Nano RFID tags could replace barcodes; smart groceries, bandages coming

A new type of radio frequency identification tag that can be printed directly onto bags ad boxes could spell the end for the lowly barcode.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

A new type of radio frequency identification tag that can be printed directly onto bags ad boxes could spell the end for the lowly barcode.

Researchers from Sunchon National University in Suncheon, South Korea and Rice University in Houston Texas have developed an RFID tag that can be printed directly onto paper and plastic products, from cereal boxes to potato chip bags.

Utilizing ink that contains carbon nanotubes, the passive electronic chips allow products to transmit information about what's inside a shopper's grocery cart.

"Right now, the emitter has to be pretty close to the tags, but it's getting farther all the time," Rice professor James Tour said in a statement. "The practical distance to have it ring up all the items in your shopping cart is a meter. But the ultimate would be to signal and get immediate response back from every item in your store – what's on the shelves, their dates, everything.

"At 300 meters, you're set – you have real-time information on every item in a warehouse. If something falls behind a shelf, you know about it. If a product is about to expire, you know to move it to the front – or to the bargain bin."

The key to the tags is the development of semiconducting ink, which contains carbon nanotubes that hold an electrical charge. The team discovered a way to coat conducting nanotubes in a polymer to protect the electric charge (and thus information) from leaking out.

The tags themselves are printed in three aligned layers.

Silicon-based RFID tags are already used in passports, library books, farms and highway toll payment systems. It costs about 50 cents to manufacture each tag.

But the researchers' new "printable" RFID tags, each about the size of a business card, have the potential to be much less expensive to manufacture, at just three cents per tag.

If the researchers can bring the cost to less than one cent per tag, the devices will be cost-competitive with what's currently on the market.

For now, the researchers' tag is merely a proof of concept device. But study coauthor Gyoujin Cho of Sunchon National University and a team from the Printed Electronics Research Center of the Paru Corporation in Suncheon are working to fit more transistors into a smaller area.

Accomplishing such a feat would allow for every item in a supermarket to have a unique identification code -- including information as to how long that product has been sitting on the shelf.

The development doesn't just impact your weekly shopping routine, either. Technology like this could be used to accomplish things silicon cannot, such as build smart bandages that can sense infections.

Their work was published in the March issue of IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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