Magazine article Science News

Electronic Leap: Plastic Component May Lead to Ubiquitous Radio Tags

Magazine article Science News

Electronic Leap: Plastic Component May Lead to Ubiquitous Radio Tags

Article excerpt

Already common in such gadgets as highway passes for paying toils on the move, miniature radio-equipped circuit cards may ultimately become as widespread as bar codes. First, however, the cost of such radio frequency identification (RFID) tags must drop by a factor of 10 or more.

Engineers in Belgium have just developed an extraordinarily fast diode--a one-way valve for electric current--that could usher in REID tags made of plastic rather than the more-expensive silicon of tags today. Paul Heremans of the company IMEC in Leuven and his colleagues describe their novel plastic semiconductor prototype in the August Nature Materials.

RFID tags on items from bakery goods to bank notes could result in instant supermarket checkouts, improved tracking of shipped or warehoused goods, and enhanced protection against counter-feiting, says Klaus J. Dimmler of Organic ID in Colorado Springs, Colo.

To be sufficiently low cost for these wide-spread applications, RFID tags can't contain an internal power source. When another device, called a reader, beams an electromagnetic wave of energy at a passive tag, such as the highway-toll device, part of its circuitry, called the rectifier, harnesses the energy. Then the tag sends a signal.

Plastic, or organic, electronics have been too slow for the high-frequency reader signals dictated by industry standards. However, the Belgian team made a sufficiently fast rectifier with the new diode, so "this problem has now been overcome," says Thomas N. …

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