you used RFID technology—either on its own or in combination with traditional sensors? Please scroll down to the Post A Comment box below and let us know.

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