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Researchers Propose Recorder Tag for Extending RFID Apps

Fri, 02/13/2009 - 6:11am
In the retail supply chain, radio frequency identification has emerged as a tool well suited for retailers and manufacturers. But for consumers, the technology's value is limited, according to a group of researchers at the Auto-ID Lab Japan. The researchers — led by Jin Mitsugi, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Media and Governance at Japan's Keio University which hosts the lab — have developed a prototype of a hybrid passive and active RFID tag that could make consumer electronics more user-friendly.

"In Japan," Mitsugi says, "we buy product from a store and [get] a warranty that is printed on paper. It contains the start date for the warranty. But consumers [sometimes lose the paper warranty] and forget when or where it was bought." Being able to save this information directly onto the onboard memory of a laptop or other consumer electronic device is one possible application for this tag, which Mitsugi has dubbed a recorder tag.

The prototype contains a passive EPC Gen 2 chip wired to a large patch tag, as well as to a second chip-a low-power microcontroller manufactured by Renesas and designed for general consumer electronic applications. This chip, Mitsugi says, is used to provide a means of exchanging data with the electronic device to which the recorder tag is attached. To communicate with the device in which it is embedded, the chip would employ a simple communication scheme instead of the EPC Gen 2 communication protocol, which uses anti-collision algorithms and other procedures to transmit and receive data. Such EPC Gen 2 procedures, he explains, "could be a burden to hosting electronics (such as consumer electronics)."

With the prototype, the recorder tag is connected to a laptop through a USB port. In a commercial version, the tag would be hardwired directly into the computer, or any other electronic device, as long as that machine had a display screen able to support human-readable text, a flashing LED or any means of communicating tag information to a consumer, without requiring the customer to purchase an RFID interrogator. What's more, Mitsugi says, both the EPC chip and the secondary chip would be integrated into a single IC. This integrated chip would support the EPC Gen 2 tag air-interface protocol. The communication scheme between the chip and the device into which it is integrated would then need to be developed.

During the manufacturing of an electronic product, an EPC serial number would be encoded to the recorder tag's chip, which would be used to track the device through the supply chain. Once the product is purchased, the tag could be used to record data related to a warranty or other information linked to that particular user. The information stored on the tag could then be read on the device itself, through its display screen, so consumers could access the data without needing to obtain an RFID reader. This would enable a consumer to easily determine when a laptop's warranty is due to expire, or look up the terms of that warranty, without having to contact the manufacturer.

The tag data would also be accessible via an interrogator, thereby allowing a technician who receives a non-functioning laptop for repair to access information regarding that computer, even if it will not power up. Or, the manufacturer or recycler could access this data via an RFID reader in order to access the device's component specifications, which could streamline the disassembly and recycling process at the end of the device's life.

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