AutoID & Data Capture Blog

Sensing a Ripe New RFID Opportunity

RFID soon could be used to reduce fruit spoilage during its journey through the supply chain, thanks to a new ethylene (a gaseous plant hormone that triggers fruit ripening) sensor developed by MIT chemistry professor, Timothy Swager. While ethylene sensors are already available, current solutions are too costly and unreliable for supply chain applications. In contrast, this new ethylene sensor will be low cost (as low as 25 cents) and capable of pairing with an RFID tag to enable remote, real-time ethylene monitoring. Furthermore, the sensor design provides high sensitivity—to levels as low as 0.5 PPM—which makes it well-suited to monitoring produce crates, shipping containers and warehouses.

While sensing/monitoring are hardly new RFID use-cases, we believe this particular example of monitoring ethylene levels is a first. More commonly, RFID is used to monitor conditions including temperature, pressure, humidity, and stress/strain. However, as RFID technology matures, solutions for highly-specific use-cases (for example, ethylene monitoring for produce) are becoming increasingly common. As more generic RFID applications continue to mature, we expect solution developers will seek growth via experimenting with new, niche-specific use-cases.

One of the RFID trends VDC is monitoring in its research is the concept of “RFID+”—i.e., using RFID in conjunction with other technology/solution types to achieve various objectives, including:

  • Improved visibility and security of assets, cargo, workers, patients, etc.
  • Real-time condition/status monitoring of the same
  • Advanced decision making abilities (via leveraging the above-referenced data and other information sources)

For example, RTLS solutions combine RFID with other technologies including GPS, WiFi, Infrared and Ultrasound to enable precise tracking and location of vehicles, containers, workers and other assets.

While future RFID+ development could conceivably target niche application opportunities in any vertical or use environment, VDC believes transportation/logistics, food growing/processing/production and healthcare represent particularly fertile grounds for future development of niche-specific solutions. Each of these verticals presents a diversity of angles that could be explored for new RFID+ value propositions. We think food processing and production has particularly strong potential, especially within the US. Due in large part to the recently-passed US Food Safety Modernization Act and high-profile cases of food-borne illnesses, there is an increasingly strong need for visibility and documentation of the safety, freshness and chain-of-custody of food as it passes through the value chain. Sounds like another ripe RFID opportunity to us…