IC-industry model enables more powerful RFID

By Rob Hower, Yafan Zhang, and Karl Ma, Evigia Systems Inc.

As logistical supply-chain management increasingly helps determine success for both commercial and military objectives, the application of MEMS sensors and circuit integration with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is becoming crucially competitive. WalMart is an example of how a commercial enterprise can use RFID to manage its product creation, myriad suppliers, delivery, shelf-space management, and customer satisfaction. Analogously, how the U.S. Department of Defense manages its various long and sophisticated logistical supply chains (e.g., for timely provisioning of equipment and supplies to troops) has direct repercussions on political and military objectives.

Logistical management technology is pervasive today: You encounter it every time you rent a car, ship a package, or scan an ID badge at work. But most of today’s RFID tags are passive (i.e., they do not contain a power source and thus can send their information only when a scanner activates them) and limited in capability (because they do not integrate other potentially useful memory, logic circuitry, and sensors that could add logistical management intelligence). What is missing is the ability to monitor and record an item’s environmental exposure once it is not under human observation, and the ability to wirelessly report those conditions to the management system. The ability to understand whether a tagged item was exposed to too much humidity, extreme temperatures, or vigorous jostling during shipping is unattainable with standard RFID products.

A standard active RFID tag is dominated by discrete components and measures approximately 35mm on a side.
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Why? Because active, enhanced tags have traditionally been costly. Anyone in the IC field would surely be surprised to learn that most modern active RFID tags are assembled from discrete devices. The result is a highly complex platform that typically costs $150 to $200 in low volume and stands as a vivid reminder of the pre-IC era.

Borrowing from the success of semiconductor circuit integration in microprocessor and memory devices, Evigia (www.evigia.com) is integrating wireless RF, MEMS sensors, logic circuitry, and other components onto a highly functional yet low-cost active RFID platform that follows Moore’s law of falling prices (currently ~10x lower than discrete). Evigia recognized that the IC industry has made available enablers and infrastructure-such as design and verification software, semi-conductor foundries, assembly and test services, and contract manufacturing options-needed for such integration.

Evigia’s integrated RFID tag includes sensors and circuitry and measures just 2mm per side.
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Combined with an already significant demand for active RFID in certain markets and a high acceptance rate elsewhere once the value proposition is proven, a fundamental shift is underway.

Upon this framework, Evigia is addressing the needs of commercial and military logistical management. However, the underlying power of increased integration promised to bring substantial benefits to other markets in the future.

Rob Hower is director of integration engineering, Yafan Zhang is director of sensor technology, and Karl Ma is vice president, sales and marketing, at Evigia Systems. Contact them at [email protected].


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