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New KU RFID Tag Out-Performs FAT Tag

Tuesday, April 22, 2008
[Information and Telecommunication Technology Center]

The Information and Telecommunication Technology Center at the University of Kansas is seeking licenses for its Agility Tag, a new patent-pending radio frequency identification (RFID) technology that enables one tag to work in contrary environments.

“Before Agility, it was assumed one tag could not be designed to operate efficiently both near a conducting surface, such as metal, and in air,” said Dan Deavours, principal investigator and ITTC research assistant professor. “In more than one case, we found Agility Tags worked better on metal than comparable vendor tags do in free space.”

Since most RFID tags are used on RF-friendly materials such as cardboard or plastic, industry has tried to develop quick and cheap fixes to enable the tracking of computers, containers, equipment, and other metal assets. Manufacturers often use foam attached (FAT) tags that employ a thick foam spacer to separate the antenna from a metal surface.

In ITTC’s RFID Alliance Lab, Deavours led development of the Agility Tag, which performs optimally in free space and performs almost perfectly near metal. The Agility Tag is readable from 25 to 30 feet away in free space, depending on the chip used, and 15 to 20 feet away when placed on metal. In comparison, the average read distance for FAT tags is between 2 feet and 6 feet when placed on metal. While the performance of a FAT tag varies depending on the environment and reader, the Agility Tag operates reliably and efficiently regardless of its location, Deavours said. Furthermore, the Agility Tag uses only one-eighth inch of foam while FAT tags require as much as one-fourth inch, making the Agility Tag more reliable in the field and less costly to manufacture.

“It used to be that users had to choose between expensive asset tags that work well and inexpensive FAT tags that don’t work so well. Agility Tags give performance of asset tags, but at a manufacturing cost and complexity of FAT tags,” Deavours said.

ADASA Inc., a technology company specializing in advanced mobile RFID systems and RFID tag encoding, is leading the innovative development of in-process RFID tagging equipment and methods. As part of its pursuit of even more robust and cost effective RFID solutions, ADASA tested the ITTC tag at its headquarters in Eugene, Oregon.

“Agility Tags are a breakthrough in RFID tagging. Unlike other tags, the Agility Tag is completely tolerant of its environment,” said Clarke McAllister, chief technology officer for ADASA. “Its reliable performance across a broad range of conditions combined with an ADASA mobile RFID tag encoder/dispenser enables tagging of anything, anywhere.”

A number of companies are producing RF-absorbing technologies to enable better tag performance near metal. Deavours said that RF-absorbing materials hurt performance in one area to improve performance in another area, hoping for a net gain. Agility Tags use polyethylene foam, one of the most non-RF-absorbing materials ITTC researchers tested.

Deavours developed the Agility Tag with funding from ITTC and the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation (KTEC). As the KTEC Center of Excellence for information technologies, ITTC conducts applied industry-led research and assists companies. The center develops partnerships with local and national companies that advance both the research mission of KU and the business interests of industry partners. ITTC core focus areas include information systems, telecommunications, bioinformatics, and radar systems.

Story by Michelle Ward.

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