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RFID Tags Printed on Plastic Foil  (Source: Gyou-Jin Cho/Sunchon National University)
Printing process uses carbon nanotubes

RFID tags are in many of the products that we already buy today and the promise of RFID in the future is that we may not even have to stop at the register to checkout at the store. In the future, with prolific RFID tags more powerful than what we have today, all we might need to do is walk out the door with our carts and our total would be computed automatically. Today's RFID technology, however, is prone to hacking, which was demonstrated when researchers were able to clone an RFID passport while driving by it.

Before we can get to the point where store inventories are able to be done in real-time using RFID tags, we need to have cheaper and more efficient methods of producing the tags and the tags need to hold more information and use less power. Researchers at Rice University and Sunchon National University in Korean are working on a joint project using RFID tags that are printed on a roll-to-roll process that uses inks embedded with carbon nanotubes.

The printing process is able to make RFID tags continuously with a cost of pennies each. The technology for the ink was first invented in the Rice lab of James Tour and was at the time used to print thin-film transistors, which are a key part of RFID tags printed on paper or plastic. Gyou-jin Cho from the Sunchon National University in Korea says that professor Tour was the person who recommended using single wall nanotubes in the ink.

Cho said, "Professor Tour first recommended we use single-walled carbon nanotubes for printing thin-film transistors." Tour says that Rice owns half the patent that is pending on the technology and states, "Gyou-jin has carried the brunt of this, and it's his sole project. We are advisers and we still send him the raw materials." Tour's lab is where the carbon nanotubes needed for the ink are produced.

Most RFID tags that are in use today are made from silicon-based materials. Paper or plastic tags that can be printed would dramatically reduce the cost of making RFID tags. Printed tags could also replace the bar codes that are printed on all packages now.

The process developed by the researcher is able to print one-bit RFID tags complete with an antenna, electrodes, and dielectric layers on a roll of plastic foil. The process still needs to be refined and improved before it is practical. Cho is working on 16-bit tags that could hold enough data to be useful in real world applications and still be printable on paper.

The printed RFID tags are passive and need no power source, which is what makes them so cheap to produce. The tags only give off the data on them when hit with radio waves at the correct frequency. The RFID tags also have to be reduced to about a third of their current size to be printable on packages.

The team is also working on increasing the range that the tags can be read from. Currently the printed tags can only be read from a very close distance to the transmitter. To be useful in inventorying an entire store or warehouse the tags need a range of about 300 meters. 

"Right now, the emitter has to be pretty close to the tags, but it's getting farther all the time," said Tour. "The practical distance to have it ring up all the items in your shopping cart is a meter. But the ultimate would be to signal and get immediate response back from every item in your store – what's on the shelves, their dates, everything. At 300 meters, you're set – you have real-time information on every item in a warehouse. If something falls behind a shelf, you know about it. If a product is about to expire, you know to move it to the front – or to the bargain bin."



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RFID vs Barcodes
By OUits on 3/19/2010 2:13:20 PM , Rating: 5
I still think were pretty far away from complete RFID inventory management. The price per tag will have to go under $.01 for any grocery store to implement this with their razor thin margins.

Other costs that are often ignored in the face of "real time inventory... cool!" are the expensive readers and the training to use the technology.

Bar codes just work, really well. They're cheap. I don't think we'll see them go away anytime soon.




RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By qdemn7 on 3/19/10, Rating: 0
RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By OUits on 3/19/2010 2:55:51 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah I think a tag/pallet could work for some retailers.

Point of sale is much trickier.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By ChuckDriver on 3/20/2010 12:07:19 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Point of sale is much trickier.


I agree and believe that is the barcode's strength. Why tag each unit of a product with RFID, no matter how inexpensive, when the barcode can be printed the package along with the rest of the information that has to be there anyway. I could foresee a system that just uses optical recognition of the product catching on before RFID at the PoS. The advantage of that would be you could recognize produce that can't be tagged or barcoded. Even with all the advances in technology, produce still has to be keyed in on the cash register.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By ImSpartacus on 3/20/2010 9:57:41 AM , Rating: 3
RFID is still pretty expensive.

And the DCs that I've seen all already know how much of each product is in each truck. RFID doesn't improve anything in that respect.

And people are always forgetting that for RFID to be truly effective, everybody in the chain needs to be trained to use it. At my DC, we've been using RFID for a while, but our production facility still has trouble with it. That creates headaches.

It all costs money.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By ElderTech on 3/20/2010 10:54:28 AM , Rating: 3
The whole concept of store wide RFID accessability at "300 meters" can create all kinds of problems with security/hacking. A competitor could simply download a store's inventory to compare product sales on a daily basis from outside the store, creating a huge marketing advantage. This would require an RF barrier around the entire store, but even this wouldn't curtail the process from within the store.

For this whole concept to be successful, there needs to be an encryption process inherent in the RFID data, which would make not only the tag, but the whole system, much more complex and expensive, at least initially. And that creates a problem for wide spread use of the RFID tags, if they are proprietary in nature. A manufacturer couldn't create the end use tag at the initial production process, unless the tag could be modified with additional information during the distribution phase, which would allow for the inclusion of the proprietary encryption.

As both a retailer and a wholesale distributor, while the general concept of RFID is interesting, I find it fraught with problems, including the ones mentioned above. Currently, the ubiquitous barcode is likely to survive for some time until these and other concerns for RFID are answered. Ultimately, a hybrid/combination of RF and optical communication system may be the answer.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By drycrust3 on 3/20/2010 11:46:23 AM , Rating: 2
I agree with you that this would be ideal for a distribution centre, but I think it would need to be more than 16 bits because the probability of two items arrive having the same number will become significant.

Also, there needs to be a means to ensure that a large number of "RFID" messages don't arrive at the receiver at the same time, thus corrupting the data.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By Samus on 3/21/2010 6:53:28 PM , Rating: 3
Regarding security, RFID is far more secure from an amateur level of 'hijacking' a bar code.

Having worked in retail back in college, I couldn't tell you how much money the store lost from products processed at checkout having a hijacked (aka a replacement label over the original) because it is extremely easy to do and the practice of seeing legitimate bar code replacements is pretty common when clearance items, manufacture mislabels and products lacking a bar code (brown/white box computer equipment) often have a store-placed label.

Anybody can scope out a product they want, find a comparably described item that is cheaper, remember the bar code, and come back later with one they printed and jack the item cheap. RFID's would make this process a lot more complicated as you'd have to reprogram the RFID.

White more stealth than physically changing a bar code (we caught people on camera sometimes) it requires something beyond amateur status. 80% of retail theft is among amateur petty theft.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By marvdmartian on 3/19/2010 3:34:04 PM , Rating: 5
My question is, how long before someone figures out a way to block the signal of the RFID tag on a product, and substitute their own tag, with different information/price on it?

Walk out with $100 worth of groceries, and only pay $50. Might put a damper on things, until they can figure out a way to prevent that sort of theft.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By OUits on 3/19/2010 4:09:19 PM , Rating: 2
You can't really get rid of cashiers at the point of sale then. It will be something similar to self scan lanes today where one cashier watches multiple lanes.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By Kurz on 3/19/2010 4:25:39 PM , Rating: 2
Just need a purse with aluminum in the inside to mask the RFID. Man... shop lifting just got easier.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By Oregonian2 on 3/19/2010 6:32:40 PM , Rating: 2
That's okay. It's made up by one buying everything in the adjacent customer's cart (1 meter range they said?).


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By johnpombrio on 3/21/2010 7:42:50 PM , Rating: 2
LOL. good one!


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By Etsp on 3/19/2010 10:02:09 PM , Rating: 2
How is that different from pulling the price sticker (The barcode type) from one product and replacing it with another?


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By frobizzle on 3/19/2010 3:54:51 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
I still think were pretty far away from complete RFID inventory management. The price per tag will have to go under $.01 for any grocery store to implement this with their razor thin margins.

Ahh...in the usual anti-worker environment, the stores would justify the cost by eliminating the then-superfluous cashiers. They would view it as a win-win.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By AmishElvis on 3/19/2010 9:08:11 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
Ahh...in the usual anti-worker environment, the stores would justify the cost by eliminating the then-superfluous cashiers. They would view it as a win-win.

Are you a troll, or a democrat? It's difficult for me to tell you apart sometimes. Just to be on the safe side:

I would refer to you a book entitled "Basic Economics" by Thomas Sowell. Accomplishing menial jobs via cheaper technology rather than expensive labor is a win-win situation for everyone. The cost of groceries go down for us all and our standard of living goes up (especially those of us in a lower income demographic, who spend a higher percentage of our paycheck on food.)

While you're at it, you might as well whine about the automobile industry, which put all those poor horse whip makers out of a job.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By frobizzle on 3/25/2010 1:39:16 PM , Rating: 1
You are quite the dipshit, aren't you?


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By invidious on 3/19/2010 5:07:11 PM , Rating: 2
I am pretty sure this would save them enough money on inventory, recieving, and cashier manpower to make up for the higher production costs. Also this could allow grocery stores to encroach on the convience store market.

One step closer to the technological singularity!


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By Aloonatic on 3/20/2010 9:46:42 AM , Rating: 2
Grocery Store's razor thin margins?

Maybe things are different in the US, or you are referring to smaller "mom & pop" stores, but over here in the UK, supermarkets are making plenty of money on almost everything they sell, or choose not to to get people into the store.

They would love to have this sort of system, both in the warehouse and strore. Just so long as it can be remotely cost justified, which when you say to them "reduced labour costs" as well as all the associated issues that come with employing people, then they will go for it even at those sorts of prices ($0.01 a product) likerdy spit.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By OUits on 3/20/2010 4:37:11 PM , Rating: 3
What you're saying doesn't make any sense.

In the US the majority of major retailers are volume driven not margin driven. A "mom & pop" store would be more expensive and need higher margins to stay in business, because they cant generate the volume of sales that Walmart, Kroger etc. can. Walmart is perfectly happy earning less than the family grocer on each bag of apples sold, because Walmart sells 10x as many bags and makes more money at the end of the day. I could even argue that big stores like this WANT to maintain small margins in order to compete on price.

Of course any store would implement RFID if they could cost justify it. Unfortunately, and most seem to agree here, that cost justification is probably a ways off.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By whiskerwill on 3/20/2010 8:02:50 PM , Rating: 2
He's a kid who doesn't have a clue what the word 'margin' really means. He just knows he hates big corporations... 'cuz they're corrupt and destroy the planet and stuff'.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By Aloonatic on 3/22/2010 6:24:36 AM , Rating: 2
Wow, you really are an idiot.

I don't like to childish name calling, but I'm not sure what else to write. Even by the idtiotic, patronizing, conceited, moronic and non-sensical standards that we see here day to day, your comment boggles my mind.

You have no idea who I am or what my agenda is.

Before passing judgement as you have, you might want to do a little reseasrch and read through my other comments, rather than spouting your drivel, and shooting from the hip.

So, please tell me what part of what I have writted in my precious comment stupports either of your assertions that I am;

a) a kid

b) that I "hate big corporations... 'cuz they're corrupt and destroy the planet and stuff'. "


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By Aloonatic on 3/22/2010 6:25:37 AM , Rating: 2
You are aware that normal barcoding comes at a cost aren't you? They are not put on products and controlled/monitored/used by the barcode fairies?

I know about volume too, and how supermarkets compete on price, but what you do not seem to know/realise is that that is only part of their sucess now. The areas of their businesses that they actualy price agressively on is actually rather small. A lot of the things that you put in your trolly can be found in other retailers for less. Not everythign in Tesco (and I would wager Walrmart or simlar US retailer) is sold at a $0.0001 margin, so they just have to sell a lot to scrape a tiny profit. Yes, that might have been part of how they got themselves into the poisiton they are in today, and how they want to portray poublicly as to how they make their money, rather than admitting that it has a lot more to do with clever promotion, product positioning, manipulation and pandering to our lazyness etc.

Also, it seems that you and others here (and I wouldn't look to DTer concensus as a way of judging right/wrong by the way, just a friendly piece of advice) are looking at RFID as a simple barcode replacement, which is why it seems that you are not able to understnad the way that these tags can be used all the way through a products life, as it travels from manufacturing point to warehouse/distribution centre to store. Even within your home, which is something that would be very valuable to supermarkets too.

Yes, as a direct replacement to bacrodes, used in a similar way, they probably aren't all that atractive at the moment as any moron can work out that cheaper is better. However, when you look at their true potential then I think that they are closer to being viable that you think.

Granted, I perhaps didn't write all that I should have done in my first comment, time restrictions an all :)


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By OUits on 3/23/2010 2:31:59 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
You are aware that normal barcoding comes at a cost aren't you? They are not put on products and controlled/monitored/used by the barcode fairies?


Are you trying to make a point here or insult me? Either way you fail. Obviously things aren't free. What should be apparent here is that $/RFID > $/UPC. By a lot. Something as old, accepted, and ubiquitous as a bar code isn't going to disappear in 5 or 10 years.

quote:
Not everythign in Tesco (and I would wager Walrmart or simlar US retailer) is sold at a $0.0001 margin, so they just have to sell a lot to scrape a tiny profit.


Again, I don't know what point you're trying to make here. Are you trying to make a case for RFID tags only for items that have a larger margin? I can see that being used early on in a pilot program.

quote:
(and I wouldn't look to DTer concensus as a way of judging right/wrong by the way, just a friendly piece of advice)


That was more of an argument that nobody here agrees with you. We aren't debating right/wrong, were discussing viability. I don't need or want your advice.

quote:
However, when you look at their true potential then I think that they are closer to being viable that you think.


I disagree. You aren't understanding everything here. As somebody mentioned above, RFID must be integrated into the whole supply chain to be truly effective. Security/Privacy concerns are rampant. Cost is prohibitive. The technology is immature. IMO, were at least 10-15 years off.


RE: RFID vs Barcodes
By Etern205 on 3/20/2010 11:49:05 PM , Rating: 2
Too bad Discovery can never air, how easily hackable RFID is...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQEmhZIwbb8&feature...


"This is about the Internet.  Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis














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