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7 June, 2015 - 21:50 By Kate Sweeney

Commercial opportunity with low-cost RFID reader and tags

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Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is an indispensable part of modern city life. We swipe our smart cards to pay for fare on public transit. We carry IDs and key cards that are RFID-tagged. 

It has become the norm in supply chain management, theft prevention, access control and for tracking the whereabouts of valuable items. 

Though the cost of RFID readers and tags has come down significantly over the past few years, they are still not affordable enough yet for high volume applications. Researchers at Hong Kong R & D Centre for Logistics and Supply Chain Management Enabling Technologies (or LSCM in short) have successfully developed a lightweight and low cost RFID reader IC chip alongside inexpensive and eco-friendly RFID tags. LSCM is now looking for partners and investors from around the world to commercialise their technology.

A huge step toward the Internet of Things

Tech gurus have been talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) for years. IoT enables communications between smart devices that are auto-identified via wireless communication networks. 

One way to identify a smart object is to embed an RFID tag in it. Yet, you can imagine what a task it is to put a tag in every object in the world, not to mention the cost involved. A conventional RFID tag carries an integrated circuit chip made of silicone. 

A metal antenna has to be etched on the chip in a time-consuming process that is expensive and produces toxic waste. On the other hand, tags on smart objects have to be read by a reader, which again could be costly. 
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The high price of RFID readers and tags has been the major reason for them not being mass-deployed in item-level tracking and identification of inexpensive consumable goods. The challenge is to drive down the cost while maintaining performance. In light of this, experts at LSCM developed a lightweight portable RFID reader and low-cost eco-friendly RFID tags. The cost of the reader is substantially lower than conventional ones because of the inexpensive chip inside that is optimised for near-range reading. 

The small-sized Gen2-compliant UHF chip consumes very little power and is ideal for mobile platform (cellular, PDA, etc.), PoS (point of sales), and smart-shelf system integration. 

Similarly, the cost of RFID tags is brought down by printed electronic technology that produces electronic circuits with standard printing processes. In other words, an RFID tag can be printed directly on the boxes, labels, or cartons, streamlining the production workflow. It also costs much less than using the conventional production method like etching as well as saving the material and processing cost. LSCM also  custom designed a bonding machine that bonds RFID chips or straps to the conductive-ink-based antenna on different substrates. 

Better still, such RFID tags are made of environmentally friendly and decomposable materials to minimise the environmental impact. Brace yourself for the new age of RFID ubiquity. 

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The opportunities

LSCM is now looking for partners and investors from all over the world to commercialise the low-cost RFID reader and eco-friendly tags. The technology is ready for licensing and they are open to options such as setting up a spin-out company to market it directly and to provide consultancy service to system end-users. The research team has much experience in designing, implementing and supporting its software and hardware installations for various industries.
Contact information: Dr. Wenming Ji (email: wenming.ji [at] isis.ox.ac.uk )

• This article is part of the “ITF Projects Commercialisation Programme” hosted by Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) in conjunction with Isis Innovation, the technology transfer company of the University of Oxford. The programme aims to expose Hong Kong innovations to international audiences and hence, facilitate commercialisation via the network of Isis. For information on all projects in the programme, please visit

This project is organised by Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks Corporation.  Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material/event (or by members of the project team) do not reflect the views of the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the Innovation and Technology Commission or the Vetting Committee of the General Support Programme of the Innovation and Technology Fund.

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