An independent news service reporting on developments
regarding the use of radio based transponder systems for commerce and scientific
applications. Covering the RFID technologies, EAS technologies and magnetic
Future trends in transponder systems
Before looking at applications, there are some industry driving issues
that will steer the future of these technologies:
- Manufacturing methods
- Tags consist of antennas, electronic circuitry, and energy sources.
Passive tags, that is those that receive their energy from the energising
field, can dispense with the need for energy sources. Electronic circuitry
has already advanced to the stage where the electronic circuitry is implimented
on a single circuit. The last major manufacturing hurdles are the antenna
system and the packaging.
- Technological design
- Whereas initially RFID tags were based on magnetic coupling techniques,
assisted by the then limitations in semiconductor design methods, and the
desire to operate at frequencies below the minimum licensing frequency
(135KHz), resulting in tags that could only be read single and over short
distances, requirements for distance are resulting in new technologies
coming to the fore.
- Major applications are starting to appear in the 433MHz band, the 915MHz
band and soon in the 2.45GHz and 5.6GHz band. The latter two bands are
still technically challenging for the semiconductor industry. With increasing
range, it is necessary to be able to read many transponders at the same
time, as the chances of finding a volume in which only one transponder
will be present is ever reducing.
- Transponder price
- Due to current manufacturing techniques, pricing in the different RFID
technologies seems to have reached a plateau. Current developments that
will see the light of day in the next few years, are likely to to drastically
reduce the production price, allowing far greater commercial penetration
of RFID technology. This reduction will allow EAS and identification features
to be merged into a single product suitable for the retail labelling market.
- Spectrum allocation
- When deciding to operate above 135KHz, it is necessary to acquire an
operating frequency allocation from the regulatory bodies. As RFID becomes
more popular, this allocation will become a valuable asset.
Applications that are driving the developments of RFID Technologies
are among others:
- EAS security applications
- In the next few years there will be rapid expansion of the EAS market
penetration. Particularly in the Western World, shoplifting has become
a major problem and has created a massive need for low cost anti-shoplifting
solutions. At present there are a variety of technologies ranging from
amorphous magnetic strips, to destructible tuned circuits. The primary
issue is to develop very low cost techniques in view of a transponder being
needed on every item.
- Electronic car security
- Major developments are happening particularly in Europe, where short
reading range transponders (magnetic coupling) are being included in motorcar
keys, allowing the onboard management computer to verify the authenticity
of the key to try to reduce motor car theft. The advantage of this method
is that since the management system controls the fuel injection, timing
and performance of the engine, an invalid identity allows the management
system to completely close down the motor vehicle engine. Communication
between the sensor of the key and the engine management system is accomplished
by a system of codes dependent on the value of the ID transponder so that
thieves cannot simply cut appropriate wires and bypass the communication
- Toll roads
- With more local authorities funding their motorway development by taxing
users, toll booths have been established on many of the countries highways.
Unfortunately a motorway is there to move traffic relatively quickly between
points, and slowing the traffic down at paypoints to collect funds is very
disruptive. Major attention is being focussed on trying to use RFID techniques
to recognise and automatically charge the drivers of the vehicles at pay
booths without requiring them to slow down. Unfortunately these efforts
are fragmented and few global standards are in place.
- One light of hope at the end of this lack of standards tunnel, is that
in April 1993, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory published a report
on their proposed solution and the results from their demonstration model,
of a system that they had developed for the California Depertment of Transport
(CalTrans). This development was funded by the US Dept of Energy. This
system allowed car mounted tranponders to be read up to 5 times during
the period they travelled only 1 meter even at speeds as high as 160kph
(100mph) on a five line highway. Frequency allocations are generally at
915 MHz (Caltrans/Sidney) but more recently allocations are being used
at 5.8GHz (Melbourne). The later frequencies require active tags and state
of the art manufacturing technologies. Up to April 1997 there were already
a reported 1.8million transponder tags for toll roads in use.
- On the 1 April 1998 Singapore turned on the S$197 million Electronic
Road Pricing (ERP} system. With ERP in place, Singapore is the first country
in the world to use ERP for traffic management. Transponders are window
mounted and cost about $150 each.
- Postal systems efficiency
- Governements are keen to monitor automatically the efficiency of their
postal systems. Companies are developing transponder systems that can be
incorporated into dummy letters and pass through the postal system being
monitored by readers remotely to estimate actual system efficiency.
- Postage stamp replacement
- Developments are taking place and patents being granted for systems
where the postage stamp will contain a transponder that can be used by
the postal authorities for routing, and for cancelling the stamp after
use. No cost effective system yet seems to be in place.
- Golf balls
- A recently granted patent finally shows an effective method of finding
lost golf balls on a golf course. For conventional transponders, the antenna
placement and orientation with regard to the reader has always been a problem.
The new system proposes fitting a radar corner reflector in the golf ball
and using a search beam which can detect the reflection of the radiation
beam over a short distance.
- Gaming chips
- Developments are happening in the gaming industry to incorporate transponders
in gaming chips, thereby allowing slot machines to play with "coins"
of a larger value than that of the highest coin value of the countries
currency, to limit counterfeiting, and to allow machines to accurately
"read" the value of the chip.
- Criminal penal monitoring
- Recently systems are being tried out to monitor the presence of a convicted
criminal within a zone. The system would be used to impose and monitor
house arrest imposed by the courts, rather than sending the criminal to
prison. One system under test, involves a transponder in a band attached
to the person's ankle, and an associated receiver in the house which monitors
the presence continually.
- Smart appliances
- Recent developments and published patents detail improvements in home
appliances using RFID technology. In one case a company has developed an
intelligent fridge which uses transponders attached to the bottles to detail
the contents of the fridge on a TV screen or PC. Such developments would
have application in situations such as bar fridges in hotel rooms.
- A recent patent details the concept of embedding transponders into
clothing and encoding the transponders with washing, folding and ironing
information. Appliances can then interrogate the garment and set up the
correct washing cycle, water temperature and spin cycles for the garments.
A feature is to write back to the transponder the number of washing cycles
the garment has been exposed to to compensate for the age of the garment.
- Remote controlled computer access
- An interesting development recently from the US is the concept of adding
a transponder to the clothes of the operators of a PC, which presence is
sensed by a reader in the PC allowing the PC to lock up the computer system
and unlock the computer system whenever the operator leaves or approaches
his workstation. This system prevents others tampering with the computer
and data providing RF controlled security.
- Airline baggage
- With the suitablility for automatic sorting and routing of luggage
within the air terminals, the tagging of airline luggage using RFID transponders
is an ideal application. As the luggage can be tagged when it is accepted
and its details linked to a datafile in a computer system, it is then viable
for the luggage to be routed to the correct aircraft luggage loading bay,
and for the progress of the luggage through the transport system to be
monitored for later quering if it is necessary.
- A complication for RFID tagging in this application, is that the RF
field used for reading the RF tags, will also penetrate the luggage and
would read any tags contained in the luggage. These other tags will provide
confusing signals, or even provide interferring signals that might jam
the reader system for the luggage tags. To minimise these effects, tag
systems that are able to read multiple tags at a time might be used together
with an organised numbering system so that the luggage tags might be differentiated
from any goods that are tagged.
- In 1998 tests are reported to be starting to evaluate different RFID
- Warehousing control
- Manufacturing methods
- Logistic measurements
- Parcel routing
- Postage stamps
- Battery developments
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