Learn how RFID IC design has evolved from the initial objective of identifying object to its current part in the Internet of Things.

Other than the military uses of RFID-like (backscattering was used to identify friend planes during wars), RFID IC design in industrial applications started focusing in plain product identification.

Almost as a ‘barcode with advantages’, RFID ICs were designed to work battery free to return a unique number to uniquely identify a product, box, container or similar. It was mainly use in logistics as a substitute of the barcode.

RFID tag

Standard RFID tag for identification

Adding value to the passive RFID tag

RFID IC tag design soon started implementing small memories to allow the users to store data.

The main idea was to add value by being able not only to read the ID of a passive tag but also write information on it to be retrieved at a later stage.

Information such as lot number or specific processes performed can be written on these battery free devices as they go through these processes. The information can then be read by the readers at any point in the supply chain, adding value to supply chain and logistics managers.

Moving RFID into ‘communicating with things’

In 1,999 Kevin Ashton coined the term Internet of Things. He had been working with RFID – among other technologies – and he envisioned RFID as a way not only to identify things but also to allow things to network.

RFID IC design started including communication with external devices. Protocols such as I2C were implemented in some RFID tag chips to allow communication with devices that could write on the tag’s memory. This information could be then read by an RFID reader wirelessly and without batteries without having to access the actual device.

Development of battery free RFID devices

The following natural step was to design RFID chips that allow to not only communicate with external devices but also to power them up.

The initial ideas have been on working with battery free RFID sensor tags. RFID chips include a communication port to control external devices and also a power management circuit to use part of the harvested energy to supply these external devices.

RFID IC design for battery free sensors

Spider and Medusa battery free sensor development boards

The same RFID readers that work with identification tags work directly with RFID tags with embedded sensors so the same RFID infrastructure can be leveraged.

With sensors coming in, RFID is not only interesting for supply chain and logistics companies. Now businesses across a very wide range of industries can find advantages from RFID devices as they are not just identification any more.

Flexibility in RFID IC design for the IoT

RFID tag ICs will continue to look for basic improvements as sensitivity for example. Longer read ranges are always welcome.

However, the bigger impact on the application of RFID technology into new solutions will come from the ability of designing chips to communicate with different external devices – and potentially in many different ways.

Volume products will require specific IC designs. That being said, the IoT continuously brings lots of niche applications with slightly different requirements. The ability to implement more flexibility in RFID IC design to allow multiple solutions to be developed with the same chips will most probably be a challenge in the near future.