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Little Tags With Big Potential

June 10, 1999

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The biggest news at the annual conference of the American Trucking Assns.' Information Technology and Logistics Council may well have been the smallest object on display -- an RFID (radio frequency identification) tag about the size of a Band-Aid, and a small Band-Aid at that.

The tag, displayed by Intermec Technologies, Cedar Rapids, IA, has more than size going for it. Intermec's Intellitag 500 products (http://www.amtech.com/markets/intellitag/index.htm) have broken through two technological barriers.
First, Intellitags are read/write capable. In other words, a transponder can read the information the tag holds and also change that information where necessary.
Up to now, the only commercially available read/write RFID tags required local power, usually a battery. Tags without onboard power "reflect" the power of the reading device, a technology referred to as "back-scatter." Until now, back-scatter tags have only been capable of read-only uses. Read/write capability without onboard power makes these tags valuable in more applications and reusable besides.
Intellitags also employ an IBM-developed technology called an "anti-collision arbitration," a fancy way of saying Intellitag transponders can deal with more than one tag at a time. If 20 tagged items were in a shopping cart, for example, a transponder could read them all correctly.

All this means RFID has taken a giant leap forward and may soon rival bar code as the identification technology of choice. The last barrier is cost. Intermec won't say exactly how much the new tags will cost, but it is rumored to be over $1 apiece -- far too much to seriously challenge printable bar code for now.
Still, this breakthrough technology will undoubtedly find applications in package delivery, LTL cross-dock and many private carrier operations.

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