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RFID as a Sensor: IoT Trends

  • Abhishek Shukla
  • Mar 14, 2024
  • RFID
RFID as a Sensor: IoT Trends

The need to have more data and insights in commercial and industrial applications is driving the development of small wireless sensing devices known as sensors. Earlier we had wired sensors that required complex integration with existing systems and the implementation itself was limited by high costs. With advancements in machine-to-machine communication and the eventual evolution to the Internet of Things (IoT), we now have several wireless networks that provide quick, ubiquitous data sharing over the Internet while keeping the cost affordable. 

The need to sense temperature, humidity, strain, toxic gases, infrared, motion, etc. in industries, offices, shopping complexes, homes, and surroundings is now met with IoT sensors, and with the help of various internet network technologies, low power wide area networks, LTE-M networks the collected data is widely available and shared. 

Radio Frequency Identification: Tags and Readers

The evolution of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) over the last decade has facilitated new means of how businesses collect data. As an advanced AIDC technology, RFID has become the go-to technology for tagging and tracking items in retail, healthcare, supply chain, logistics, manufacturing, etc. RFID leverages the use of small RFID tags and readers to accurately identify and track tagged objects. 

RFID tags are small electronic devices that contain a microchip and an antenna the microchip stores the relevant data required for identifying objects and the antenna is for capturing RF (Radio Frequency) signals from the RFID readers and shares the tag data in the form of RF signals back to the RFID readers

The demand for RFID is fuelled by retail businesses looking to streamline their physical retail stores and retail supply chains. It has also led to advancement in the fabrication of RFID tags and the standards that govern RFID communication across the globe, resulting in low-cost RFID labels that now cost 4-5 US cents, which is a significant reduction in tag prices that earlier were 40-50 US cents per tag. 

Moreover, the need to sense various kinds of data in manufacturing, food supply chain waste management, etc. has also led to the development of low-cost RFID sensors. 

RFID as Sensors 

RFID labels as sensors, measuring temperature, humidity, fill level, toxic gases, strain, etc. in manufacturing and retail environments is a growing prospect. RFID tags are normally used for track and trace and have witnessed huge demands, raising the RFID market to US$ 16.83 billion in 2022. It is further expected to reach US$ 39.30 billion by 2030 with an estimated CAGR of 11.2% over the forecast period, as per research by The Insight Partners. 

RFID as sensors is easy to understand from the get-go. An RFID tag already has a microchip and antenna, so storing data and communicating with an RFID Reader is the core functionality of an RFID tag. For sensing applications, a sensing component is added to the microchip inside the tag which can effectively sense temperature, humidity, strain, pressure, fill level, toxic gases, etc. 

RFID Sensors and IoT Sensors 

RFID sensors and IoT sensors differ in the way they collect data and share that data. While IoT sensors are mostly battery-operated devices that periodically sense data and share that data with vastly available Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs), an IoT ecosystem if you will, RFID sensing is still primitive and data sharing is done through RFID reader terminal. RFID readers can collect the data from RFID sensors and store that data in RFID software which is further utilized for data-driven decision-making in industrial and commercial businesses. 

Alternatively, RFID can also be integrated with the IoT ecosystem with communication protocols such as MQTT. MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport) is the standard for IoT messaging which is based on a subscribe and publish model enabling machine-to-machine communication, and message queuing services. MQTT is what connects RFID infrastructure to an IoT infrastructure.

Furthermore, IoT sensing is quite established and costs more in comparison to RFID sensing. The IoT sensor market is growing exponentially, especially in the wearables and healthcare segment. You can literally measure your heart rate and blood sugar levels using a smart band on your wrist. Technologies like BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy), Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, etc. are enabling wide-scale data transmission which is only complemented by smartphone compatibility of these technologies. 

Chipless RFID Sensors

Chipless RFID is a new growing field of RFID sensors that aims to bring down the fabrication cost of RFID tags and sensors to the lowest. Chipless RFID tags are designed without the silicon microchip which results in easy fabrication of these RFID labels, in contrast to complex, high-cost fabrication with silicon microchips. 

Chipless RFID is designed with resonators and reflectors, materials that use the RF signals and time domain and frequency domain encoding to store the necessary data. Sensing with Chipless RFID is a cost-effective way to fill the industry-wide gap that is due to high-cost IoT sensors and infrastructure costs. Chipless RFID sensors come as low-cost sensors which are designed by adding a sensing material as substrate while fabricating the RFID labels. These sensing materials include paper, carbon nanotubes, metal oxides, silicon nanowires, and organic semiconductors amongst others. The sensing is also dependent on the conductivity and the dielectric property of these materials as well as the thickness and the geometry. This essentially means that telecommunication engineering comes together with material science to get the best outcome. 

To conclude, RFID technology is not just good for traditional track and trace but also for sensing applications. As an advanced AIDC (automatic identification and data capture) technology, RFID can successfully replace barcodes in retail, supply chain logistics, and healthcare applications. It offers accuracy, efficiency, and reliability. The sensing applications of RFID require further advancements, The development of chipless RFID is still a work in progress but it is certain that RFID technology is bound to see advanced applications in sensing.

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  • Created on Oct 27, 2023
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