Radio Frequency Identification is the use of radio frequencies, or thereabouts, to remotely read information on small "tags" with few problems of obscuration, orientation or reading many at a time.
The information may be analog as with reading the stripe embedded in a banknote, where the "unique signature" picked up identifies the issuer and denomination. However, digital information is less error prone and more versatile, indeed, with most RFID, the digital information on the tag can be rewritten at a distance, not just read. That is not possible with today's analog tags. However, analog tags can be very low cost - even applied directly to products as with the Somark Innovations electronic tattoos applied to animals and meat. They employ FDA approved dyes yet they can be read with microwaves at a distance.
Ultra low cost
Such technology can give "tag" costs of one cent or less because they are directly applied, for instance by ink jet at very high speed and on uneven surfaces if necessary. The electronic readers may not be particularly low cost but such an approach is very appropriate when there are large numbers of tags per reader. Replacing the 5-10 trillion barcodes printed yearly with something more automated, versatile and reliable would be an example.
85% of barcodes are already printed directly onto things so this would be history repeating itself. Another possibility would be an anticounterfeiting feature on hundreds of billions of items yearly that could be checked at high speed even when obscured - something not possible with today's anticounterfeiting features.
RFID on drugs and alternatives
Eastman Kodak patented edible RFID on drugs in 2007. They envisaged using this to establish when someone had taken their tablets and when they were absorbed into the bloodstream - the signal ceases. Moving on from this, in mid 2009, other US scientists have revealed an edible tag that can even be used to track, trace and authenticate individual pills.
Hawaii-based Cellular Bioengineering Inc (CBI) has manufactured these tags using the highest purity silica so they are edible and do not affect the efficacy of the pill.
Each TruTag, as they are called, costs less than one cent and has its own unique "spectral signature" which identifies the product. CBI has achieved a cooperative agreement from the US government to develop the TruTag to help combat counterfeit drugs. The tag can also be used to identify a wide range of products such as airplane parts, art, currency, electronic components, cosmetics and luxury goods, though it is optical, not RFID, and it cannot therefore be read when obscured.
"I believe CBI is breaking ground on a new modality of safety, assurance and information essential for consumers and the US Government," said former commander of the US Pacific Admiral Thomas Fargo.
"This project has the potential to save lives and make a significant contribution towards the safety and authentication of wide ranging goods and products."
To learn more about edible RFID attend Printed Electronics Asia 2009 or Printed Electronics USA 2009.
Top image: Reading edible Trutags