RFID Tags' Range Boosted By Ductwork

Using building HVAC ducts can triple the range of wireless RFID tags, creating new possibilities for climate control, health and safety, security and other monitoring applications.

Mathew J. Schwartz, Contributor

September 13, 2010

2 Min Read

Slideshow: RFID In Healthcare

Slideshow: RFID In Healthcare

Slideshow: RFID In Healthcare(click image for larger view and for full photo gallery)

Say hello to the wireless building of tomorrow, powered by radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. According to a new study, the range of passive RFID tags -- which can function as wireless sensors -- gets a boost, literally, when the tags' antennas are wired to buildings' heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) ducts.

How much can their range be extended? Typical RFID tags can be "read" through open air at a range of 5 to 10 meters by reflecting a signal broadcast by an RFID reader. But the researchers' tests found that by using HVAC ducts, which largely consist of hollow metal pipes, readers worked well at a range of 30 meters, and may function reliably even farther away.

The research was conducted and authored by a team from Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins University, Intermec Technologies and North Carolina State and published in this month's Proceedings of the IEEE.

Today, sensor systems in buildings largely use wired technology and infrastructure to monitor everything from climate control and structural integrity to security and health and safety parameters. But wireless RFID tags could do the job instead. "This would work with anything you can create an electronic sensor for," said Dan Stancil, head of North Carolina State's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and co-author of the study. Possibilities include "RFID tag smoke detectors, carbon-monoxide monitors or sensors that can detect chemical, biological or radiological agents."

Furthermore, by using less expensive RFID tags eliminating the need for a wired infrastructure, organizations could lower the cost of outfitting or augmenting a building with the relevant sensors and monitoring. "Because you can tap into existing infrastructure, I think this technology is immediately economically viable," said Stancil. "Avoiding the labor involved with installing traditional sensors and the related wiring would likely more than compensate for the cost of the RFID tags and readers."

According to a study from ABI Research released earlier this year, the RFID market is expected to reach $5.5 billion this year and $8.3 billion by 2014. After a lot of initial hype, the technology has been making slow and steady progress in some sectors, such as for government documentation, retail and apparel, animal tagging and baggage handling.

About the Author(s)

Mathew J. Schwartz


Mathew Schwartz served as the InformationWeek information security reporter from 2010 until mid-2014.

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