RealTime IT News

Hitachi Unveils its Itty Bitty RFID

Taking the concept of e-commerce in new directions, Hitachi Tuesday unveiled one of the world's tiniest RFID chips with an internal antenna.

The Tokyo-based firm said its new 0.4 by 0.4 mm chip could be embedded in bank notes, gift certificates and other paper documents. The previous iteration of Hitachi's u-chip, announced in 2001, was as small, but needed an external antenna to communicate with the reader, limiting its application. The new chip is compatible with ID number and support systems for the original u-chip.

RFID technology has two parts: A tiny transponder, called a tag, carries data in the form of a unique number. A reader, which can be handheld or fixed in place, transmits a low-power radio signal through its antenna. The radio signal powers a chip in the tag that causes it to connect and exchange data with the reader. The reader can then send the data on to a controlling computer, which matches the tag's number to its database to determine what the tag "means." Because the tag only transmits in the vicinity of a reader, it uses very little power.

The chip data is recorded in ROM during the production process, so it can't be rewritten, guaranteeing its authenticity. Hitachi says embedding u-chips in banknotes could let banks and merchants easily identify forged bills. Data in the chip's 128-bit ROM could include the name of the purchaser of an airline ticket or the holder of a passport, preventing their alteration or use by a third party. Embedding them in forms could automate logistics tracking. Hitachi said it also saw high potential in agricultural products, where u-chips could let ingredients be traced through the manufacturing process.

The first uses of the u-chip will be in a system for managing materials on manufacturing sites and in the entrance tickets for Expo 2005 Aichi Japan, a global trade show and fair that opens on March 25, 2005.

Also today, Crosslink, a Boulder, Colo. wireless and RFID technology vendor, announced the availability of an RFID tire-monitoring system for commercial truck fleets, developed with tire manufacturer Bridgestone. According to RFID Journal, the one-inch square tags hold eight kilobits of data, including a unique serial number, temperature and pressure readings, and the maximum temperature of a tire during its lifetime. The tags would communicate with a reader on the truck or at depot entrances and exits to make sure that the tires are kept at the manufacturer's recommended cold-fill pressure level.

Because an RFID chip's number must be matched to a database to have meaning, RFID industry executives say there is little chance that the tags could be used to invade individuals' privacy. However, consumer privacy organizations have protested the use of RFID chips in packaging. Last month, the California's Senate Subcommittee on New Technology held a hearing in Sacramento to discuss whether the tags could be used to track such things as a consumer's shopping habits.