Software update and tiny chip could turn phones into full-on RFID readers
RFID tags wirelessly provide a wealth of information on products or other items, but they can only be read by dedicated portable devices. That may soon change, however, as a tag-integrated chip and a software update could allow everyday smartphones to do the job.
Commonly-used passive RFID (radio frequency identification) tags don't require batteries – instead, they get temporarily powered up by radio waves emitted from a handheld RFID reader. The tags then use a tiny integrated antenna to transmit a radio signal back to that device. That signal contains information on the item to which the tag is adhered.
Led by Patrick Mercier, Dinesh Bharadia, Shih-Jai Kuo and Manideep Dunna, scientists at the University of California San Diego recently set out to bring such functionality to consumer smartphones. Their solution consists of a tiny inexpensive chip used in the tag, and a simple software update for the phone.
When the smartphone gets to within 1 meter (3.3 ft) of the chip, the phone's LTE signal powers the chip up. At the same time, the phone sends a querying Bluetooth signal to the chip, which responds by transmitting a Wi-Fi signal back to the phone. That Wi-Fi signal could conceivably contain information such as expiry dates for perishable items, ingredients of food products, or instructions for usage.
The chip itself is half a square inch in size (3.2 sq cm), and costs just a few cents to manufacture. The software update simply converts the phone's outgoing Bluetooth signal into a format that the chip can more easily convert into a Wi-Fi response.
"What we've developed is a chip for a tag that can be read at a distance – like RFID – but in this case using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi features built into the phone," Assoc. Prof. Mercier told us. "So it's enabling an RFID-like experience, without requiring the purchase of additional hardware."
The scientists are now hoping to commercialize the technology, either through a spinoff company or an existing industry partner.
Source: UC San Diego